Special Operations Military Training Abroad and Its Dangers

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In one of the most dramatic shifts in U.S.defense policy since the Cold War, the U.S. militaryhas independently initiated and strengthened military-to-military relationships with a majority of theworld's nations. A prime tool in the construction ofthis new network is the Joint Combined ExchangeTraining (JCET) program, which allows thePentagon to deploy Special Operations Forces(SOF) anywhere without congressional oversight orpublic debate. The only requirement for suchdeployments is that the ostensible primary purposebe 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 justifiedcriticism for the human rights violations of some ofthe foreign troops trained, the grave implicationsextend beyond human rights issues. Through JCETdeployments, the Pentagon is provided the man-powerto train and influence foreign militaries andgovernments, thus effectively carrying out its ownmini foreign policy. This autonomous foreign policyrisks entangling the United States in petty conflictsand militarizing U.S. relations with othernations. Because some overseas SOF training is necessary,the 1991 JCET law should be repealed andreplaced by an explicitly limited program with theexclusive purpose of training SOF personnel.

John Rudy and Ivan Eland

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