Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's Worth It to Train Foreign Militaries

Over at Foreign Policy, John Norris has a rather pointed piece arguing the United States should be training far few foreign military officers than it is now. Some of his criticisms are very valid, most notably the lack of capacity for State Department Foreign Service Officers to fully monitor and provide oversight for foreign military assistance programs. These are programs largely under the purview of the State Department with implementation by the Defense Department.

But Mr. Norris goes down a treacherous path when suggesting we need a rubric in determining which countries we should assist. Certainly ideally we would want to engage with robust democracies, countries that have traditions of military subservience to civilian authority.  Trouble is, particularly for the more strategically important countries, that is rarely the case.

In perhaps a telling moment, Mr. Norris says:
[A] few months spent studying tactics and logistics in Kansas or Georgia rarely seems to slow down a power-hungry colonel when he is hell bent on toppling the elected government that just threatened to cut his budget.
Quite right, but how can we know which colonel has ambitions of a coup? And aren't we better served to have a relationship with that colonel? Could we not provide a moderating influence over his ambitions if we have a relationship with him?

The relationships developed as part of our foreign military assistance are real and strategically important, if intangible. I think there's a danger of pulling back engagement at our own long-term peril.  I would point to the pivot or re-balance to Asia that has been the talk in military circles. Given the lack of desire and resources for the United States to create more permanent or semi-permanent installations in Asia, foreign military assistance, training the militaries of our allies, providing foreign military assistance can help us re-balance on the cheap. If we intend to counter-balance a rising China, we need a long roster of friends and an expansive rolodex of contacts. Foreign military assistance gives us both. To set a bar instead of a floor, we imperil our own strategic initiatives.

No comments:

Post a Comment