Murphy's Law: Foreign Mercenaries in Europe


June 27, 2007: Many people were surprised to find that three of the six Spanish soldiers, killed by a car bomb in Lebanon recently, were from South America. About six percent of Spanish military personnel are foreign born, and that is not an unusual situation in many European countries. Even in the United States, about five percent of all military personnel are foreign born, and the percentage in the British military is close to ten percent. Spain and France have "Foreign Legions," while Britain has its Gurkha regiment. Now that most armed forces in Europe are ditching conscription, the use of foreigners in the ranks is becoming more popular. Then again, filling out the volunteer military with ambitious foreigners is a tradition that goes back to the Roman empire, and even earlier.

About eleven percent of the Spanish troops sent to Lebanon were foreign born, and this has caused some to question how the foreign troops are used. Historically, the foreigners were typically used to do the most dangerous jobs. But Latin Americans see enlisting in European armed forces as an easy way to get legal entry to the European Union, and much better economic opportunities. The Spanish Legion (the "Foreign" tag has been dropped), prefers Spanish speaking foreign recruits from South America. Most of those joining are from Colombia and Ecuador. Foreign legions are typically full of gung-ho troops who feel slighted if they don't get the most dangerous jobs. It's less of a political liability when foreign, instead of native, troops are killed in action. Or it used to be. Until the advent of international, 24/7 media operations, it was difficult for the parents of the dead foreign soldier to be reached by reporters. That is no longer the case. But the enthusiastic foreign troops in elite units are still useful for dangerous assignments that require dedication and fearlessness. If reporters dig deep enough, they will find a young guy who wanted some high risk adventure. Sometimes the risk wins.


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