NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2006

By inviting foreigners to join the U.S. armed forces in exchange for a promise of citizenship after a four-year tour of duty, we could continue to attract some of the world's most enterprising, selfless and talented individuals, say Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution..

In the just-concluded fiscal year, the military met most of its recruiting and retention goals.  But this was done only by relaxing age and aptitude restrictions, allowing in more individuals with criminal records and greatly increasing the number of recruiters and advertising dollars.  The logic of these measures cannot be pushed much further:

  • The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, has just forecast that U.S. commitments in Iraq may remain at their current level until 2010.
  • With most soldiers and Marines already on a third or even fourth deployment since Sept. 11, 2001, it's doubtful that the all-volunteer force can withstand such a commitment at its current size.
  • Even if it could, it's unfair to ask so much of so few for so long.

Some might object on moral grounds, arguing that it is wrong to rely on "mercenaries" and to use such incentives to get prospective immigrants to fight.  Boot and O'Hanlan disagree:

  • For one thing, the United States already relies on tens of thousands of real mercenaries -- the security contractors the U.S. government employs from Colombia to Iraq to make up for lack of troops.
  • Immigrants who enrolled in our armed forces would be more valuable because they would be under military discipline and motivated by more than just a paycheck.

Source: Max Boot and Michael O'Hanlon, "A Military Path to Citizenship," Washington Post, October 19, 2006.

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