Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rethink, but don’t dismiss – on U.S. training of foreign troops

I agree with Dr. Egnell and I would add that too often training of foreign troops has been along the lines of "random acts of touching."  The first question that should be asked when training foreign troops is what is the strategy that this effort supports.  

We are often fond of using anecdotes about how training of foreign forces has provided an unexpected return on investment sometime in the future (I am guilty of this myself).  However, that does not mean that we should just train foreign troops in the hopes of someday receiving an unexpected benefit.  The training must be part of an overall strategy, with a specific campaign, based on assessment that provides an understanding of the nature of the problems, that is designed to support US interests while aligning with the interests of our friends, partners, and allies with whom we are training.  And the strategy must be in synch with the national security strategy, the regional strategy of the mission strategic plan of the US Chief of Mission in the specific host nation.  

There is also a paradox here.  We often criticize ourselves for training forces in our own image with equipment and techniques that are suited for the US way of war.  Often this is inappropriate but many times we do it anyway.  However, in many cases this is exactly what the host nation wants – it wants its military to be like the US military and they ask for this specific training and equipment.  We have to be good advisers and work to manage expectations and by conducting a combined assessment determine what the host nation forces need and are capable of employing in terms of military equipment and tactics, techniques and procedures.

But as Professor Egnell recommends, rethink, don't abort.

I also think it is interesting to note that Professor Egnell rightly begins with the new US policy on security sector reform, unlike many of the commentators in the NY Times debate on a "Lesson in Futility."

Rethink, but don’t dismiss – on U.S. training of foreign troops
Robert Egnell (MA and PhD KCL War Studies) is Visiting Professor and Director of Teaching in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He is the author (with David Ucko) of Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and Challenges of Modern War (CUP forthcoming 2013) and Complex Peace Operations and Civil-Military Relations (Routledge 2009)
On Friday last week the Obama White House released a new policy on U.S. Security Sector Assistance. The goals of the new policy are to “help partner nations build the sustainable capacity to address common security challenges; promote partner support for the policies and interests of the United States; strengthen collective security and multinational defense arrangements and organizations; and promote universal values.” The policy is nevertheless released in the midst of an increasingly intense debate regarding the impact of training and assisting activities in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali. Then the New York Times publisheda debate on the topic with the title “A Lesson in Futility for the Pentagon?” However, rather than dismissing these activities, a more interesting discussion should involve the effectiveness of these missions in relation to the conduct and approaches employed, as well as how train and assist activities serve the broader U.S. national security agenda.

The United States has an ambitious and truly global security strategy. This is reflected not only in the deep global deployment of U.S. troops, but also in the vast number of military training and assistance missions globally. Arguing that the efforts to train and assist foreign forces abroad are futile is the wrong approach as there are no viable alternatives without a complete revision of U.S. grand strategy. However, the current conduct of these activities, involving limited political judgment and inappropriate military self-replication, tends to produce results that contradict the main purposes of these activities – to maintain global order at a low cost. Instead, vast sums of money and resources are spent for ineffective foreign forces that in the end reduce the power and legitimacy of America in the international system.

Let us not delude ourselves by thinking this is a particularly new problem. Great powers have sought to build the capacity of friendly foreign security forces for all of recorded history, from Sun Tzu and Thucydides to western trainers in Afghanistan and Africa today. While comparisons between the great powers of today and the empires of the past have clear limits, the key challenges they face are the same – maintaining a functional level of order and stability in vast overseas areas but with a limited enough level of investment to avoid crippling the homeland. Indeed, the reliance on local military and police forces were instrumental in holding the British Empire together.

The United States military, although incredibly impressive and already verging on cripplingly costly to its citizens, still do not have close to enough power and resources to maintain global order without allies, cooperating partners, proxies, and most importantly – political legitimacy. American military assistance and training abroad are therefore necessary features of U.S. policy to maintain global order to serve its purpose. What is true, though, is that the train and assist activities are currently poorly conducted and need a thorough rethink. This text focuses on three main problems:
(Continued at the link below and please make sure you go to Kings of War to read his recommendations)

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