Offshoring the Army: Migrant Workers and the U.S. Military


Long-running debates over military privatization overlook one important fact: The U.S. military’s post-2001 contractor workforce is composed largely of migrants imported from impoverished countries. This Article argues that these Third Country National (TCN) workers—so called because they are neither American nor local—are bereft of the effective protections of American law, local regimes, or their home governments; moreover, their vulnerability is a feature, not a flaw, in how the U.S. projects global power today. TCN workers are an offshore captive labor force whose use allows the government to keep politically sensitive troop numbers and casualty figures artificially low while reducing dependence on local populations with suspect loyalties. Legislation to combat human trafficking has done little to remedy exploitation and abuse of TCN workers because of jurisdictional hurdles and the lack of robust labor rights protections. Substantive reform efforts should address the deeper issue at stake, namely that the government uses TCN workers to carry out a core state function—namely, the use of force—without a clear relationship of responsibility to them. Unlike with soldiers, the labor of TCN workers is not valorized as sacrifice and unlike mercenaries selling their services to the highest bidder, they are frequently indebted to the point of indenture.

About the Author

Darryl Li is an Associate Research Scholar and Robina Visiting Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School. He holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in Anthropology & Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University.

By uclalaw