Educating Foreign Officers

By Gibler, Douglas M.; Ruby, Tomislav Z. | Joint Force Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Educating Foreign Officers


Gibler, Douglas M., Ruby, Tomislav Z., Joint Force Quarterly


An editorial published in a British newspaper in 2001 lamented the fact that the School of the Americas at Fort Benning had trained a string of military dictators in recent decades: Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina, Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, and Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador--as well as the leaders of death squads in Peru and Honduras, among other notorious graduates. (1) And other programs operated by the Armed Forces have been cited for training Indonesians prior to the repression in East Timor as well as future Taliban leaders during Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation.

However, such cases are unrepresentative of the international military education programs conducted by the United States. Far more characteristic is the example of the war college graduate from Central Europe who went on to an assignment at NATO headquarters or another from the Middle East who returned home to educate fellow officers. Professional military education (PME) acts as a stabilizing factor that provides officers from many nations with the opportunity for study and exposure to the democratic values while attending senior- and intermediate-level institutions in America.

Terra Aliena

Half a million foreign officers have attended programs in the United States nine thousand from over a hundred countries in 2000--and of that number, some two hundred annually attend year-long courses with their American counterparts at PME institutions.

Professional military education differs from specialty training, which defines career fields for officers. Each service operates both a senior and an intermediate-level PME institution (or war and staff college). In addition, the National Defense University administers the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the National War College on the senior level as well as the Joint Forces Staff College, which are joint institutions operating under the auspices of the Chairman (see the accompanying insert, "The Schoolhouses").

In general, war college programs primarily focus on national military and national security strategy while staff college programs are devoted to theater-level operational art. The Chairman is required to ensure that curricula are current, standardized, and compliant with Goldwater-Nichols. Many countries send officers to the United States on a reimbursable basis under the Foreign Military Sales program, much as they purchase equipment. Developing nations that cannot afford the cost of education are provided with military assistance by the Department of State under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.

Phrases such as supporting security assistance, international involvement, lasting relations, and the like are common in descriptions of these programs. Educating international officers develops channels of communication with other nations and promotes democratic ideals around the world. Resident programs build familiarity with American officers to forge lasting friendships and an affinity for democratic values.

Emerging Democracies

The road to democracy is prone to violence. Embattled elites may attempt to manipulate nationalistic tendencies and create an alternative to mass democracy movements. These elites are easier to coordinate, often have better political access, and are better able to use the weak institutions of emerging democracies to their advantage. Rising nationalism then turns to a fait accompli that sends a state to war. The elites favor war because during wartime democratic rule can be dispensed with in favor of authoritarian measures. As one analysis pointed out, most great powers have been belligerent during democratic transitions because of this elite competition. (2)

Although war may be more likely in transitioning states, the probability of conflict is quite small even when there may be elite competition. …

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