The Militarization of U.S. Foreign Aid to Africa
“If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition” – Secretary of Defense Gen. Mattis. This kind of sentiment expressed by Gen. Mattis is shared by military and civilians alike. As the gap between foreign aid and military expenses increases, so does the concern from these officials toward the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa.

The 2019 U.S. Proposed Budget Changes

The proposed 2019 budget from the Trump Administration underscores this worry. In the anticipated budget, the Dept. of Defense would receive an estimated $686 billion, which would be an increase of $80 billion (13 percent) from 2017. In comparison, the Dept. of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development would only see a budget of $25.8 billion; which means a $9 billion decrease (26 percent) from 2017 levels.

Furthermore, 2016 serves as a case study for how these resources are being applied in Africa. Of the $26 billion given to Africa through USAID, the Dept. of Defense was actually the leading implementing agency (beating out even USAID). While USAID carried out $9.5 billion worth of foreign aid operations, the Dept. of Defense oversaw $10 billion worth. Alongside low funding due to Congressional budget approval, civilian agencies don’t have the resources to operate, disperse and oversee foreign aid.

On the ground, the picture is becoming more and more clear. It was the Dept. of Defense, not the Dept. of State, that was the first to conduct high-level meetings and summits in African countries, such as Libya, Malawi, Chad and Djibouti, signifying it as the lead diplomatic agency in Africa.

Concerns with an Increasing U.S. Military Presence in Africa

When looking at the statistics, America’s leading military officials are among some of the most vocal advocates against the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa. They worry that by cutting aid and favoring the military in poverty-stricken parts of the world, the U.S. is creating an environment for even more conflict. More specifically, they claim that by choosing military bases over schools, the U.S. is allowing more openings for militant groups, hurting U.S. interests in the long-run by pushing development aside.

For instance, Gen. Carter Ham, the former commander of Africa Command, sees the favoring of the military over diplomacy as a loss of hope for the people of Africa. Per his example, a young Nigerian man faced with no work, education or healthcare would much sooner turn to a militant group that offers money, prestige and a purpose.

His view is echoed by a 2017 testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. This testimony was written by a long list of retired U.S. military officials, including Gen. Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal and Adm. Michael Mullen. Here, they stated, “…how much more cost-effective it is to prevent a conflict than to end one.” Their views reinforce the idea that Africa is much better served by civilian agencies than by military ones.

The Importance of Civilian Agencies in Africa

Not only do U.S. military officials recognize the harm of militarizing aid but also the importance of returning this role back to civilian agencies. Before leaving office, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates highlighted the importance of the Dept. of State in a 2010 speech. In this speech, he emphasized the necessity of keeping the Dept. of State as the main actor for conducting foreign policy because foreign aid and security reinforce one another. In addition, he called for a new foreign policy, requiring all sectors of U.S. foreign policy to form new partnerships and implement U.S. interests for long-term successes.

Now, the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa does not mean that the military is an adversary to foreign aid. All of the examples used in this article critiquing this militarization process have all been expressed by current or retired military officials who are simply recognizing the need for humanitarian aid and the limits of military power.

Preventing conflict certainly makes more sense than instigating it, but it is up to U.S. citizens to decide whether a voter or a 3-star general holds Congress accountable for a better foreign policy towards Africa. Or in the words of Alexander Laskaris, a senior Dept. of State official with African Command: “How do we operate in an environment when we are willing to send peacekeepers, but we’re not willing to take the steps necessary to make peace?”

Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

 India

It is shocking how much governments spend on the military, and how much more are weapons prioritized compared to human lives, In fact, only 10 percent of world military spending could eliminate global poverty. But why is it that countries allocate their resources in expanding their military, rather than fighting poverty, home or abroad? What is the relationship between the military and global poverty? This article will provide a few different aspects of militarization, and help understand the dilemma that countries face regarding this issue.

The Numbers

According to statistics provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 2017 saw a total of $1.74 trillion spent on the military globally. This entails an approximately 3.1 percent increase compared to 2016.

