Fewer Drone Strikes, More Foreign Training as Obama’s Term Winds Down

By Stew Magnuson

The remaining years of the Obama administration will be marked by fewer drone strikes, an increase in foreign military sales and an emphasis on training allied military personnel, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scholar said July 22.

Jonathan Caverley, a MIT research associate, and former Navy officer said, President Obama signaled this shift to soft power in May at a West Point speech where he said there would be an emphasis on foreign military training and sales because they have the potential to create larger and long-term impacts.

“The effects of drones and special operations forces are fairly short term. They are not really going to transform the world and other countries,” Caverley said during a webinar organized by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

Drone strikes have decreased over the past two years because the military has shifted its priorities to soft power and building up allied militaries, he said. The majority of foreign training has occurred in Eastern Europe and is spreading to Asia, the Pacific and Africa, he said.

Special Operations Command wants to focus on building relationships with other militaries so, when trained, they can do the work for them.  “We are now focused on sending other men to do the job rather than ourselves,” Caverley said.

There has been a marked decrease in drone strikes recently, he noted. The bases they fly out of are not permanent facilities, he added.

“We are not going to be involved in large-scale wars anytime soon,” Caverley said. “The United States military is pretty capable and understands very quickly where the wind is blowing in terms of priorities.”

However, he said the overall effectiveness of military training efforts are unknown because there are no databases tracking those who have graduated from these courses “We really have no idea how many students are being trained. There is almost no accountability in the sense of what happens to our alumni once they leave,” Caverley said. “The United States [government] really believes that these programs are working but we have no idea whether or not they are.”

Arms sales are a priority because of the United States’ dominance in the market This is despite the fact that it faces more competition, he said. “The U.S. has a luxury because it builds such good weapons and fights all the time,” Caverley said.

The goal is to minimize the influence of other manufacturers such as Russia, but also to ensure that arms races don’t escalate in various regions, he said.

To facilitate arm sales, the United States needs stable relationships with other nations, and foreign military training is a means to accomplish this, he said.

“The whole point of these weapons is to have a relationship and to make sure the capability of that weapon is [being used] in your interest,” Caverley said.

Topics: International, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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