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Key U.S. Security Policy Issues

Balancing the Goals of Democracy, Human Rights, and National Self-Determination with Other U.S. Interests
Promoting Militaries that Respond to Civilian Control and Respect Democracy and Human Rights

Weakened by globalization that undermines their authority and wracked by destructive ethnic or religious radicalism, the troubled states run the risk of turning into failed states. Humanitarian disasters will occur repeatedly, and the U.S. military will often be tasked to assist with disaster relief and restoring order. The issues related to the military's involvement in humanitarian disasters are discussed in the transitional threats chapter.

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Balancing the Goals of Democracy, Human Rights, and National Self-Determination With Other U.S. Interests

During the Cold War, the American government could take refuge in the knowledge that it sometimes had to bend or compromise its principles for the greater good of defeating Soviet communism. Thus, Washington often formed alliances with or provided aid to governments that abused the rights of their own people. It also backed away from war rather than defend the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 or the "Prague Spring" in 1968. But following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington no longer enjoys this shield against criticism of failures to live up to its ideals.

One policy direction is for the United States to deal with challenges to democracy and human rights through the United Nations. But in the few years since the end of the Cold War, a number of instances have already arisen in which the U.N. has shown itself to be either unwilling or unable to take effective action, due in part to disagreements among the major powers and in part to problems with the U.N. as an organization. Furthermore, when the U.N. does act, it usually does so through economic sanctions that are slow to show results.

When the U.N. takes no effective action or when public opinion grows impatient and demands results, Washington has shown some willingness--particularly in its own hemisphere--to use force in the cause of democracy and human rights. Although military actions that primarily aim to support or restore democracy are still quite rare, recent interventions in Panama and Haiti seem to fit this description.

But it is one thing to achieve consensus within the international community to use force to defend democracy and human rights against the actions of a relatively weak state and another to confront a powerful state, such as China, over the same issues. On another front, the U.S. may have to decide how to balance its desire for good relations with two major powers--Russia and China--against the principle of support for the national rights of minorities in areas such as the Caucasus and Tibet, not to mention the issue of Taiwan's status. Over the next few years, the United States is likely to face other painful choices between paying a high price for standing up for its principles or avoiding conflict but being perceived as hypocritical, dishonest, or weak.

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Promoting Militaries that Respond to Civilian Control and Respect Democracy and Human Rights

In this new era, the United States will be required to cooperate with the armed forces of ex-authoritarian states, whose overriding purpose has been--and in some cases continues to be--preservation of the institution itself. In these situations, the U.S. military can play an important role by engaging these institutions and striving to convince them that support for democracy requires more than just a modicum of tolerance for a free press and elected government.

In those cases where armed forces have already made a commitment to encourage the institutionalization of the democractic process, this cooperation takes the form of military-to-military contacts, joint training exercises, and the integration of military education systems. In nations such as Argentina, Venezuela, Thailand, South Africa, and Ukraine, this process has proceeded relatively smoothly, and has proved mutually beneficial.

However, in other cases, the superficial nature of change within the military makes such interaction more challenging and contentious. In such militaries, the distinction between internal security and external defense has been blurred for generations. In some cases, armed forces routinely performed police functions, often compiling a long history of human rights abuses and lack of respect for civilian authority. Such ingrained attitudes will not change overnight.

A central ingredient of U.S. policy towards such military establishments has been to encourage the separation of internal security and police functions, and their placement under distinct civilian departments. Once this separation is accomplished, the most pressing need for the armed forces in question is normally to gain a measure of legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. U.S. military cooperation teams can support this goal by offering training and education in civic action projects and initiatives aimed at shoring up the reputation and prestige of military forces at the local and regional levels. For example, local armed forces have derived great benefit from the deployment of over 63,000 men and women of the U.S. military in over 4,000 projects in Latin America in FY 1994. The personal example set by U.S. armed forces has done much to convince many foreign militaries that respect for the law, protection of the environment, care and consideration for citizens, and subservience to civilian authority are critical to the building of true democracy.

U.S. military authorities have also been assisting in the formation of cadres of civilian government security specialists who can earn the respect of their military counterparts. Without such civilian specialists, ministries of defense risk being overrun by active and retired military officers who function without the checks and balances afforded by the presence of competent civilian watchdogs. The U.S. military has also been active in training military personnel to work under civilian oversight. For example, in August 1994, courses on this issue for East European military personnel began at the Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany, part of the U.S. European Command.

In sum, the U.S. military will continue to play a vital role in reshaping the militaries of ex-authoritarian states, so that these militaries come to see themselves as the supporters and protectors--not the victims--of democracy.

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