Leadership: Lessons From A Century Of Army Building


October 2,2008:  Iraq is not the first time the U.S. has helped a third world nation build a new army from scratch. It was done earlier in Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Dominican Republic, South Korea and the Philippines. All of these efforts resulted in more effective forces, and those nations acquired useful military traditions that persist to the present. But none of them became close of the U.S. military in capability. The problem was that all of them were heavily influenced by the local culture, and usually not for the better. All of the Latin American forces spent most of their time propping up military dictators. Same thing happened in the Philippines and South Korea, although in both those cases, there was an eventual transition to democracy. Only the South Koreans became a military force close to the U.S. in capabilities. The Philippines has some first rate units.

The lesson from all this is that building a new army for a country does not change any of the local customs that favor dictators over democracy. No one has yet come up with a perfect formula for installing democracy. You can encourage it, but you can't make it appear, and sustain itself. Building a better army is easy, compared to eliminating the social, economic and religious customs that work against the establishment of democracy. All this is a big deal within the U.S. Army, where history is considered a valuable tool for trying to make nation building work. That has produced lots of new ideas, but few new solutions.



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