James Pattison

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The AVF and the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach

I have argued, then, that a conscripted force is morally problematic according to the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach and that the republican defences of this way of organising the military largely fail. Before I assess the AVF according to the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach, it is first necessary to reject a major criticism of it. This is the assertion, largely from the republican defenders of conscription, that the AVF is nothing more than a 憁ercenary army60 This is because it hires individuals who are volunteers from an open job market and who may be attracted by the good pay on offer, instead of relying on citizen-soldiers who want to perform their duty to defend the state. As such, there is little difference, the argument runs, between the AVF and the use of PMSCs. Both rely on monetary rewards to persuade individuals to enlist. Both also encourage individualism rather than focusing on the civic duty to protect the state. The sense that the AVF is a mercenary army is increased by the growing reliance of many AVFs on foreign recruits, who may be attracted by the benefits on offer, such as the level of remuneration and fast-tracked citizenship.

This argument is unconvincing. The AVF is a public institution, unlike PMSCs which are private organisations. The volunteer soldiers of the AVF are much more like civil servants than like entrepreneurs. More specifically, there are two major differences between private contractors and volunteer soldiers. The first difference is the reason why private contractors and volunteer soldiers enlist. As noted above, many volunteer soldiers are motivated predominately (if not solely) by patriotism and a sense of duty. Volunteer soldiers can be seen to be akin to teachers and nurses, providing a public service for the common good, and often making a sacrifice when doing so.61 This is recognised by many states. In return for their service, societies often revere their volunteer soldiers and provide them with additional benefits, beyond those that the soldiers could expect to receive if they were private contractors. For instance, volunteer soldiers are generally hailed for their sacrifice, which would not make sense if they were simply perceived to be volunteers getting a decent price for their service.62 Conversely, PMSC personnel are generally less likely to work for the common good (although may sometimes be motivated by the common good); rather, they can be expected to pursue their own (financial) self-interest to a greater extent than regular soldiers (although some regular soldiers may also be motivated by financial concerns).63

The second, related difference is that, although both give their consent, private contractors and volunteer soldiers agree to different sorts of contract. A contractor agrees to a short-term, financial contract, where they can choose the wars in which they fight, often for excellent remuneration. Volunteer soldiers, by contrast, accept when they enlist a soldier-state contract, which is sometimes made explicit in military covenants. This often involves sacrifice, the forgoing of civic rights, and long terms of duty, but also entitlements to additional benefits from their state.

These two differences are likely to have some impact on the legitimacy of the AVF according to the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach. The difference in motivation means that the AVF is more likely to be effective, assuming that an individual抯 motives are instrumentally important. For instance, other things being equal, a soldier motivated predominantly by the collective good seems less likely to desert his fellow soldiers when a mission to protect his state becomes risky than a soldier or contractor motivated solely by financial gain.64 The difference in contract means that the AVF can be expected to treat its military personnel better than private contractors are treated (although some AVFs have some problems in this regard, which I will discuss shortly). This is because the implicit soldier-state contract exerts pressure on political and military leaders. A society抯 perception of volunteer soldiers as sacrificing themselves for the greater good, and thereby having entitlements to additional benefits, leads to indignation when military personnel are inadequately treated. By contrast, the perception of contractors motivated by financial gain, out for what they can get, means that there is far less ire when contractors are not properly treated.65

Having rejected the claim that the AVF is a mercenary army, let us now evaluate the AVF according to the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach. First, the effectiveness of the AVF is one of its greatest benefits. A standing, professional army provides the possibility of extensive training and integration. This training and integration enhances flexibility since soldiers can prepare for a variety of potential conflicts. Hence, Curtis Gilroy, the director of the Pentagon抯 accession policy, defends strongly the effectiveness of the AVF.66 He argues that it is effective because, first, the recruits perform better because they volunteer and, second, it can select well-qualified recruits, which in turn means that its recruits are more easily trained and present fewer disciplinary problems.

In terms of democratic control, however, the AVF cannot be expected to do so well. This is because of the civil-military gap between the AVF and the polity, which is a cause for concern since professional, volunteer soldiers can become distanced politically from the polity that they are supposed to defend. As outlined above, this can potentially threaten subjugation to the democratic control of the polity. Similarly, the current, state-based AVFs have problems in terms of the proper treatment of military personnel. For example, Elke Krahmann argues that declining job security, narrowing career options, worsening living and working conditions, and lengthier deployments have given the impression that states are no longer keeping their side of the military covenant bargain.67 In addition, it is sometimes claimed that although volunteer soldiers agree to enlist, their consent is not truly free.68 As discussed above, it is often argued that the AVF recruits from the more disadvantaged members of society. It may appear to follow that when volunteer soldiers enlist this is the only reasonable option that they possess.

