The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which provides U.S. government funds to members of foreign militaries to take classes at U.S. military facilities, has the potential to be a powerful tool of U.S. influence. IMET is designed to help foreign militaries bolster their relationships with the United States, learn about U.S. military equipment, improve military professionalism, and instill democratic values in their members. For forty years, the program has played an important role in the United States’ relations with many strategic partners and in cultivating foreign officers who become influential policymakers. Although the program’s funding is relatively small, it could have an outsize impact on the United States’ military-to-military relations with many nations. Yet IMET today is in need of significant reform. The program contains no system for tracking which foreign military officers attended IMET. Additionally, the program is not effectively promoting democracy and respect for civilian command of armed forces. A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that most IMET programs did not include material on human rights and democracy. Although some U.S. policymakers now want to expand IMET to include officers from a broader range of developing nations, such as Myanmar, the program should be revamped before it is enlarged. The reforms should include more effectively screening IMET candidates, developing a system to follow the careers of IMET alumni, and institutionalizing coursework on professionalism, human rights, and democracy in IMET’s curriculum.
For more on my recommendations on how to reform IMET, which can be an extremely influential policy tool, read my new CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum.