Reform military assistance to advance democratic values


U.S. military assistance could be a major asset in advancing democratic values and institutions, says a prominent analyst. Yet the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which provides U.S. government funds to members of foreign militaries to take classes at U.S. military facilities, is in need of significant reform, argues Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations:

The program contains no system for tracking which foreign military officers attended IMET. Additionally, the program is not effectively promoting democracy and respect for civilian command of armed forces. A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that most IMET programs did not include material on human rights and democracy. Although some U.S. policymakers now want to expand IMET to include officers from a broader range of developing nations, such as Myanmar, the program should be revamped before it is enlarged. The reforms should include more effectively screening IMET candidates, developing a system to follow the careers of IMET alumni, and institutionalizing coursework on professionalism, human rights, and democracy in IMET’s curriculum.

Designed to help foreign militaries bolster their relationships with the United States, learn about U.S. military equipment, improve military professionalism, and instill democratic values in their members, IMET has the potential to be a powerful tool of U.S. influence, he adds. Failing to utilize IMET to promote respect for democratic rule and civilian command harms U.S. interests, Kurlantzick suggests in a new CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum:

In countries such as Thailand, Egypt, and Pakistan, continued military involvement in politics weakens civilian governments and stokes instability, making these states unreliable strategic partners over the long term. In addition, continued involvement in politics undermines these militaries’ professionalism and their ability to actually fight wars. For example, the Thai armed forces have more generals per capita than any other military in the world, largely so they can effectively stage regular coups. The Thai army has performed poorly in its most recent military encounters, including an ongoing counterinsurgency effort in southern Thailand dating to 2001.

“Although U.S. training programs cannot be expected to dramatically determine political dynamics in foreign countries, failing to use U.S. training to emphasize respect for democratic institutions sends a message that assistance does not distinguish between abusive and law-abiding militaries,” Kurlantzick asserts. “In addition, if foreign military leaders attend IMET and then intervene in politics back home, their history of U.S. education undermines U.S. rhetorical support for democracy.”


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