Sources of military spending around the globe are concentrated on these top ten countries, order by the size of military expenditure: the U.S. ($609,758 million), China ($228,231 million), Saudi Arabia ($69,413 million), Russia ($66,335 million), followed by India, France, U.K., Japan, Germany, and South Korea. As seen, the U.S. spent more than the next seven countries on the list combined.

More than 2 percent of global GDP goes to military expenditure. The Middle East is the sole region around the globe that exceeds this number, having 5.2 percent of its GDP spent on the military. Oman, most notably, spent 12 percent of GDP on the military.

The Military and Global Poverty Efforts

Many point out that the relationship between the military and global poverty is not always a negative one: the military could often provide humanitarian assistance at times of crisis, technologies from the military could often help alleviate poverty, especially in dire, emergent situations. Furthermore, planes, other transport tools, food, construction materials and skills, medical assistance and communication could all be vital to civilians in regions suffering from conflicts or natural disaster.

The specific roles played by the military vary in different scenarios. The military could simply be a provider of resources such as food items and other needed commodities. It could also send soldiers to assist with humanitarian tasks on the ground. The military could also play the role of the police to maintain peace, though this is a much more controversial use.

There have been arguments, however, regarding the defects of such deployment of the military. It has been pointed out that aircraft is not usually the fastest and most reliable way to distribute food in adverse environments, since planes are also vulnerable to weather conditions, while other transportation means could be cheaper, more effective and more sustainable. Whether humanitarian assistance is offered from a neutral party could also influence the accessibility of poverty alleviating efforts.

The Military: A Cause of Poverty

The amount of humanitarian aid that the military could implement or help provide, sadly, is meager compared to the huge drain of resources needed to maintain a military, the destruction of existing social and economic institutions, or the elimination of potentials for development. Ultimately, conflicts and wars fought by the military are a leading cause of poverty, instead of a solution. Out of 10 poorest nations in the world, eight have recently been in or are still facing significant violent conflicts.

Compared to peaceful developing countries, countries suffering from wars and coups see have a twofold increase in the risk of malnutrition for their people and a threefold increase in the chance of infant death.

The military sometimes takes away what is essential for a nation’s future. An extreme example is that, instead of sending children to school, some nations send children to war to assist with operations, fight as soldiers, or even act as human bombs. The United Nations’ 2018 Children and Armed Conflict report listed seven countries and 56 armed groups that recruit and use children in war.

How Necessary is the Military for National Security?

Despite the unfavorable relationship between the military and global poverty, some still support large military expenditures due to concerns over national security.

However, according to researchers, an increased military presence does not decrease the potential of conflict in the case of civil war. Good policies and administrations are often much better at preventing rebellion.

War causes poverty, and in turn, poverty and inequality lead to conflict. According to surveys, some young people join militant groups because they face unemployment otherwise. Other researches find that, historically, inequality has been an important factor leading to civil war.

Poverty also significantly contributes to terrorism. It is unclear whether poverty drives individuals towards terrorist causes, but historical data shows that regions with high unemployment and poverty are more prone to the rise of radicalism.

The relationship between the military and global poverty is a complicated one, but it is obvious that funding economic development and durable physical and social infrastructure are more sustainable and reliable long-term solutions to reduce poverty and resolve security problems. It is time for nations to consider whether large militaries are really worth the cost.

– Feng Ye
Photo: Flickr

Countries with Child Soldiers
The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a ‘child’ as a person below the age of eighteen years. Children across the world have been used as soldiers in state and non-state military warfare, including World Wars I and II.

The 1970s saw a rise of humanitarian groups that raised the awareness of protecting children from the onslaughts of war, and it was during this time that the word “child soldier” appeared as an unacceptable condition. Though the 2002 Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court made enlistment of children under fifteen a war-crime, countries with child soldiers have consistently fallen behind in addressing this issue.

