US International Security Assistance Education and Training

Background || Training and Human Rights || US Foreign Policy Goals / The Role of Training || Programs || Reports on Military Training || Glossary

"The Army is in about 70 different countries today--on exercises, on mobile training teams, and doing things that could potentially preclude us from having to be involved with that country in a crisis."- General Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

"I have seen no evidence in my 24 years In Congress of one instance where because of American Military involvement with another military that the Americans have stopped that foreign army from carrying out atrocities against their own people."- Mr. Tom Harkin, U.S. Senate

(The following description is based on numerous government documents and sources.)

The Department of Defense and other government agencies train foreign soldiers and law enforcement personnel through several different programs, some funded by accounts within the Pentagon's budget and others by the State Department-administered foreign aid budget. The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program-with a budget of $50 million for FY1999-is the best known and most transparent of these programs. The Pentagon has historically used IMET to train foreign troops in the use of U.S.-supplied equipment and in U.S. military doctrine and tactics. Yet as Congress began to prohibit or place restrictions on IMET for some governments with poor human rights records, including Indonesia in 1992, reports surfaced describing the Pentagon's use of other, less transparent, programs to train black-listed or problematic states. For example, the Joint Combined Exercises and Training (JCET) program has allowed Special Operations Forces to train Indonesian forces, as well as those of many other repressive or aggressive states, under the pretext of providing U.S. soldiers with training in foreign terrain. Special Forces-known best for counterinsurgency operations and irregular warfare-also train African soldiers in "peacekeeping" under the African Crisis Response Initiative, launched in 1996. In addition, the Defense Department conducts foreign military training as part of counter-narcotics assistance, and the Pentagon has created the Joint Contact Team Program to train Partnership for Peace militaries in Central and Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics.
The increasing number of programs has made it difficult for Congress and the interested public to know the extent of this activity or to oversee it adequately. Training militaries in human rights; non-combat peacekeeping skills, and a military doctrine based on civilian control and the rule of law could serve a valuable purpose in some states. Yet in other cases, the U.S. may be improving the ability of a government or army to repress its own civilian population or to engage in hostilities with its neighbors. At a minimum, it is difficult to see how military training counters or reduces the capacity an aggressive government or army may possess to repress its own civilian population.

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Background of Military Training Abroad

The term "security assistance" applies to a range of programs through which the U.S. endeavors to assist other nations in defending and preserving their national security. It includes grant and sales programs of military equipment and training, as well as other programs such as Peacekeeping Operations. The Department of State (DOS) is the program manager for security assistance, while the Department of Defense (DOD) implements the program. DOS and DOD share responsibilities, along with foreign military officials, for planning, development, and execution of training programs. Congress exercises legislative and oversight responsibilities in security assistance matters, including training (flow chart of organizational responsibilities).

The U.S. has been involved with security assistance since the Revolutionary War, though at that time the United States was receiving rather than providing it. Security assistance as it is understood today began with President Truman's address to Congress in March 1947, in which he said, "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." Presidential initiatives and congressional legislation since 1947 have supported this concept. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 authorize security assistance.

The U.S. began training military personnel from several foreign countries, most of them in Europe in 1949, after Congress authorized the grant Military Assistance Program and the cash Foreign Military Sales program and set out rules and criteria for its use. The emphasis of those early programs was on containing the influence of the Soviet Union, while training concentrated on skills needed to effectively operate and maintain equipment provided by the U.S. As Europe recovered from World War II, U.S. security assistance efforts shifted toward developing countries in the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

The International Military Education and Training (IMET) grant program was established in 1976 to provide professional, leadership and management training for senior military leaders and selected junior and middle grade officers with leadership potential. For fiscal year 1998 Congress appropriated $50 million apportioned among more than 100 countries for the IMET program. IMET and its predecessor grant programs have trained over 500,000 students in the past 40 years. Thousands of former IMET students have reached positions of prominence in their countries' military and civilian sectors. Theoretically, according to the Department of Defense, these welltrained, professional leaders with a first hand knowledge of America are expected to make a difference in winning access and influence for both US diplomatic and military representatives in foreign countries.

