In Defense of Mercenaries

The Gurkhas have been active in the British military since 1817 but they are not British citizens they are Nepalese hired by the British.  In recent years the Gurkha brigades have served in the Falklands, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Iraq.  The Indian army and Singaporean police force also hire many Gurkhas.

The Gurkhas are unusual but not unique.  The United Arab Emirates, where Tyler is now, relies almost exclusively on mercenaries.  The French Foreign Legion continues to attract a small number of mercenaries from around the world.  During the Vietnam war the United States paid the South Korean, Philippine and Thai governments for the use of troops – these were mercenaries paid by proxy.

Should we hire more mercenaries today?  Our military already has hired more than thirty thousand non-citizens.  Why not bypass residency entirely and go straight to Mexico,  India and elsewhere to hire soldiers?  If outsourcing is good for US firms then surely it is good for the US government. 

Outsourcing the military has a number of advantages.  The supply of labor is nearly limitless and the price is low.  Some people will object that quality is low too but if Indians can be trained to do US tax returns they can be trained to fight US wars.   

One reason the Gurkhas are among the most highly regarded troops in the world is that the entrance exam is extremely difficult – only 1 in 30 applicants makes the cut.  The British can pick and choose because wages are high relative to the next best alternative (the Indian army picks up many of the British rejects).  Meanwhile, we are so desperate for troops in the United States that we are forcing old men and women, people who haven’t seen active duty in forty years, back into service.  At US wage rates we could easily hire many thousands of Mexicans.  Many Mexican noncitizens are already
serving honorably in the US military so there is no reason for quality to decline. 

Mercenarism may seem unusual today but in the 18th century a typical European army contained 20-30 percent
foreign troops – mercenarism was the norm.  It’s hard to see how the United States has a comparative advantage in military labor so the future may resemble the past more than it does the present.

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