In the past two weeks, the militaries of both Tunisia and Egypt have helped usher in peaceful change. In both countries, their militaries were seen as the balance in whether authoritarian governments could remain in power. This is a founding moment of the modern Middle East, a proud moment for the people brave enough to demand their rights and for the militaries that stood with their fellow citizens rather than against them.
One small way in which the American government has tried to advance liberty is by helping including foreign military officers in our military education programs. The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program is one of our most cost-effective forms of soft power – those practices and activities that showcase American values and advance our interests. Through IMET, foreign military cadets are college students at our military academies. As officers, they and their families spend a year in residence at our command and staff or war colleges. Their militaries undertake specialized training at nearly 150 other U.S. installations.
Last year, IMET spent about $110 million training personnel from 137 countries. The Pentagon describes IMET as “an investment in ideas and people...for a relatively modest investment, it presents democratic alternatives to key foreign military and civilian leaders.” Even the State Department admits “exposure to American values, quality instruction and the professionalism of the U.S. military play an important role.”
There’s a pretty good chance that some of the Tunisian and Egyptian military officers deciding whether to fire on their fellow citizens had the opportunity to study civil-military relations, think about the role of militaries in society, and debate the issues with American counterparts in places like Colorado Springs, Annapolis, West Point, Leavenworth, Montgomery, Quantico, Newport, and Carlisle. In these places across America, they would also see the respect Americans hold our military in because of their professionalism and commitment to uphold the values of our democratic society. It’s a good investment in helping prevent militaries being forces of repression