Book Excerpt: Karlin's 'Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the US'

The Long March
University of Pennsylvania Press

In 2014, much of the Iraqi Army dissolved as ISIS overran Iraqi cities like Ramadi and Mosul. After more than a decade of U.S. training and more than $20 billion in assistance to strengthen the force, training was for naught as Iraqi soldiers fled battles and holed up in their homes, military leadership disappeared, and nearly three divisions worth of equipment were abandoned to the Islamic State. Yet another example of U.S. efforts to build militaries in fragile states had failed.


University of Pennsylvania Press

Since World War II, the United States has often responded to faltering internal security situations by training and equipping partner militaries. It will continue to do so given U.S. sensitivity toward casualties, a con- strained fiscal environment, the nature of modern nationalism, increasing transnational security threats, and the proliferation of fragile states. And, policymakers’ increased focus on competitors such as China and Russia only heightens the need to stabilize fragile states cheaply—in blood and in treasure. Yet the U.S. track record for building militaries in fragile states is uneven at best.

The United States generally approaches the problem of building militaries in fragile states by emphasizing training and equipment, and by distancing itself from key political issues. This method wastes time, effort, and resources. Examples spanning Europe, Asia, and the Middle East illustrate the flaws in the traditional way of working with foreign militaries. Confusion over the partner military’s mission plagued the U.S. program to build South Vietnam’s military in the 1950s, as did the blowhard leading the U.S. program in Saigon, “Hanging Sam” Williams. Getting those right may have precluded the drawn out and costly U.S. war there. In the 1980s, U.S. officials in Beirut and Washington couldn’t agree on the parameters of U.S. involvement; this disunity laid the groundwork not only for a tortured program, but also for the deaths of hundreds of American military and diplomatic personnel. A senior U.S. military official in Beirut sought to have the military commander conduct a coup and another tried to establish a slush fund following his resignation. U.S. resistance to meaningfully counter states undermining Lebanese sovereignty like Syria, Iran, and Israel further exacerbated the situation. And two decades later, a similar program was characterized by limited U.S. involvement in Lebanese military affairs, resulting in limited—and insufficient—progress.

However, the United States can achieve meaningful results. Deep U.S. involvement within certain parameters—namely, not one that slides into becoming a co-combatant, but nonetheless allows the United States to influence sensitive military affairs like personnel and organizational structure around an agreed-upon mission—can transform partner militaries. This approach is particularly effective when accompanied by a positive shift in the external threat environment. Just after World War II, the United States worked with Greece to reorganize its military in line with its internal defense mission and to ensure capable and forward-leaning military leaders were appointed to the right positions. The U.S. program was led by James Van Fleet, a capable and charismatic individual who understood that unity of vision between Americans in Greece and Washington was critical to success. This enabled the Greek military to take advantage of decreased antagonism by bordering states. 

The United States will continue wrestling with the dilemmas posed by weak states. And if it hopes to improve its track record, there is much to be changed.

Excerpted, with permission, from Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States by Marla Karlin, University of Pennsylvania Press. Copyright 2017.

CAMP PENDLETON — The military prosecution of a Coast Guardsman accused of murder began Wednesday with a preliminary hearing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Seaman Ethan W. Tucker, 21, was arrested August 28 after a seven-month Coast Guard investigation into the January death of Seaman Ethan Kelch, 19, who served on the same ship as Tucker— the Kodiak, Alaska-based high endurance cutter Douglas Munro.

Read More Show Less

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey would press on with its offensive into northeastern Syria and "crush the heads of terrorists" if a deal with Washington on the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the area were not fully implemented.

Erdogan agreed on Thursday in talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a five-day pause in the offensive to allow time for the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a "safe zone" Turkey aims to establish in northeast Syria near the Turkish border.

Read More Show Less

President Trump stoked confusion Friday by declaring the U.S. has "secured the Oil" in the Middle East amid continued fallout from the Turkish invasion of northern Syria that he enabled by pulling American troops out of the region.

It wasn't immediately clear what the president was talking about, as there were no publicly known developments in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East relating to oil. White House aides did not return requests for comment.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. State Department investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has found no evidence of deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees.

The investigation, the results of which were released on Friday by Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's office, centered on whether Clinton, who served as the top U.S. diplomat from 2009 to 2013, jeopardized classified information by using a private email server rather than a government one.

Read More Show Less

BYESVILLE — A Meadowbrook High School student removed from class last Friday for being intoxicated is now facing a felony charge after allegedly threatening to shoot people if the previous incident harmed his chances to join a branch of the United States military.

Gabriel D. Blackledge, 18, of Cambridge, is facing one count of making terrorist threats, a third-degree felony, filed by the Guernsey County Sheriff's Office on Thursday. Blackledge remained incarcerated in the county jail on a $250,000 bond with no 10 percent allowed, according to the sheriff's office's website.

Read More Show Less