Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

US military spreads global chaos with training programmes

  • Washington has trained many of the world’s worst military coup plotters over the decades just as it did with seven of those now accused of taking part in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise
The brutal assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise has shocked the world. But what is no less appalling is that seven of those implicated in the murder were trained by the United States when they were members of the Colombian military.

After the exposé, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was forced to acknowledge the connection. I quote from the official transcript of the media conference from his office on July 22.

“Thus far, we’ve identified seven individuals who were former members of the Colombian military that had received some sort of training and education, US-funded and provided education and training,” he said in reply to a reporter’s question.

“Some of it was under State Department funding and authorities, and some of … some of the training was under DOD, Department of Defence-funded training. But to give an example of some of them that we’ve identified … cadet leadership development, counter-drug operations, non-commissioned officer professional development, small-unit leadership training, human rights training, emergency medical training, some helicopter maintenance training and those kinds of things – all things that are very common.”

We find a robust relationship between US training of foreign militaries and military-backed coup attempts
Study published in the Journal of Peace Research

He insisted there was no connection between the suspects’ US training and what they were now accused of.

Kirby said: “Those examples I gave are actual examples of training we know that these seven individuals got … nothing, certainly, related at all or that one could extrapolate, you know, as leading to or encouraging of what happened in … in Haiti.”

He added such foreign military training would continue.

Actually, whatever connection or the lack thereof between the US and those accused assassins in Haiti, there most certainly is and has been a deep connection between such US military training and foreign coups.

Those who follow US foreign and military policy during the Cold War and after 9/11 know many of the world’s worst death squad leaders, military strongmen and coup d’etat plotters have been graduates of US military schools.

A major study of this unholy connection, published in the Journal of Peace Research in 2017, concludes: “We find a robust relationship between US training of foreign militaries and military-backed coup attempts.”

US soldiers during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition troops to Iraqi security forces, on August 23, 2020. Photo: Reuters

The study’s authors, Jonathan D. Caverley of the US Naval War College and Jesse Dillon Savage, currently at Trinity College Dublin, explained further: “Using data from 189 countries from 1970-2009, we show the number of military officers trained by the US International Military Education and Training (Imet) and Countering Terrorism Fellowship (CTFP) programmes increases the probability of a military coup.”

Of course, the US has many other military training and funding programmes around the world while the authors only focused on two relatively well-known ones. Here, I quote from the longer 2015 version of their paper, freely available online, rather than the condensed version which is behind the journal’s paywall.

One justification for such programmes has been the promotion of international human rights. In reality, as the authors and other studies show, they tend to promote the violations of human rights. Using game-theoretic models and statistical data analysis, Caverley and Savage find that out of 275 military coups counted in their study between 1970 and 2009, 165 were carried out by military officers who had been given Imet or CTFP training the previous year.

Statistically, 165 coups out of 3,274 “country years” of US-related military training amount to an incidence of 5 per cent, as opposed to 110 coups out of 4,101 “country years” of non-US related training, or 2.7 per cent.

They wrote: “Among those country years with some training, the percentage is 5.3 per cent, nearly double. This is a remarkable bivariate correlation.”

Philippines, US to start military drills amid South China Sea tensions

Even discounting the US’ role as the world’s biggest supplier of weapons and its direct or clandestine support for foreign regime changes, just two US foreign military training programmes have been shown to sow chaos and instability across the globe.

In more scholarly language, Caverley and Savage write: “Coups are extreme examples of military involvement in domestic politics. Our human capital-based theory suggests more generally that trained military officers will grow more autonomous from the regime. This can increase inclination for coups but more broadly means that the military will be less invested in regime survival more generally. Providing the military with resources that are not vulnerable to redistribution may mean they are less inclined to repress to prevent regime change in general.

They continue: “FMT’s (Foreign Military Training) effects differ from other forms of military (and civilian) assistance. While military aid in the form of hardware or financing can allow leaders to transfer their own resources towards coup-proofing, training does not provide such flexibility. Aid in the form of training therefore increases the likelihood of military intervention in domestic politics.

“This increased propensity stems from augmenting a military’s human capital, which civilian leaders have difficulty offsetting by devoting additional resources to coup-proofing. We find that any American military training can nearly double the probability of a military-backed coup attempt in the recipient country.”

A Afghan militia fighter keeps a watch at an outpost against Taliban insurgents. Photo: AFP

In a word, such training enhances the capabilities of the military while undermining the civilian leadership, especially in countries with unstable or weak governments such as Haiti.

Between 2001 and 2016, according to a separate 2017 study by the Open Society Foundations founded by billionaire George Soros, the US spent more than US$250 billion – yes, you read that right, billions! – training foreign military and security personnel. In 2015 alone, about 80,000 officers from 154 countries were trained under FMT.

The same study finds that the Pentagon administered just 17 per cent of foreign security training in 2001, but this jumped to about 60 per cent by 2015. Meanwhile, the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity finds that at least 17 high-ranking foreign officers, including five generals, who were trained under Imet between 1985 and 2010 went on to be accused and sometimes convicted of criminal and human rights abuses.

A similar study by the non-profit Centre for International Policy counts another 33 US-trained foreign military officers who were subsequently accused of committing human rights abuses.

In recent years, noticeable training and funding fiascos include those for anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a defunct armed force in Libya and a desertion-prone army in Afghanistan. And the latter is expected to hold back the battle-hardened and highly motivated Taliban from taking over the country, according to US President Joe Biden.

Before the US accuses others, it’s time it stopped training the world’s killers.