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Rethinking How the United States Trains Foreign Militaries

LAWFARE

Rethinking How the United States Trains Foreign Militaries

By Renanah Miles Joyce

In May, President Biden quietly signed an order authorizing a persistent U.S. military presence in Somalia. U.S. troops are not engaging in direct combat operations there; instead, they are primarily training and advising Somali and African Union partner forces to fight the terrorist group al-Shabaab. These training efforts are part of a global web of U.S. military training and advising that aims both to build partner militaries’ warfighting capabilities and to influence when and how they fight.

The United States has different tools at its disposal to influence security partners: It can provide material goods such as arms and equipment to incentivize good behavior, or it can make support conditional on partners doing what it wants. Both approaches have problems. Generous flows of assistance rarely motivate partners to change, particularly when they get what they want without having to make painful adjustments. Conditionality has a better track record, but it can backfire. Pushing weak partners too far risks their collapse, and alternative providers such as China and Russia create outside options that allow them to dodge compliance.

Military training offers another pathway to influence: changing soldiers’ beliefs so that their preferences align with those of the United States. Shaping how partner militaries think and what they want offers a cheaper, more durable path to influence, because partners who share U.S. values should need less monitoring and less motivating to do what the United States wants them to do.

Two issue areas where the United States attempts to impart its preferred norms and values are human rights and civilian control of the military. Prioritization of these norms has increased over time—the United States did not always champion liberal norms in the militaries that it trained (the coup-producing School of the Americas is a notorious case in point). But U.S. law now requires that all efforts to build partner forces include training on “observance of and respect for the law of armed conflict, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, and civilian control of the military.”

In theory, producing more liberal and more competent militaries should go hand-in-hand. Research has shown that illiberal civil-military relations often produce ineffective militaries, and abusive militaries can fuel insurgencies by alienating local populations. But despite committing vast amounts of resources toward foreign military training—including almost $15 billion to train over 2.3 million military students around the world between 1999 and 2016—the United States has struggled to produce militaries that are either competent or liberal minded, especially in weak and unstable states.

 

Read more https://www.lawfareblog.com/rethinking-how-united-states-trains-foreign-militaries

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