Training through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, in which countries pay for their own training, enables friendly countries to learn operation, maintenance and management of the sophisticated equipment they purchase from the U.S. FMS training sometimes includes tactical training as well.
As world conditions change, security assistance training has changed also. In the fiscal year 1991 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, Congress earmarked $1 million of the IMET funds to train foreign civilian and military officials in four areas: managing and administering foreign military establishments and budgets, understanding democracy and civilian control of the military, improving military judicial systems, and promoting awareness and understanding of internationally recognized human rights. This program has come to be called the Expanded IMET (EIMET) program because of the inclusion of foreign civilian officials. EIMET is based upon the premise that active promotion of democratic values is thought to be one of the most effective means for achieving U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives, particularly in emerging democracies and developing countries. The program includes new courses developed to meet congressional objectives regarding democracy building and human rights, as well as existing courses that focus on other EIMET goals.

The President and Congress have concerns about aiding emerging democracies in coping with domestic threats from terrorists and narcotics traffickers as well as developing good civil military relations. According to the Department of Defense the ability of training programs to encourage respect for internationally accepted human rights is a key concern throughout the Security Assistance Training Program today. The question is, are Security Assistance Training Programs the right vehicles to convey the message of human rights ?

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Human Rights and Security Assistance Training

U.S. foreign policy holds that training, advice, and assistance to developing countries' militaries are critical instruments of our national security policy. The assumption is that U.S. training, advice, and assistance advance U.S. policy goals by providing political influence in recipient countries; encouraging attitudinal changes in host nation militaries and the development of democratic institutions; and promoting greater internal, regional, and therefore, international stability. Security assistance, it is argued, is a cost-effective means of achieving these goals, since it does not involve large U.S. military forces or need to maintain large overseas installations.

Theoretically, these programs enable the United States to effect changes in host countries across a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from training in small unit tactics to encouraging concern for human rights, and from the provision of technical support for sophisticated weapons to the host military's role in national politics. Moreover, in the current international environment- in which rapid changes are resulting in a dramatic reappraisal of U.S. military expenditures, force structures, basing, etc.- U.S. training of international military students (IMS) has been given new importance as a relatively inexpensive means of projecting national interests. Yet, if training is to be an effective instrument of U.S. influence and leverage, we need to ensure that it meets both the needs of the international students and the goals of the United States. And the jury is still out on whether training is in fact an effective instrument of U.S. influence and leverage.

In recent years, concerns with human rights practices of certain countries that received U.S. foreign aid have led to restrictions or conditions being placed on their participation in the IMET program. For FY1997, Congress denied all IMET funding to Guatemala and Zaire. In the case of Indonesia, Congress has limited funding to the Expanded - IMET program. Proponents of IMET argue that the program represents the most important vehicle for contact between the U.S. military and its counterparts in countries with a record of human rights violations or a tradition of authoritarian or undemocratic governments. Further, they argue, as reductions in the U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program continue, IMET is increasingly the remaining military assistance program that can be used by Congress to sanction nations it finds to be abusing the rights of its people. At the same time, IMET may also be the only instrument available that might assist in changing the attitudes of military-dominated governments and lead to a reduction in human rights abuses and greater levels of democratic government.

Two problems are readily apparent in this thinking. One, should it be the case that the most important vehicle for contact between the United States and other developing countries is a strictly military program rather than a diplomatic or development program? And secondly, in contradiction to the concerns of IMET proponents, there are other programs that are currently assisting in attempts to help change attitudes in military-dominated governments, though in some cases such actions are not explicitly part of their mandate. These programs include Partnership for Peace, the African Crisis response Initiative and the JCET program, a program that is more often accused of being an offender in terms of human rights concerns than are IMET programs. But these programs do represent alternative contact programs, negating the "only instrument available argument" articulated above. The most contentious of these types of programs are conducted by special operations forces, most notably of late, a program called Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET).

