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Week of 8 November 2002 · Vol. VI, No. 11

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IR conference to examine outcomes of military-to-military contacts

By David J. Craig

The United States has leveraged influence in the affairs of weaker nations for decades by providing training to foreign armies in regions such as Latin America. The objective of these military contacts, say proponents, is not simply to address U.S. security concerns, but also to transmit American values such as democracy and respect for human rights.

But does the U.S. military achieve such noble goals, or does it encourage abuses of power and human rights violations in fledgling nations? That question will be addressed at a conference hosted by the BU Center for International Relations, entitled Mil-to-Mil: Assessing U.S. National Security Cooperation Strategies, on November 13 and 14 at the School of Management, 595 Commonwealth Ave. Participants will include Andrew Bacevich, retired U.S. Army General Fred Woerner, and David Scott Palmer, all CAS professors of international relations, as well as Andrew Hoehn, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, U.S. Department of State officials Robert McGarity and Douglas Maybarduk, and several Latin American military officers and scholars of the region. The conference, which is free and open to the public, is funded by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College and the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee.

“Mil-to-mil contacts can include foreign military officers attending U.S. war colleges, sending U.S. Special Forces to train foreign units in particular tactics or the use of equipment, or senior officers visiting the officers of other nations and vice versa,” says Bacevich, who directs the Center for International Relations. “Thousands of these mil-to-mil contacts happen every year, involving dozens of countries around the world.

“The United States takes part in these exchanges because they can help interoperability between nations in case we’re ever in a military coalition with them, because it’s good for our people to learn about the military cultures of other countries, and because we think being on friendly terms with another nation’s generals will lead to increased U.S. influence,” he continues. “But we also contend that we convey to other nations values like military professionalism, respect for human rights, respect for civilian control, and belief in democracy.”

However, the notion that the U.S. military imprints positive values on other nations “has long been asserted, but never demonstrated,” Bacevich says, and in recent years there has been mounting criticism from American activists and journalists about the efficacy of such contacts.

“There is a huge debate because some people say that just the reverse is true: that we transmit negative values, and this has particularly been the case with Latin America,” he says. “They assert that foreign armies train with us and then return home and engage in torture or massive human rights violations.”

Of course, the military establishment “absolutely denies that,” Bacevich continues, “and policy makers tend to be very enthusiastic about these contacts. They tend to assume that the policy outcomes are positive. But we’ve never really run the facts to ground and determined whether positive values are transmitted or if perhaps negative values are transmitted. What we’re doing in this conference is taking a detached, comprehensive view of military-to-military programs to get some sense of whether or not any values are being passed, and what the policy outcomes of these contacts are.”

The conference will include the presentation of four studies assessing the effects of U.S. military contacts with Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. These studies were commissioned by the Center for International Relations, which has received an offer to publish them as a collection of essays, Bacevich says. “These are four case studies done by highly respected specialists on Latin American security issues,” he explains. “They deal with some of the most contentious cases of U.S. relations in Latin America. For instance, the Guatemalan military has clearly been a massive violator of human rights, and yet we have had these mil-to-mil relations with them on and off, going back quite a long time. The data may show that certain types of military contacts are useful and have positive results, and some don’t. So potentially, it might help us reshape mil-to-mil programs.”

For more information about the conference, visit www.bu.edu/ir/cir.html. To attend, please RSVP to Jain Yu at 358-0195.

Counterterrorism subject of scrutiny at IR forum

Are Americans today safer from the threat of terrorism than they were a year ago? Is the U.S. military spreading itself too thin by poising for a war with Iraq when al-Qaeda operatives are believed to be regrouping in Asia and around the world?

Three national security specialists will evaluate U.S. counterterrorism efforts at a special forum on Tuesday, November 12, at 4 p.m., at the School of Management, 595 Commonwealth Ave. Sponsored by BU’s Center for International Relations and the American Jewish Committee New England Region, the forum, entitled The War on Terror: Who’s Winning? will focus on the diplomatic challenges to fighting terrorism worldwide. Short presentations will be given by Andrew Bacevich, a CAS professor of international relations and director of the Center for International Relations, Steve Pomerantz, former FBI chief of counterterrorism, and Yehudit Barsky, director of the American Jewish Committee’s division on Middle East and international terrorism, followed by a question and answer session. The forum is free and open to the public.

“The United States has been in an acknowledged war on terror for a year,” says Bacevich, “and it is appropriate for us to assess our progress to this point, because I think there is emerging evidence that the progress we thought we made in quickly overthrowing the Taliban and in dispersing al-Qaeda from Afghanistan really did not result in as decisive a victory as we imagined. And with the Bush administration eager to open up another front with its proposed intervention in Iraq, it’s appropriate for us to evaluate how well things are going on that first front. We want to know: who’s winning?”

For more information about the forum, visit www.bu.edu/ir/cir.html.
To attend, please RSVP to Jain Yu at 358-0195.


8 November 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations