As Bush was ramping up the Iraq war last winter, Canadian military officials were startled to discover Pentagon recruiters roaming through their nation’s native population reserves trying to persuade Inuit and others to enlist in the U.S. military. The Americans started cropping up on the Atlantic Coast in Quebec, in the Sault Sainte Marie area of Ontario, and in Western Canada. A Canadian Defense Ministries report said the U.S. claimed that under the 1794 Jay Treaty it had the right to recruit Canadian native inhabitants for its military because aboriginal Canadians held dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship.
Alarmed top Canadian officials from the ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Defense huddled with Privy Council bigwigs and, screwing up their nerve, decided to tell the Americans that Canada didn’t like what was going on. “As a result of our interaction with the U.S. embassy, a letter was sent from the director, Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, to the vice chiefs of the U.S. military services, reminding them that their recruiters are to refrain from entering Canadian territory,” Foreign Affairs official Reynald Doiron told The Vancouver Sun earlier this month. The prohibition on recruiting applies to U.S. activities in Canadian high schools and university job fairs as well as on native reserves. The U.S. embassy confirmed that it would stop active recruiting in such places in Canada. If Canadians want to join the U.S. military, they will have to cross the border to do so.
The American recruiting efforts are aimed at filling the ranks of an army stretched thin by the Iraq war and by having to post troops in other world hot spots such as Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The U.S. may well have to put a permanent military presence in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of West Africa, to protect oil and gas reserves against regional squabbles. The U.S. currently recruits from among green-card holders—people with permanent resident status who aren’t yet American citizens. In an effort to boost recruitment from such groups, Bush has signed an order reducing the time holders of green cards must wait before becoming citizens. Currently some 37,000 such people are in the military, out of a total of 1.4 million.
The way some Canadians see it, the U.S. has already stolen their oil and gas, metals, diamonds, and water, and owns much of their industry. Now their manpower? Even the most laid-back of our neighbors to the north think this is going a bit far.
But perhaps they don’t realize it’s all for the greater good and represents but a drop in the bucket for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s heroic goal of privatizing large chunks of the U.S. armed forces. The Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root is under billion-dollar contracts to provide much of the logistical support for the military, doing such things as setting up base camps, providing the food, and digging the latrines. And Halliburton is but one of some 90 or so companies that are engaged around the world in recruiting private armies, which then are leased out to governments like those of the U.S. and Great Britain—franchised versions of the French Foreign Legion. Numerous jobs in Iraq are held by private soldiers working for government subcontractors from places like Bangladesh.
There’s a problem with all this. Some private troops might well fall outside the protection of the Geneva Conventions, which protect prisoners of war. Not that this seems to bother Rumsfeld, who in one case can invoke the Geneva Conventions and in another ignore them—whichever best serves the Bush administration’s purposes. They might be considered mercenaries, who are specifically excluded from protections.
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel, Phoebe St John, and Alicia Ng