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The International Legion





At the risk of offending friends of mine and others, I think it is time that the United Nations (UN) consider forming a foreign legion of its own which can respond to basic peace keeping missions around the world. The present system of peacekeepers provides the hit-or-miss possibility of a well-trained, motivated military unit supplied by a member nation being deployed to answer a need.

Individual member nations almost always insist on rules of engagement which emphasize no casualties. When peace keepers suffer casualties it almost always causes politicians problems at home. These restrictive regulations make the troops far less effective. A legion of mercenaries under the command of the United Nations would not be subject to the political sensibilities of national armies.

If the UN develop its own force of adequate size that would act as a Foreign Legion for the world's peace keeping needs. The UN could recruit volunteers without regard for nationality who could be exposed to combat, instead of today's uniformed referees that are generally ignored.

The French Foreign Legion proves that the unit cohesion that any effective combat force must have can be generated without a common nationality, let alone patriotism. The normal rituals of troop training are quite enough to inspire intense pride and a strong sense of solidarity, so long as they are sufficiently demanding and professional, as befits an elite infantry force (the useless mouths that fill the manpower rolls of U.N. agencies can be kept out by requiring all officers and men to parachute at regular intervals).

Certainly a U.N. Legion should have no trouble in attracting recruits. The armies of the world are filled with time-servers who are in it for the job security and the pensions, but each also has a percentage of genuine would-be fighters. And among populations at large, there is a certain small percentage of men (and sometimes women) who are natural-born warriors, but who stay away from the armed forces of their countries because they offer such slight chances of seeing any action. Just because a U.N. Legion would offer far more frequent opportunities for combat than any national army can, it would attract volunteers aplenty. Initially, a U.N. Legion might begin as a not- so-small force of, say, 10,000 combat-ready infantry. But if successful, that division's worth of troops could become the core of U.N. armed forces, complete with armored, air and naval units.

Nor would it be difficult to guarantee against the misuse of the U.N.'s military power. The most logical sequence would require a decision by the U.N. Security Council (in which the United States has a veto), with the endorsement of a majority of all member states in General Assembly. Detailed supervision would be provided by the Secretary General, within Security Council guidelines that could be changed as needed. As for the Legion's actual military command, the unwarlike bureaucratic types who have headed U.N. forces till now, inoffensive generals from inoffensive countries, would obviously be most unsuitable. But an effective U.N. officer corps would emerge soon enough quite, assuming frequent interventions: combat is a great selector.

True, even at an official 10,000 soldier level a U.N. Legion would not be cheap. For one thing, its equipment and day-to-day logistics would have to be provided by an appropriate U.N. agency -- i.e., a bureaucracy consisting of U.N. officials, which virtually guarantees waste, mismanagement and probable fraud. Yet for U.S. taxpayers, who would only have to foot about one-quarter of the bill, a U.N. Legion would still be a great bargain as compared with U.S. military forces of maximum cost and minimum availability for combat.

Edward Luttwak is director of geo-economics
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Peace in 2000

Le Lys