The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that, at present, approximately 300,000 children are used as child soldiers in more than 20 countries in the world, and forty percent of these children are girls. According to the U.N.’s 2017 studies, these are some of the countries with child soldiers:

Countries with Child Soldiers

  1. Central African Republic (CAR): The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) helped release more than 2,800 child soldiers in CAR in 2014. Poverty leads children from a lot of families to join the militia for food and money. Children as young as 8 years old are used as soldiers by groups in Christian militias known as Anti-Balaka and Muslim Séléka coalition. Soldiering involves being used as human shields, messengers, fighters and sex slaves.
  2. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The Congolese National Army and the rebel Congress for the Defense of the People have been active recruiters of child soldiers. Young boys and girls are abducted and used as fighters and sex slaves by groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army. This occurs not only in DRC, but also southern Sudan, northeastern Congo and the CAR.
  3. Somalia: Children as young as ten are often abducted and coerced into soldiering. The Transitional Federal Government and Islamist group al-Shabaab are known to carry out these recruitments which lead to “horrific abuses,” according Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports. These violations include forced recruitment, rape, forced marriage, religious/political teaching, suicide-bombing, combat and weapons training.
  4. Colombia: Thousands of children are recruited by guerillas and paramilitary forces like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, the Camilist Union-National Liberation Army, and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. HRW reveals, “At least one of every four irregular combatants in Colombia’s civil war is under eighteen years old.” These children are recruited, trained and expected to carry explosives and executions.
  5. Myanmar: The HRW report, ‘Sold to be Soldiers’ (2007), states that a large portion of the Tatmadaw consists of underage soldiers. In a lot of instances, young boys are lured or coerced into joining the Tatmadaw. In addition to this horrific occurrence, there are numerous non-state armed groups like the Karenni Army, the Karen National Liberation Army and others that use child soldiers.
  6. Afghanistan: The U.N. reports the use of young children as fighters and suicide-bombers in Afghanistan. In Child Soldiers, David Rosen points out the prevalence of underage soldiers in groups like The Afghan National Police, Haqqani, Taliban, Islamic groups called Hezb-i-Islami and Jamat Sunat al-Dawa Salafia, and Tora Bora front.
  7. Iraq: The Sunni and Shia Arab groups fighting in the region — along with other militias involved in the battle for Mosul — are reported to recruit child soldiers. According to HRW reports, Yezidi and Kurdish boys and girls are used as combatants by groups like the Shingal Resistance Units and People’s Defense Forces.
  8. Yemen: Children as young as 14 are deployed here as soldiers by the Yemeni Government to combat the Houthi rebels. UNICEF regards this as more of a socio-cultural problem, as in Yemeni culture, manhood begins at the age of 14 and such adulthood demands the taking up of a weapon. In 2015, the U.N. reported 850 recruitments of children as soldiers. Armed groups like Al-Qaeda also use children for warfare and as sex slaves.
  9. Syria: The civil war in Syria has led to the deployment of many children as young as seven as soldiers by armed groups. Rebel factions fighting against the government and Islamic groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya, Tawhid Brigade and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham use child soldiers. These children are used to ferry ammunitions, fight, tend to the wounded, spy, act as snipers and suicide-bombers, and torture and execute prisoners.
  10. Sudan and South Sudan: More than a dozen armed groups, including pro-government militias, groups affiliated to the Sudan Liberation Army, and Sudanese Armed Forces, in Sudan, recruit children. In South Sudan, the South Sudanese Armed Forces and other opposition groups continue to deploy child soldiers. HRW notes that children as young as thirteen are abducted, detained and forced into soldiering.

The Fight of International Aid Organizations

Wars, absence of education, poverty, religious/political conditioning and abduction are some of the causes that contribute to this social crime. UNICEF and ILO have been working with government ministries to stop the use of child soldiers by both state and non-state parties. Programs sponsored by UNICEF and various human rights groups aim towards rehabilitation of child soldiers, building community networks, funding and providing education.

Child Soldiers International has been working with local organizations and advocating the protection of children and reintegration of former child soldiers. HRW has been creating information databases on recruitment patterns of a number of agencies in these countries. Though change is slow, the attempt to improve the condition of millions of children in countries with child soldiers remains consistent.

– Jayendrina Singha Ray
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in VietnamSince its formation in 1987, the U.S. diplomatic relationship with Mongolia has remained incredibly strong in the areas of development, security, and trade. Mongolia sits in an interesting geopolitical position due to its shared borders with China and Russia. As China and Russia continue to act as rivals to U.S. military and economic policy, Mongolia becomes more significant component to U.S. foreign policy in Asia and Eastern Europe. Although total foreign assistance to Mongolia is relatively small, the U.S. has benefited greatly from ensuring a future of peace and democratic idealism in Mongolia. 

