Friday, October 22, 2010

Would This Work?

There's an idea I've wondered about in the past. I'm sure it would be completely impractical for some reason, and that I betray my relatively amateur knowledge of political science and military organization and international law by even suggesting it, but here goes:

What if there were single-mission volunteer peacekeeping armies?

Although it seems to have fallen out of the public spotlight, the war in Darfur (which is still going on) was, for a while, a major cause for liberal types. "Why aren't we doing anything?" was the cry, meaning "Why aren't we sending our army/NATO/somebody over there for heaven's sake?" It particularly upset people that we were losing soldiers and spending billions in Afghanistan and Iraq supposedly protecting the peace and spreading democracy while we hypocritically ignored the situation in Sudan. ("We" here meaning the U.S., although the international community has been pretty hands-off on the whole - possibly because to condemn the actions in Darfur as genocide would morally obligate the expense of lives and money to fight the problem.)

So what if those who were so upset could join a volunteer force and be sent over to Darfur to establish peace?

It could work like this: the government announces there is enough interest that they are opening the peacekeeping Darfur program. Volunteer officers from the standing army will train the recruits and lead the mission, but the majority of the force will consist of completely new volunteers. These volunteers will *pay* their own way. In other words, no tax dollars are spent on the mission - it's essentially a citizen-funded enterprise with government-level organization. Those individuals who cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to train, ship and arm them can try and get sponsorship from those who have the means and are interested, or conduct fundraisers.

(Maybe a very small amount of tax dollars are spent paying the standing army officers who lead the mission or who train the recruits, but this can be considered an acceptable investment because in the end, the country still gains battle-ready soldiers, should we ever seriously need them.)

This approach solves two problems:

One, the people who volunteer are presumably, many of them, not interested in being regular soldiers, with the attendant long period of service and the requirement to serve in conflicts which they may not personally support. They are, however, humanitarian in spirit, and want to help stop a genocide; so this way they can contribute.

Two, because no tax dollars are used, this bypasses the question of whether public opinion supports sending our tax-paid soldiers over to a foreign country to do good deeds. The volunteer soldiers are privately funded.

Note that since the volunteers are unpaid and receive no benefits besides the knowledge that they are doing good, this would have no effect on our standing national army, which would still be staffed by patriots and people who can't afford not to be paid or who want to go to college via the military's programs.

In order for one of these volunteer army single-mission operations to happen, three criteria would need to be met: 1) there is enough interest from potential volunteers and funders to enact the mission; 2) there is no direct objection from the rest of the public [i.e., the prevailing attitude is not *against* the mission, but rather merely does not favor spending tax dollars on the mission]; and 3) the international community/UN does not frown upon the particular purpose of this mission.

So the general intention would be that this would work for cases like Darfur, where nobody, to my knowledge, thinks that ending the conflict would be a bad thing, merely that spending our own resources to do it would be; and there are some individuals who just might be (self-)righteous enough to be willing to fight to help end the conflict.

The main issue would be how committed and well-trained the volunteers are when over there. If they go over thinking it will be easy, that they'll just get to stand around brandishing guns and peace will happen, then all it will take is for some enemies to kill a few and the volunteers will want to turn and run. It might have to be the kind of thing where once you commit, you're obligated to a year of service (unless the mission is completed first), and if you desert, it will be prosecuted no differently than in the regular army. It might also have to be that passing through the basic training for the mission is not guaranteed no matter if you've paid or not; you have to prove that you're capable of being a soldier and of following orders.

The other big issue is just how you stop a conflict like that in Darfur with the mere application of firearms, but that's not specific to this volunteer concept.

So I'm sure this wouldn't work in the real world - but I'm not sure precisely why.

Thus, two questions for you, O readership:

1) Would this work and why/why not?

2) If there were, say, a corporate sponsor who was willing to pay your way and it was sanctioned by the international community, would you yourself volunteer for such a mission, get trained as a soldier, and go to Darfur for a year to help protect civilians and end the conflict?

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