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After Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many international locations rapidly responded by imposing sanctions on Russia and by sending weapons to assist Ukraine defend itself.
However up to now, the U.S. and its NATO allies have mentioned they won’t ship troops.
Nonetheless, many non-Ukrainians wish to combat for Ukraine for quite a lot of causes, whether or not ideological, private or political.
To make the most of that help, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has arrange the Worldwide Legion of Protection of Ukraine for many who want to volunteer – together with U.S. residents. Whereas this specific effort could also be new, the idea of a overseas legion – a navy power comprised of volunteers from overseas international locations – is greater than 190 years previous.
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The French mannequin
The “Légion étrangère,” or French International Legion, is probably the world’s most well-known – and notorious – overseas legion.
When it was created in 1831, its major function was to combat France’s colonial wars. Since its formation, legionnaires born in additional than 140 international locations have fought below the French flag in quite a lot of conflicts all through Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. In recent times, the French International Legion has deployed to Afghanistan and the Sahel area of Africa.
Given their lineage as an expeditionary power, legionnaires are sometimes among the many first French troops despatched right into a harmful setting. But every year, volunteers nonetheless journey to France in hopes of enlisting.
For some would-be legionnaires, it’s about becoming a member of a specific battle. As an example, earlier than the U.S. formally entered World Struggle I, many Individuals volunteered to turn into legionnaires to combat alongside the Allies. In lots of international locations, together with the U.S., residents who swear an oath of allegiance to a overseas energy threat having their citizenship stripped. The French International Legion sidesteps this by requiring that legionnaires swear allegiance to the Legion itself – to not the nation of France.
For others, becoming a member of the French International Legion is about beginning a brand new life. A legionnaire can apply to turn into a French citizen after solely three years of service. Moreover, anybody wounded in motion is “Français par le sang versé,” or “French by spilled blood,” and might instantly apply for French citizenship.
Legionnaires who’re retired or on go away from energetic obligation can discover lodging and function tending to grape fields and making wine on the Legion’s personal picturesque Provençal château.
There’s, nonetheless, a darkish aspect to what could seem like romantic escapism. For one, the French International Legion has typically acted as a automobile for colonial conquest and occupation. That is famously on full show in “The Battle of Algiers,” an evocative movie about Algeria’s battle for independence and France’s efforts to suppress that battle.
Past the risks of the battlefield, legionnaires have additionally confronted sexual violence and different types of abuse from fellow legionnaires – typically dying in consequence.
The usage of overseas fighters elsewhere
Many international locations have taken a web page from France’s playbook by permitting foreigners to serve of their armed forces. For instance, in 1920, Spain based its personal overseas legion to combat in its colonial campaigns, particularly the Rif Struggle in Morocco.
Through the Spanish Civil Struggle, there have been overseas volunteers on either side: The battle-hardened Spanish International Legion fought for Francisco Franco, whereas Republican forces against fascism organized the Worldwide Brigades, which included greater than 35,000 volunteers from around the globe, together with roughly 2,800 from the U.S..
International fighters have performed vital roles in lots of different conflicts. Through the American Revolution, a number of overseas navy officers, together with Tadeusz Kościuszko, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette, made very important contributions to the battle for independence.
Through the Russian Revolution, skilled non-Russian troops introduced priceless navy experience to the nascent Crimson Military.
Equally, throughout Israel’s Struggle of Independence, World Struggle II veterans proved so indispensable that former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion referred to as them “the Diaspora’s most vital contribution to the survival of the State.”
Some international locations don’t have a separate overseas legion, however nonetheless permit some foreigners to enlist. As an example, residents of the European Union can be a part of the Irish Defence Forces. Residents of the Commonwealth, most of which is former components of the British Empire, can be a part of the British Military. And residents of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau can be a part of the U.S. navy, together with overseas nationals who possess a inexperienced card.
As in France, serving in a overseas navy can typically assist speed up the naturalization course of. Noncitizen U.S. service members, for instance, can apply to turn into a citizen after only one yr on the job. It seems that volunteers serving within the Ukrainian navy might be eligible for Ukrainian citizenship in some unspecified time in the future sooner or later.
The dangers of warfare
In June 2022, two U.S. residents combating for Ukraine have been captured by Russian forces and now face an unsure future. This got here only a few weeks after two Britons and a Moroccan have been captured and subsequently sentenced to demise.
Regardless of serving within the Ukrainian navy, which below worldwide regulation ought to entitle them to prisoner-of-war standing, Russia argues that captured overseas fighters are mercenaries reasonably than troopers and thus not eligible. It’s price noting, although, that even Ukrainian prisoners of warfare don’t appear to be receiving correct therapy.
Sarcastically, Russia has for a number of years been making an attempt to recruit foreigners into its personal navy. Again in 2015, Russia started permitting noncitizens to hitch, and it affords citizenship eligibility after 5 years of service. Extra just lately, President Vladimir Putin has been vocal about his help for foreigners volunteering to hitch the combat in opposition to Ukraine.
International volunteers on either side of this battle might quickly be paying the final word worth – in the event that they haven’t already.
Joshua Holzer doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.