Teaching Democracy at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

By Harrington, Donald B. | DISAM Journal, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Teaching Democracy at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation


Harrington, Donald B., DISAM Journal


[The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report are those of the author and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, unless so designated by other official documentation.]

At its biannual meeting in December 2002, the Board of Visitors (BOV) of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which reports directly to the Secretary of Defense, praised the quality of the Institute's human rights program. It went on to recommend increased emphasis on the teaching of democracy so as to bring that part of the program up to the same high standard. As the BOV emphasized, Congress charged the Institute in its founding legislation (10 USC 2166) with providing professional education and training to military, law enforcement and civilian personnel of the Western Hemisphere "within the context of the democratic principles of the Organization of American States (OAS)." The BOV further noted that "promoting democratic values, respect for human rights and knowledge and understanding of U.S. customs and traditions" were specified in the original charge. (1)

The human rights program praised by the BOV has evolved since the founding of the Institute in 2001 and is taught at the beginning of all of the Institute's more than twenty classes. Instruction consists of a minimum of eight hours of human rights training in law, ethics, rule of law and practical applications in military and police operations. Depending on the length of the class, the number of hours of human rights instruction increases proportionally up to the only yearlong class at the Institute, the Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC), which has over forty hours of human rights instruction. Included in this instruction are lectures on international laws and instruments governing human rights, trips to the nearby Andersonville National Historic Site honoring prisoners of war, guest speakers, case studies, conference, and practical exercises. (2)

As the BOV noted, however, the democracy part of the curriculum was less robust and more dispersed. Instead of a single block of eight or more hours of instruction concentrated at the beginning of each course, like the human rights program, it consisted of several loosely connected pieces scattered throughout each course. Further, unlike the human rights program, which is taught by a group of instructors working together within the same division, there was little coordination among the democracy pieces as the persons teaching them came from several different divisions.

Two elements comprised the main features of the democracy program:

* The two-hour block of instruction on the Armed Forces and Democracy, taught by the Department of State Chair for Advanced Studies, stressed the intellectual and constitutional basis of U.S. democracy, due process of law, rule of law and civilian control of the military.

* The Informational Program, initiated by the public law that governs security assistance as set forth in the August 1994 Handbook, is designed to expose international students to U.S. democratic institutions in action, to teach students about the basis of U.S. democracy and to inform them about U.S. customs and traditions. (3) The basic building blocks of this program are class trips to see U.S. democracy in action. All classes make day trips to the nearby cities of Columbus and/or Atlanta to study the distinctions and interfaces between local, state and federal governments. The two longest classes, the forty-nine-week CGSOC and the sixteen-week Captains" Course, also go to Washington, D.C. for a week.

Although all parts of the democracy and informational programs were well taught, well received by students and recognized for their own worth by the BOV, the perception was that the sum was somehow less than the parts. That perception, together with the outstanding success of our human rights program, led the BOV to recommend that the Institute strengthen the democracy program by increasing the focus on inculcating democratic values and civilian control of the military. …

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