SEATTLE, Washington — While the U.S. State Department leverages most instruments of foreign policy, like USAID, the Department of Defense Military Personnel Exchange Program (MPEP) serves as a powerful tool to build capability in foreign militaries and aptitude in foreign governments.
The objective of the MPEP is “to integrate participants into the host organization as though they belonged to the service to which they become assigned.” Military personnel in the MPEP use U.S. military capability to build on capabilities in other nations by sharing their knowledge and experience. This relationship-building approach creates mutual confidence and respect and strengthens both nations in the process.
The Arroyo Center report published by the RAND Corporation highlights two concurrent challenges for the U.S. military in foreign policy: “building its own interagency capacity for conducting stability operations while simultaneously helping to build partner capacity for stability operations across a wide range of nations.”
The report recommends that the U.S. military increases the level of operations like MPEP, notably in the U.S. Africa Command. In 2012, the the U.S. Marines Corps and the Rwandan Defence Force worked together on a Combined Joint Task Force. A U.S. Marine Corps spokesman said the exercise served to share “best practices” with those “supporting United Nations peacekeeping missions.”
In the same year, Human Rights Watch claimed in its annual report that Rwanda had made “important economic and developmental gains”, reflected in its election to the U.N. Security Council. While Rwanda continues to battle “genocide ideology,” multilateral exchange programs continue to strengthen its military capacity and international relations.
The report goes on to highlight requirements critical for delivering humanitarian assistance, which require educating foreign militaries to implement the essential logistical frameworks and security measures.
The Defense Language Institute offers exchanged personnel the opportunity to learn the languages spoken in the countries of their assignments. Exchange officers may, for example, complete Spanish language training before serving in a South American country like Columbia. The United States and Columbia have participated together in the exchange program for a number of decades.
Along with many other U.S. foreign policy instruments, the MPEP has fostered cooperation, shared understanding and greater capabilities for the Columbians to address security challenges. As of October 2016, peace talks between the Columbian government and FARC guerrillas approach final resolution.
The Military Personnel Exchange Program may seem to offer minimal gains due to the relatively small numbers of service members who participate. However, by embedding U.S. strategic interests directly into foreign militaries, improvements in cooperation are more certain and sustainable, supporting both humanitarian aid delivery and overall capability development.
– Tim Devine