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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

The militarization of U.S. policy toward Latin America is not the result of some sinister hidden strategy. More than anything else, it is a symptom of Washington's tendency to turn to the Pentagon because the money is there. Increases in defense spending are simply easier to attain than increases for almost any other priority. As a result, nondefense activities--such as diplomacy and drug policy in Latin America--get funded through the defense budget and managed by defense officials. Challenging this tendency should be at the core of any long-term progressive political agenda. Meanwhile, the more specific task of demilitarizing Washington's Latin America policy can begin now.

The first step, and perhaps the easiest, is increasing transparency and educating the public. Military activities and influence in Latin America have flourished, because nobody has been watching closely. Only effective oversight will make an informed debate possible.

A report on all foreign military training activities, first required by law in 1999, was a crucial improvement, revealing lists of courses taught and numbers of students trained in each country. This report must be strengthened by declassifying key information (e.g., students' military units, U.S. trainers' units, locations of training) and by requiring fuller descriptions of the courses offered and their relation to U.S. interests. Other engagement activities, such as military exercises and the panoply of Foreign Military Interaction events carried out with the Southern Command's discretionary funds, should also be fully reported to complete and clarify the often confusing picture of U.S.-Latin American military relations.

Transparency requires scrutiny of everything that military engagements leave behind. Until 2001, the Pentagon did not keep track of the future career paths of its trainees, leaving no record of whether trainees subsequently violated human rights or were transferred to units with very different responsibilities (such as shifts of counternarcotics trainees to counterinsurgency units). This year, Congress required the Defense Department to keep a database with this information for trainees funded by the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. But post-training tracking must go further; currently IMET monitors only about 20% of former U.S. military trainees in Latin America. Ongoing oversight must also include more rigorous end-use monitoring of weapons given or sold to Latin America, including the small arms most often used to violate human rights or transferred via black market channels to conflict zones.

Beyond transparency, there is an urgent need for effective legal conditions. The Leahy Law, which prohibits aid to military units that violate human rights with impunity, must be clarified (by defining what a "unit" is, and delineating what circumstances trigger application of the law) and expanded to include military engagement activities and all weapons sales. Conditioning of military programs should also eventually extend beyond human rights performance. Conditions should apply to the types of military roles and missions that U.S. aid encourages in fragile democracies as well as the types of skills and weapons provided to countries with chronic histories of conflict and human rights abuse.

At the same time, the budget and power of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development must increase relative to the Defense Department. The Pentagon should no longer be able to offer counternarcotics aid or carry out development programs on its own, with its own funds. The Defense Department's authority to use its own money to give counterdrug aid to foreign militaries--the section 1004 law, which must be renewed every few years--should be allowed to expire, and these programs should pass to the State Department, where they belong. The State Department must go beyond merely "signing off" on Special Forces deployments and military-to-military engagement activities in the region. Diplomats must begin actively questioning the Pentagon's choices of trainees, topics, and missions.

Several of these recommendations will be difficult to attain in the current political context. Bringing them within the realm of possibility will require a fundamental rethinking of the U.S. military relationship with Latin America. Some mechanism--perhaps a formal government commission, a series of congressional hearings, or a nongovernmental education campaign--must question the purpose of the current expansion of U.S. military programs in the hemisphere for this rethinking to occur.

Military engagement for its own sake is no longer acceptable, and Latin America is not a "special operation." Serious thought is long overdue about what U.S. goals should be in Latin America and what are the best instruments, standards, and controls needed to achieve them.

Key Recommendations

* Increase transparency of military engagement programs by improving congressional oversight, post-training tracking of military personnel, and end-use monitoring of arms transfers.

* Beef up human rights conditions on military programs in the region, increase the budget and power of the State Department, and shift the Pentagon out of counterdrug aid and development projects.

* Reforms must take place in the context of a fundamental rethinking of the Pentagon's relationship with Latin America.

Adam Isacson <isacson@ciponline.org> has directed the Center for International Policy's Latin America Demilitarization Program since 1995. The program seeks to limit U.S. military involvement in the hemisphere and works with organizations in the region seeking to reduce military sizes and roles.
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Author:Isacson, Adam
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:May 30, 2001
Words:858
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