A Democratic Mongolia

Mongolia has often referred to the U.S. as its most important “third neighbor.” At first glance, the value of providing foreign assistance might seem elusive. In comparison to the Russian and Chinese titans, Mongolia’s value may seem inconsequential. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As popular support for democratic institutions begins to increase in tempo, Mongolia serves as a beacon of light for democratic values in the region. Since 1990, the year in which Mongolia formally became a democratic country, over 10 elections has occurred on the legislative and presidential level. The continued success Mongolians have seen in democratic institutions has bolstered the over-arching U.S. mission of spreading democratic ideals across the globe. This is one major way in how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mongolia. 

The Education Vehicle

Within the same vein, English has been made mandatory in Mongolia’s educational system since 2005. Furthermore, Mongolia has committed roughly $600,000 to the Fulbright master’s program, which has greatly increased the total number of Mongolians studying in the United States. A newly launched program in 2017 gives Mongolian high school students the chance to study abroad in the U.S. Continued sponsorship and foreign aid in programs such as these not only gives Mongolians access to U.S. universities and schools but also helps carry the torch of U.S. democratic values to less accessible regions of the world. In this case, particularly Russia and China. 

Geopolitical Ally

In recent years, tensions between the U.S. and Russia have increased due to the Crimean crisis and civil war within Ukraine. The Russo-U.S. relationship has remained relatively frigid since these cataclysmic events. Mongolia’s shared border and partnership with the U.S. gives the latter country increased geopolitical proximity to the Kremlin. Within the realm of conflict, Mongolia also has deployed troops to support the U.S. effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. sponsored a program entitled “Khan Quest,” which was aimed at improving Mongolian military competency at home and abroad. Providing military support in Mongolia has allowed the U.S. a slight buffer to Russian influence in Asia. This is how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mongolia. 

Aid

In 2015, the Mongolian economy grounded to a halt after a long period of growth and prosperity. Prior to the crash, U.S. exports to Mongolia totaled in around $650 million. The U.S. aid budget to Mongolia for FY19 is $1.75 million, all of which will be dedicated towards peace and security. As a target for U.S. exports, foreign assistance to Mongolia becomes increasingly important. Holding a strong partner in exports is another way in how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mongolia.

– Colby McCoy
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Indonesia
The U.S. has allocated a total of $27.8 billion in foreign aid for the fiscal year of 2018 to benefit numerous countries around the world. One such recipient of that foreign aid is Indonesia, a country that began receiving U.S.-based funds after it gained its independence from Netherland in 1949.

Agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Peace Corps have assisted the country for over 60 years in various development challenges. Although the country attributes much of considerable progress to foreign aid, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Indonesia in numerous notable ways as well.

 

U.S. Benefits from Military Cooperation

The U.S. administration requested almost $41.7 million as foreign aid for Indonesia in fiscal year 2008. The goal was a joint fight of the two countries against terrorism, weapon expansion and other trans-national crimes. These aims also included strategic monitoring of waterways surrounding Indonesia and cooperation with the United States armed military forces.

From 2011 to 2016, the U.S. and Indonesia jointly performed 998 defense and security activities. High ranking military officials of the two countries exchanged their views on regional and global security issues through the Indonesia-United States Security Dialog (IUSSD) meetings. In 2015 at one of these meetings, the officials stated their focus on the following activities:

  • Cooperation on Maritime and Peacekeeping Operations
  • Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response
  • Defense Procurement and Joint Research and Development
  • Countering Trans-National Threats and improving military professionalization

 

U.S. Benefits from Maritime Cooperation

In June 2010, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Maritime Cooperation which led to a joint National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition. This voyage helped explore geological, biological and archaeological features of the unexplored ocean and involved scientists and engineers from both countries.

The MOU also extends cooperation in conservation and management of fishery, the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) and maritime safety and security, including combating and eliminating illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

 

U.S. Benefits from Economic Development

In 2008, the U.S. invested almost $27 million in the economic development of Indonesia. This funding helped to prevent corruption and increase transparency in finance, investment and the private sector of Indonesia facilitating trade between the two countries.

