Foreign Policy Briefing No. 53

Special Operations Military Training Abroad and Its Dangers

By John Rudy and Ivan Eland
June 22, 1999

Executive Summary

In one of the most dramatic shifts in U.S. defense policy since the Cold War, the U.S. military has independently initiated and strengthened military-to-military relationships with a majority of the world’s nations. A prime tool in the construction of this new network is the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program, which allows the Pentagon to deploy Special Operations Forces (SOF) anywhere without congressional oversight or public debate. The only requirement for such deployments is that the ostensible primary purpose be the training of U.S. SOF personnel. JCET, however, has clearly become a tool for another purpose: advancing sometimes dubious foreign policy goals.

Although the program has received justified criticism for the human rights violations of some of the foreign troops trained, the grave implications extend beyond human rights issues. Through JCET deployments, the Pentagon is provided the man-power to train and influence foreign militaries and governments, thus effectively carrying out its own mini foreign policy. This autonomous foreign policy risks entangling the United States in petty conflicts and militarizing U.S. relations with other nations. Because some overseas SOF training is necessary, the 1991 JCET law should be repealed and replaced by an explicitly limited program with the exclusive purpose of training SOF personnel.

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John Rudy was a research assistant at the Cato Institute in 1998. Ivan Eland is Cato’s director of defense policy studies.