Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Democracy Paradox--the Domestic Variant

I appreciate the comments and discussions that the last two posts of TWR have generated.

All of this points to one version of the democracy paradox: what happens when the citizens of a democracy don't want to engage in democracy promotion abroad, or, more generally, humanitarian interventions beyond very minimal engagements (e.g. sending food aid).

Geoff Thale's op-ed on PMCs--specifically, recruiting of Latin American citizens to serve as U.S. contractors in Iraq--in the Miami Herald (January 29, 2005) raised the following question, something that the Princeton Project's conference on PMCs also debated:

"U.S. military and government officials are attempting to avoid paying the political cost in the United States of the war in Iraq by hiring poor Latin Americans to do part of the fighting and the dying in place of U.S. citizens. Whether one supports or opposes the U.S. war in Iraq, one can agree that it is the U.S. military that ought to bear the burden of fighting a war that the United States initiated. Allies may join in and send their own troops in support if they so choose. But U.S. contractors working for the Pentagon shouldn't be recruiting civilians in Latin America to bear the burden of carrying out a U.S. military mission. ...
When a U.S. soldier is wounded or killed in combat, his or her family, neighbors and community feel the weight of the war and ask themselves, Is it worth it? In a democracy such as the United States, it is important for citizens to share the burden related to military action abroad, feel the impact and make the judgment about whether it's worthwhile."

The Sudan imbroglio demonstrates that at present, while most Americans would say it is a tragedy, and call it genocide, they haven't answered Thales questions regarding whether to assume to burden, feel the impact and make the judgment about whether it is worthwhile.

A somewhat competing conceptual framework would hold that all army-fielding countries, including democracies, do not lose the moral right of just combat simply by fielding mercenaries, or by bribing noncitizens to become citizens on condition of military service. A polity can agree -- even through their elected representatives -- that the practical, not political, cost of citizen blood is higher than the financial and even conscience-related cost of contracting out the job of fighting.

I describe a somewhat competing conceptual framework because what I have just discussed applies safely to conflict which was not undertaken by choice. The moral calculus of cost-bearing is in its very nature different when one is the conflict-initiator. This is not, I would argue, because communities in democratic conflict-initiating countries ought to "feel the weight of the war" in order to be forced into fully sensitive decisionmaking about support for the war. Rather, a country that initiates a conflict raises the bar of committment to the enterprise of conflict as a matter of moral honor vis-a-vis the target country's people. Put slightly differently, a conflict-initiator, because it has chosen war, must incur and inflict casualties with a better conscience than in a conflict they did not begin. This does not mean that the initiated conflict is necessarily illegitimate -- only that the details of warfighting take on additional moral burdens. This makes intuitive sense. Carpetbombing enemy civilians in order to survive an invasion by woefully damaging enemy industry is crude warfighting but certainly more justified than announcing a war of liberation and carpetbombing the newly liberated in order to destroy the capability of the enemy regime.

By the same token, hiring out an army of mercenaries to conduct a war of choice is freighted with more difficulty than fighting a defensive war or even, in the old style, a mutually agreed-upon war (a gentlemen's duel of nations). This is particularly the case when (a) the enemy being fought is not another mercenary army and (b) fighting does not take place in the sanctuary of "pure" combat on the battlefield. What matters is the deployment of battle surrogates who impose, by the necessity of conflict, collateral damage upon innocent civilians while bearing the risk of damage to themselves which the hiring country is unwilling to bear. This is hard not to construe as moral cowardice, and hard not to view as a dishonorable way to conduct a conflict.

I should add, however, that recruiting noncitizens to do the fighting for citizens -- with citizenship itself as the prize -- is of a slightly different quality. Few would argue -- including the recruits themselves -- that the use of fresh Irish immigrants or newly liberated slaves by the Union Army in the Civil War was really dishonorable. One citizen -- even an instantly and battle-contingently minted citizen -- is as good as another. Along those lines, it is not morally dishonorable for a wealthy citizen to pay a poorer citizen to take his place on the battlefield, although certainly the paying party could not be called a brave man in that context. But bravery is not a moral duty. Similarly, decisionmaking officials who enter into war do not have a moral duty to send either themselves nor their children into battle, the better to "feel the weight" of war and replace (warp) strategic judgment with personal judgment. These points about war citizens, pinch soldiers, and fortunate sons are all the more easily made in the context of all-volunteer armies.
Why not recruit an "American Legion" for service in both defensive wars and in service of these types of "humanitarian interventions" with citizenship for the soldier and his immediate family?
A foreign legion might make some kinds of missions more politically sustainable back home and the French seem to be none the worse for having one. We have in the past recruited people in wartime who became citizens afterwards (and in peacetime today American Samoans, who are U.S. nationals but not U.S. citizens, can become citizens by joining the Marines). But a legion recruited from foreign nationals would raise questions that I think need to be carefully considered.