As a result of these aims, the U.S. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock reached almost $16 billion in Indonesia in 2009, an increase that substantially aided the growth of the U.S. investment sector. Then, from 2010 to 2011, the trade between the two countries amounted to almost $23.4 million with a 17 percent increase of exports of U.S. goods to Indonesia.

The U.S. is also a major supplier of aircraft transport, rail transport and energy sector equipment to Indonesia. In 2011, the supply of U.S. agricultural products was remarkable and earned more than $3 billion for the country.  Different U.S. firms also invested a combined $450 million on plants.

 

Other Benefits

Indonesia is one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters due to its vast tropical forest. Thankfully, though, with the help of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and USAID, the country aims to reduce CO2  emissions and generate 19 percent of the energy from renewable sources by 2019; accomplishing these goals would help fulfill the admirable targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since 2004, the U.S. has also assisted with Indonesia’s education programs. This aid helped to develop education exchange programs between universities of two countries and in January 2017, it was reported that almost 500 U.S. citizens studied in Indonesia with scholarships helping waive tuition fees and living expenses.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Indonesia is manifold in fighting terrorism and fostering marine exploration, fishing conservation, exchange education programs and job creation. These advantageous results help prove that foreign aid does not have to be charity but rather a strategic investment benefitting both recipient and donor.

– Mahua Mitra

Photo: Flickr

Senator John McCain Takes a Stand Against Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of the Rakhine State of Burma, also known as Myanmar. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Burma. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference with the ethnic cleansing in Burma, stating, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; however, she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Burma was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, a minority group within Burma‘s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple Burmese police and military officials.

Approximately 270,000 Rohingya people have fled Burma in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya people remain displaced throughout Burma. However, the Burmese government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities like food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Burmese government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi’s silence has had a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the misplaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is particularly important for pregnant women and young children. Also, the WFP’s nutritious food has slightly lessened the risk for disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, as nutritious foods help to strengthen the immune system.

The Rohingya people still remain displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, the WFP’s food delivery to the Rohingya people, and Senator McCain’s address, are important beginning steps to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Medical Education in IraqSince the conclusion of the Iraq War, the relationship between border countries Iran and Iraq shifted into a new era of close diplomatic and economic relations. In a recent press release, Iran agreed to construct Iraq’s first foreign University of Medical Sciences after nearly two decades of destruction.

The relationship between the two countries has not always been cordial. Turmoil severely increased during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 – 1988. During the Bush administration, United States Special Operations Forces conducted cross-border operations within southern Iraq. The demise of Saddam Hussein in 2003 created civil conflict and political unrest, severely affecting the medical education in Iraq and causing conflict between neighboring countries.

The tension between Iraq and Iran further increased in 2007, when the U.S. Congress agreed to fund up to $400 million for increased covert operations designed to destabilize Iran’s religious leadership and gather information about the country’s nuclear-weapons program. Iraq was unintentionally caught in the dispute between the US and Iran.

The Iraqi government depended on the 140,000 US troops stationed throughout the country, but its Kurdish and Shia leaders had strong alliances with Iran. Frequent threats and deadly attacks caused a mass departure of senior medical professors from Iraq. The exodus of Iraq’s healthcare workforce adversely impacted the medical training programs, leadership, and mainly, educational system. By the end of 2011, U.S. military forces were completely withdrawn from Iraq, officially ending the Iraq War.

Seven months after U.S. influence declined, Syria, Iraq and Iran signed a natural gas agreement which allowed for the construction of a $10 billion pipeline connecting Iraq and Syria directly to Iraq’s natural gas fields. The pipeline took six years to build and was officially completed in 2016.

Recently, Iran publicly announced its agreement to begin exporting natural gas to Iraq for $3.7 billion per year. The relationship between the two countries continues to strengthen as U.S. involvement decreases.

On Thursday, the Iranian Deputy Health Minister Dr. Bagher Larijani and Iraqi medical officials met in Tehran to discuss joint projects. The group achieved initial agreements to collaborate on various educational and scientific programs, This includes the establishment of Iraq’s first foreign University of Medical Sciences. Iran’s Ministry of Health will supervise the project. The Tehran University of Medical Sciences, the largest medical university in Iran, will construct it.

“This project is being pursued in earnest by the educational department of Iran’s Ministry of Health,” Dr. Larijani stated, “(and it is) in line with the development of medical science education in Iraq.”

The Deputy Health Minister also mentioned that the two countries discussed collaborative teacher/student transfer programs and the creation of “joint scientific networks” in medical research and scientific production. The unification between border countries has propelled Iraq into a positive direction after nearly two decades of civil destruction. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), during the Iraq War “approximately 61 universities and college buildings were war damaged and 101 college buildings were looted.”

Currently, there are 24 certified medical colleges in Iraq, all of which are governmental and operate under the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education. The medical education in Iraq faces numerous challenges. Both the curriculum and teaching methods are outdated, and there is a lack of suitable facilities. The colleges are focused on increasing student attendance rather than updating old curriculum and forming universal guidelines between medical schools.

Beyond the partnership with Iran, Iraq’s strategic plan to reconstruct and progress the medical education in Iraq is unclear. The Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education has not released a project proposal or curriculum plans yet.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Google

eudcation_in_MyanmarEducation in Myanmar is improving, though this progress has been slow. At the time of the British decolonization of Asia in 1948, Myanmar (then Burma) was lauded for having one of the top educational systems in the continent.

Many experts projected that Myanmar would come to be one of the central powers of the region due to its superior education, however, this has not been the case.

The World Bank has attributed the country’s now weak education system to various warring ethnic groups, particularly the progressive power of military rule that took hold over a half-century ago.

Myanmar has only recently begun to give way to democratic rule–the system that was originally intended for the developing country in 1948.

From the beginning of military involvement in governance in the early 1960s, an increasing list of sanctions was placed upon the country.

With the combination of international economic restrictions and tightening limitations from the military government, education in Myanmar quickly began to decompose.

However, after decades of brutal military rule, the people began to fight against the stiff restrictions imposed upon them. Notably, in November 2015, Htin Kyaw was elected as president of Myanmar in the first openly contested parliamentary elections that the country has ever had.

Since then, many sanctions have been lifted to allow open international trade and commerce.

With these recent signs of progress, many are optimistic that the education system in Myanmar will also begin to improve. Dr. Mya Oo, the Secretary of Education Development Committee of Myanmar has said that the first step that is needed is to create a system of free and compulsory education.

The first five years of education in Myanmar are already compulsory, but they are not free. The imposed educational fees put a strain on impoverished families who are usually forced to opt out from lack of personal resources.

There is also a certain level of discrimination against girls and ethnic minorities, which further limits the proportion of students in school. Only one-third of students reach the five-year level of education and this number decreases exponentially as the students continue to progress toward higher schooling.

The current Myanmar government recognizes these as serious issues, and as such recently announced, it plans to help boost enrollment rates as well as the quality of education. These propositions address increases in funding, focusing on equal education for women and ethnic minorities, building schools in remote areas and establishing better training systems for teachers.

These goals are scheduled to be reached before the end of 2016.

The government is also placing a greater emphasis on higher education as well. Myanmar governmental and educational officials have begun to consult with a number bordering states and European entities for improvement ideas in their universities.

Many of suggestions include universal equality, the establishment of student unions and universities that are allowed to operate autonomously.

With the implementation of these targets, many are optimistic that Myanmar will be able to provide for the anticipated influx of students seeking higher education.

Government oppression and poverty made it nearly impossible to achieve more than basic literacy. However, as the country works toward social progress, it is hoped that education in Myanmar can be brought back to life in a timely and efficient manner.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

The U.S. Army's Failed Anthropology Experiment
In 2006, a program dubbed the Human Terrain System was introduced to the U.S. Army as an anthropological effort to learn more about the culture of the Iraqi and Afghan people. The program aimed to combine social science with military intelligence to gain more Intel on the cultural factors at play in the countries’ high level of extremism and terrorism. HTS faced substantial criticism from the start, from both experts in anthropology and war, as well as from both left and right-sided politics. The program cost taxpayers an estimated $700 million over a span of seven years before it was halted. The program ended in September of 2014, but the defeat of the program was widely unknown, at least from a public standpoint, until just recently.

Despite the criticism, a multi-sector approach to the conflict in the Middle East could have the potential for tremendous reward. The brisk implementation, lack of adequate organization and training and high level of criticism seemed to completely deplete any and all advantages that HTS could have brought to U.S. efforts. It is widely known and supported that investment in encouraging development in areas of underdevelopment is generally a long term investment in decreasing conflict and therefore strengthening homeland defense. In fact, 84 percent of military officers said that strengthening non-military tools, such as diplomacy and development efforts, should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts, and yet the U.S. spends a tiny fraction of foreign spending on alleviating poverty. Understanding the culture in which soldiers are living and interacting within would be of a tremendous value for U.S. troops. So, why, then, was the introduction of HTS faced with so little support?

For one, the program was developed and implemented rather quickly, and without adequate research and planning. There was little training for workers who would be immersed in an area of high combat, intense climate and a language barrier, which not only put the workers in danger, but also took away from their ability to adequately gather information and inform troops.

Additionally, posing the project as an anthropology initiative posed serious ethical concerns. Some viewed it as the U.S. army gaining knowledge of the culture and its people to more efficiently subjugate violence against them. The anthropological community strongly upheld that argument, which contributed to a lack of support and expertise in that area contributing to the program. Additionally, on the ground, this dilemma brought on varying degrees of suspicion among Iraqi and Afghan people, which could further put the HTS workers in danger.

Also, the lack of adequate leadership and development of the program left room for major problems in mismanagement, corruption, racism and sexual harassment. The program was cited for hiring unqualified workers at all levels. The impossible work environment and lack of general expertise and professional knowledge rendered the program nearly ineffective.

Overall, the program, at first glance, would seem potentially invaluable for both domestic military leaders and for the troops actively engaged on the ground. However, the mismanagement and lack of seriousness of the program made for an ineffective and potentially dangerous program. The quiet termination of the program was needed, but it also further complicated the issue of future efforts in combining social science with military activism. Instead of using the program as a one time effort that failed and from which we can move on, we should use the failure as a learning opportunity. Using experts from both fields to create a working program with credible leadership and intensive training could not only give the U.S. Army an advantage, but also decrease overall violence in the areas where implemented. We also need to remove some of the strict labels put on such projects due to the political associations they may have, which could influence the support of projects, something they really lack.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Bloomberg, Foreign Policy
Photo: Newsweek

transgender_troops
A new study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine should dispel financial worries about allowing transgenders in military troops.

As the Pentagon moves to allow transgender people to serve in the U.S. military, debate has risen concerning the potential specialized healthcare they might require. This new study shows that the total cost of providing transition-related healthcare to transgender troops would be $5.6 million per year.

While that’s a high number, taken in the context of the entire U.S. military budget, it’s almost microscopic. The Defense Department’s annual healthcare budget currently sits at around $48 billion. When placed against this number, the potential $5.6 million required for transgender troops amounts to less than one-hundredth of a percent.

“Under any plausible estimation method, the costs are minimal,” Aaron Belkin, the study’s author, said in a statement. “Having analyzed the cost that the military will incur by providing transition-related care, I am convinced that it is too low to warrant consideration in the current policy debate.”

One of the criticisms being leveraged against this move is that the military will become a “magnet employer” for those seeking free health care. Belkin, however, denies this as a possibility, noting that the military has grown smaller over the years and that the Australian military has seen no negative impact from implementing the same reform.

According to the study, over roughly the past four years, 13 out of 58,000 total Australian troops underwent gender transition surgery. This averages out to around 1 soldier per 11,154 a year. In the United States, that ratio would be around 192 soldiers undergoing gender transition surgery annually out of a total 2,136,779 troops.

“What the research shows is that if you’re going to lift the ban, it doesn’t make sense to do so unless you also provide medically-necessary care,” Belkin said.

Alexander Jones

Sources: Nejm, USA Today, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Russia Insider