Attrition: Gurkhas Want to Renegotiate


September 20, 2006: For over two centuries, the British army has relied heavily on foreign troops to maintain its strength. Currently, there are some 6,700 foreigners serving in the British army, about ten percent of the force. What is different today is that most (3,700) of the foreigners are not in separate units (as the Nepalese Gurkhas are), but serve side-by-side with British citizens, in the same units. The foreign troops come from 57 nations, with the largest contingent (after the Gurkhas) being 2,000 men from Fiji. Like the Gurkhas, the Fijians are simply fond of the military life, and good at it. Other major contributors of troops are; Jamaica (975), South Africa (720), Zimbabwe (565), St Vincent (280), St Lucia (225), Australia (75). Note that all of these are former colonies, and still possess many English speakers, and people familiar with British customs. Moreover, those who make the army a career, can retire to their home country and, in most cases, live quite well because of lower living costs back home. This is particularly the case with the Gurkhas. Although these troops always received lower pensions (less than ten percent of what British vets get), the cost-of-living was so low in Nepal, that the Gurkha veterans lived quite well. Moreover, Gurkhas could retire after fifteen years, while British soldiers had to serve 22 years to qualify for a pension. Currently, over fifty Nepalese compete for each available new position available in British army Gurkha battalions.
Centuries ago, when foreign troops were first used, they were usually hired, as units, from the foreign nation that supplied them. The Gurkhas first entered British service in 1815, and were paid wages similar to other troops in the region. Then, as now, this was less than what European troops made. Retired Gurkhas began pressing for pension parity nearly two decades ago, and they probably will get it. For several decades, Gurkha troops have received extra cost-of-living pay, depending on where they were serving, that gave them pay comparable to local civilian wages. This Gurkhas in Britain ended up earning about the same as their British counterparts. But the pensions are still based on living costs in Nepal. But not for long.
Britain has long recruited foreigners into its army and navy because there has always been a shortage of British citizens willing to serve. Currently, the British army is short about 1.5 percent of its authorized strength.


Article Archive

Attrition: Current 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close