Training foreign militaries in lethal tactics in order to gain access to these countries, sometimes called buying influence, is presumably thought to be in the realm of "national security interests." "National security interests" are often used as justification for conducting training in countries that are known human rights abusers and that have oppressed their own people using tactics and weapons originating in the United States. One could conclude, then, that at least in the eyes of some foreign policy makers, that "national security needs" sometimes overshadow human rights concerns. By describing the variety of training programs in the U.S. inventory, by analyzing their content, and by highlighting the link between these training programs and consequent human rights abuses, we hope to challenge the notion that human rights concerns are sometimes subordinate to national security interests. Instead, it is hoped that by shedding light on this obscure foreign policy tool of foreign military training, we will uniquely contribute to the growing consensus that a paradigm shift is in order as foreign policy is concerned; that human rights issues are fundamental to, or inseparable from , national security interests.

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US Foreign Policy Goals / The Role of Training

U. S. strategic objectives are articulated in the National Security Strategy of the United States, a report prepared annually and presented to Congress by the president. Its three core objectives are:

  • To enhance U.S. security
  • To bolster America's economic prosperity
  • To promote democracy abroad

Foreign policy, plans, programs, and capabilities designed to achieve national objectives are developed by various government departments. Thus, Security Assistance programs are designed specifically with national security objectives in mind. Security Assistance is defined in the Department of Defense Dictionary as :

Groups of programs authorized by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, and the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, as amended, or other related statutes by which the United States provides defense articles, military training, and other defense related services by grant, loan, credit, or cash sales in furtherance of national policies and objectives.

Furtherance of national policies and objectives is achieved through various economic and military programs, including economic support, developmental assistance, the Public Law 480 food for peace programs, counter-narcotics programs, the Peace Corps, peacekeeping, foreign military financing, and International Military Education and Training.The specific goals of the U.S. security assistance training programs themselves are to :

  • Promote self-sufficiency
  • Encourage the training of future leaders
  • Support enhanced relations between the United States and foreign countries
  • Expand foreign understanding of the United States and its culture and values
  • Participate in International Narcotics Control


Some nations allow the United States to "train the trainers," in efforts to promote self-sufficiency. Other countries lack the manpower or the educational acumen to develop their own training programs and therefore continue to rely on the United States. Still others may be able to develop their own training programs, but would rather send their students to the United States to expose them to state-of-the-art technologies and techniques.

Identification and Training of Leaders

The identification and training of future leaders has been a long-standing priority for the U.S., dating back to 1949 when the original Military Assistance Program (MAP) and FMS began. Although each country uses different criteria for determining who will go to study in the United States, those who are selected for the more advanced courses are usually on the leadership/advancement track. Students trained in their own country, or outside the United States are less likely to be destined for leadership positions.

Enhanced Relations

Members of the defense and diplomacy communities believe that enhanced relations between the U.S. and foreign countries are closely related to the training of leaders. There are many countries where a higher percentage of the military's leadership has received U.S. training than have regular military personnel.

The defense community believes that training other countries' leaders translates into improved communication with the United States, as well as greater openness to U.S. needs and interests. It is also thought that training contributes to interoperability with allies and friends, further enhancing relations by guaranteeing the utility of weapons sales to the purchasing country in exchange for base rights, ports of call, use of airspace during emergencies, and other opportunities. Good relations are also said to be derived from the sales of equipment and the leverage and good will engendered by such sales.

Expansion of Foreign Understanding

Expansion of foreign understanding of the United States and its culture and values is a hoped for by-product of IMS enrollment in military assistance courses. Even though the courses are not specifically geared to this objective, foreign student interaction with U.S. military students and instructors and general exposure to U.S. culture is a primary goal of international military student training

Participation in INC

International Narcotics Control training, which is specifically targeted at Central and South American countries engaged in the struggle against drug-trafficking, is supported through the same organizations developed to organize security assistance training in general, though the funding source is different

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Reports on Foreign Military Training

U.S. Defense Department & State Department

             2002 Foreign Military Training Report: ASMP's Analysis

  • Section 331 report on CJCS (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Exercise Program, the Partnership for Peace Program, and the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program for fiscal years 1995 to 2000.


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