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Given U.S. focus on the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easy to miss that the military does much more than engage in combat. On any given day, military engineers dig wells in East Africa, medical personnel provide vaccinations in Latin America, and special forces mentor militaries in southeast Asia.
To address today's security challenges, the military partners with civilian agencies, NGOs, and the private sector both at home and abroad. By doing so, the United States seeks to improve its international image, strengthen the state sovereignty system by training and equipping partners' security forces, prevent localized violence from escalating into regional crises, and protect U.S. national security by addressing underlying conditions that inspire and sustain violent extremism.
In Exporting Security, Derek Reveron provides a comprehensive analysis of the shift in U.S. foreign policy from coercive diplomacy to cooperative military engagement, examines how and why the U.S. military is an effective tool of foreign policy, and explores the methods used to reduce security deficits around the world.
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Having gone to graduate school in the 1990s, it was not unusual that I studied democratization in Eastern Europe and Latin America like many scholars of my generation. After all, the democratic transformation movements of the 1990s were the most significant events in comparative and international politics. While good governance and transformation politics is an important field, changes in foreign policy in the 2000s highlighted the effects of weak states on international security. So while I took a governance first approach in my early work, my recent work has been focused on security first. This book is a comprehensive effort to understand why security has become a more important export from the United States than democracy. Simply, without security, democratization and development are not possible.
With a strong background and a deep belief in the importance of good governance, universal human rights, and democracy, I am also keenly aware of the dangers of arming repressive regimes, training militaries that are not grounded in civilian control, or upsetting regional balances of power that could lead to war. Like my critics, I too worry that the military's role in national policy has been changing. Yet, as insurgents, pirates, terrorists, gangs, and organized crime networks in once faraway lands challenge United States' partners and threaten regional stability, promoting partners' militaries has become essential for U.S. national security. Different from direct action or counterinsurgency, security assistance programs attempt to strengthen the partner to provide for its own security to enable political and economic development. To export security, developed militaries of the United States and Europe are gradually shifting from a combat force designed for major war against external threats to a mentor force engaged in cooperation.
As a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College I have learned from my military officer students a great deal of how the U.S. military is changing. In many ways, its strategy is catching up with U.S. allies like Canada, the UK, and other NATO countries. Further, given my position, I have been able to participate in security cooperation programs too. I have witnessed first-hand that U.S. military personnel have a deep understanding of the risks associated with security assistance.
Officers are learning the limits of what they can do and are attempting to impart their skills to partners all around the world. At times, partners misinterpret the assistance and do not appreciate transitory nature of the assistance. To convince partners that a Cold War logic no longer governs security assistance, U.S. military officers promote human rights, encourage military professionalization, and serve as mentors to military officers in developing countries throughout the world. Whether it is in Argentina, Botswana, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Uganda, or Uruguay, I have yet to witness programs that do not support U.S. interests on promoting security, stability, and good governance. And I have yet to encounter an officer from these countries who was not grateful for the U.S. attention to their security problems. Further, I have yet to witness military programs that did not have the full endorsement and support of the U.S. ambassadors who see fragile security as a serious roadblock to reform and development efforts.
The new model of security assistance is a far cry from what the military practiced in most of the 20th century. Then, military assistance meant installing U.S.-friendly governments through the power of the bayonet. While there are Cold War legacy programs that persist, by and large, the new security assistance programs do not resemble those of an earlier era that focused on promoting insurgency to overthrow unfriendly governments or training and arming friendly regimes to repress dissent. With Congressional oversight and the importance of soft power, the hard lessons have been learned and these new programs represent a maturity developed over the last several decades.
The U.S. military officers that I taught and have worked with know the lessons of U.S. history in the Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Working with them and understanding the goals of security assistance, I have little concern that the United States is either creating an empire or laying the groundwork for future coups. There is no public support for it or a strategic rationale to direct it. Adding to the echo of Vietnam is U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those conflicts remind military officers of their limits and the costs associated with trying to do much.
Further, given the current structure of the international system and technological advances, the United States does not need partners in the same way as it did in the past where they provided direct benefits through coaling stations, maintenance facilities, or large bases. Rather, the United States aspires to create true partners that can confront their own threats to internal stability that organized crime and violent actors can exploit. It also seeks to foster independence by training and equipping militaries to support the global demand for peacekeepers. The United States certainly gets increased access to countries around the world through these programs, but given the overwhelming military dominance of the United States, it does not abuse these relationships or ignore seemingly insignificant states. Instead, it seeks to create partners where sovereignty is respected and all parties derive benefits. Given the challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a potential for these lessons to be ignored. I hope this book can show those inside and outside the military how the world has changed, how militaries are changing from forces of confrontation to cooperation, and why security assistance is an essential pillar of military strategy.
Derek S. Reveron is a professor of national security affairs and the EMC Informationist Chair at the U.S. Naval War College. He is coeditor of Inside Defense: Understanding the 21st Century Military and Flashpoints in the War on Terrorism, and is editor of America's Viceroys: The Military and US Foreign Policy.
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