Although our army presently consists of volunteers, at any time it could be converted into a conscript force, and eligible citizens understand that they could be liable for service if the need should arise. That fact is a constraint on the use of force and it ties the army to the people. A foreign legion might be limited to a small part of the U.S. Army at first but to begin to rely on foreigners could generate pressure to do away with selective service altogether.

Even if foreigners are held to a fraction of our forces, using them might affect the morale of the rest. Those who currently serve strongly feel themselves to be citizens in service, an outlook different from that of foreigners who would serve to become citizens. It would change the meaning of the uniform to have foreign nationals wearing it.

What concerns me more deeply, though, is whether a foreign legion would be hired to avoid confronting some larger political problem that needs to be addressed. My own view is that something is deeply wrong if we need to recruit foreigners to sustain military commitments that our own people will not otherwise support. We need to address and resolve what it is that has created this situation.
Where the thread of this discussion seems to be going is that in the future we will rely on citizen all-volunteer forces for critical missions "in the national interest" versus some sort of volunteer/foreign legion force for the optional wars of choice--and the extent to which a) people will support this bifurcation and b) what it does to democratic accountability in policy
I don't understand all of the American righteousness about using non-Americans to fight U.S. battles. What do you think was happening in Afghanistan and Tora Bora? You subcontracted that war out to the Northern Alliance. The PMCs are the second largest group in the coalition in Iraq. This isn't some hypothetical discussion for the future.
Times are different than 5, 10, 20 years ago, when economic prosperity permitted to engage in humanitarian missions. Today the discourse is still there, but the subtext is security of economic interests.

Of course there have always been economic interests, but today it seems not to be about extra profit but survival. Moreover the planet has become so small, that most great powers already have deep interests in every problem which surfaces. Iran is the best example.

Instead of embarking on another adventure, even when it seems morally the right thing to do, we ought to bring the global economy back online, pronto. This not along the path of globalization and diversification of functions but based on the individual health of national economies. For some this will be tougher than for others, but necessary and in the end liberating.

With our houses back in order, we may start helping others again. For now it seems that expressing high moral ideas about helping the other facilitates the negation of our own failures.
it's only genocide if a serviceable concensus sees it as such - 18th cent American expansion to the west can be viewed in terms of a genocide of native populations but you're never going to reach a meaningful concensus on such and therefore it wasn't. Genocidal intentions of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan only became a 'real' issue when those intentions clashed with ours - these things can never be viewed in some pure, abtract state and therefore the declaratory nature of the language is illusory. Television has changed the depth and 'power' of that illusion, but not its nature.
Soldier of Fortune - You make a good point about the PMCs already in Iraq. I don't see the same issues about working in conjunction with civilian private contractors or with foreign nationals who fight under their own flag. Whether foreign nationals should wear the uniform of the United States is I think a different matter, although on this point I would defer to the judgment of those who currently or have previously worn the uniform.

The expediency of using foreign nationals would seem to me as much a question as the moral rightness of using them. Osama Bin Laden is generally thought to have escaped at Tora Bora because we outsourced part of the battlefield there to Afghans. We cannot rely on foreigners to fight alongside us unless their performance is acceptable.

My concern as a civilian, though, is primarily political: whether there is a problem in American civil-military relations that needs urgently to be addressed. If there is such a problem, I would hope that whatever we do in relation to foreign nationals doesn't sidestep or worsen it.
I think there is a more fundamental problem in how and why Americans join the military. Money for college, "strength for now" like it is some kind of self-improvement course, etc. And people seem surprised that if they join the military they might actually have to fight. This is IMO why enlistment rates are dropping now.
According to Rumsfeld's February 6 statement to Congress, enlistment and retention rates are now up over what they were in mid-2005. But it is certainly troubling how rates have fluctuated in recent years. The problem with aligning means to ends is having a clear picture of ends, which is a diplomatic and not strictly military question.
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