This week Ukraine appealed for foreign fighters to come join their efforts to stop Russia’s invasion. Already many veterans are asking how to join the effort and what steps to take. The “International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine” was launched by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been relentless in his efforts to keep his sovereign nation out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grips.
So far, guidance for those interested in joining the group is to reach out to the Ukrainian Embassy for more information. News reports are already outlining how some veterans are beginning to mobilize in countries like Poland as they seek a way to support Ukraine.
Is It Legal to Fight for Another Country’s Military?
The obvious question anyone interested in serving should be asking is – is it legal? The U.S. code may give you pause: “Whoever, within the United States, enlists or enters himself, or hires or retains another to enlist or enter himself, or to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States with intent to be enlisted or entered in the service of any foreign prince, state, colony, district, or people as a soldier or as a marine or seaman … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
But, foreign fighters take heart – legal precedent has read that the issue comes down to an individual enlisting in or serving for a foreign country while still in the U.S. – the ‘within the U.S.’ provision is key, and U.S. citizens have served in foreign militaries in the past. That means that if you choose to join Ukraine’s international legion, you shouldn’t face criminal prosecution in the U.S. Other countries have been less clear about how they view their citizens joining the war effort. What is clear is that if you go to Ukraine, don’t expect any help from the U.S. government to get you out. The White House urged U.S. citizens to leave Ukraine and has said they have no plans to help evacuate U.S. citizens who remain in the country.
Will It Affect My Ability to Work in the U.S. Later?
It should go without saying, but if you currently hold an active federal security clearance, you can’t hop on a plane and join the Ukraine defense effort. But if you’re a veteran or security contractor considering supporting Ukraine (or any other country), you may wonder what impact that could have on your ability to obtain a security clearance in the future. As we’ve already noted, the fact that it’s not illegal is a major factor in your favor. There are obvious foreign influence concerns, but those could likely be mitigated with passage time. The biggest issue is making sure whatever you’re doing is following any legal or logistical protocols that can be followed, that you keep a paper trail of your correspondence and plans, and that your motivations for serving are ethical and not related to any extremist organizations (be careful who you associate with).
If someone is making the decision to serve overseas, there are clearly many factors to consider – your interest in pursuing a national security career later should be one of them.