This overstates matters somewhat. It is important is to distinguish between joining the military as the only reasonable choice for the poor and disadvantaged and joining the military as one amongst many reasonable alternatives. In several of the states that have an AVF there exist reasonable employment alternatives. Although enlistment may be the most economically and socially desirable option, many of those who enlist in the AVF are not forced to do so by socio-economic pressures. Notwithstanding, the more disadvantaged members of society are likely to have fewer alternatives available to them. The lack of equality of opportunities means that joining the AVF may be relatively a better option for the poor and disadvantaged than for their more advantaged fellow citizens. Although the choice of soldiers in the AVF may not be coerced, it will often be manipulated to a certain degree by recruitment officers, given that, like PMSCs, the AVF recruits from the market. In particular, there are pressures to hire the best candidates at the lowest cost, which may lead to some misrepresentation of the roles on offer. The US Army, for instance, has been accused of targeting children in a manner similar to 憄redatory groomingand of lying to student recruits.69

These concerns about the AVF抯 degree of democratic control and proper treatment of the military diminish to some extent its overall legitimacy. However, although worrisome, these problems are not likely to mean that a particular AVF will necessarily be illegitimate, all things considered. This is for two reasons. First, a number of measures may be adopted—and have been adopted by several AVFs—to reduce the civil-military gap. These include the use of programs such as the ROTC to increase representativeness.70 Second, recall that effectiveness is the most important factor on the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach. The effectiveness of the AVF will mean that any likely failings in its subjugation to democratic control and its treatment of military personnel may not be fatal to its overall legitimacy. If these failings are not grave, then the AVF can make up the loss of legitimacy by being highly effective—as I have suggested it can sometimes be expected to be. Overall, then, despite these problems, a particular AVF may sometimes be likely to possess an adequate degree of legitimacy. And, given the more serious failings of the use of PMSCs and conscription, the AVF is generally the most legitimate currently existing way of organising the military.
Notwithstanding, the problems that I have highlighted mean that there should be reforms to improve many AVFs. To that end, I will now briefly sketch some proposals for reform to tackle the issues outlined, although space prohibits a full defence of these proposals. In order to achieve a much more legitimate military, I think a cosmopolitan AVF under the control of global democratic institutions is ultimately necessary in the long-term. However, I cannot defend this proposal against the statist alternatives here.71 I will focus instead on some more short-term proposals.

Given recruitment difficulties, there is a tendency in some AVFs to reduce the terms of service and to lower recruitment standards. In order to have a more effective force, lengths of service should, on the contrary, be increased to allow for greater training and specialisation, and the recruitment standards should be higher. In addition, there should be recruitment targets so that the AVF does not have a strong bias towards any particular ethnicity, gender, class, social and political group, or sexuality, which should reduce the civil-military gap.

Moreover, there should be a reduction) in the size of the armed forces (and not replacement by private contractors) to that which is strictly necessary to achieve the two central rationales of the military outlined above. The case for a reduction in the size of the military is premised on two points: (i) most wars are unjust since they involve the deaths of several innocents (of innocent civilians, just combatants, or unjust combatants) and therefore fail to meet the ad bellum and in bello requirements of proportionality and discrimination; and (ii) most states are not subject to significant threats posed by unjust aggressors. It follows that the two central rationales of the military—to fight currently feasible just wars and to deter unjust threats—do not apply to many states. Consequently, several AVFs are currently oversized and largely unnecessary, and even dangerous, given the risks of military influence on the state.

To improve the treatment of military personnel, there should be a formal system of conscientious refusal for matters of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. That is, soldiers would have the choice to refuse to participate in any mission where they deem the justice of the war (launched or continuing) or operation to be in doubt (although there may need to be a financial penalty for refusing in order to discourage mendacious claims). There would also be a legally binding military covenant that outlines, on the one hand, the expectations of its soldiers and, on the other, their additional rights and benefits, including an extensive responsibility of care during and after their term of service.72

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