Since the end of World War II, U.S. administrations of both parties have relied on a time-honored foreign policy tool: training and equipping foreign militaries. Seeking to stabilize fragile states, the United States has adopted this approach in nearly every region of the world over the last 70 years. Today, Washington is working with the militaries of more than 100 countries and running large programs to train and equip armed forces in such hot spots as Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Pakistan.
The logic behind this approach is simple. Fragile states jeopardize U.S. interests, but large-scale interventions are costly and unpopular. By outsourcing regional security in places where U.S. interests are not immediately threatened, Washington can promote stability without shouldering most of the burden itself. And heading off threats before they metastasize means that the United States can keep its eye on more sophisticated rivals such as China and Russia.
MARA KARLIN is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced
International Studies and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is
the author of Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), from which this essay is adapted.
This article appeared in the Foreign Affairs 2017 November/December edition. It is republished here with permission.
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