Military Deployments, Human Development, and Growth

CALUCO, El Salvador (April 15, 2013) — U.S. Air Force Capt. Alicia Prescott (examining), 959th Medical Group pediatrician, Lackland Air Force Base, examines a child during a medical clinic during Beyond the Horizon. Photo from US Southern Command
CALUCO, El Salvador (April 15, 2013) — U.S. Air Force Capt. Alicia Prescott (examining), 959th Medical Group pediatrician, Lackland Air Force Base, examines a child during a medical clinic during Beyond the Horizon. Image from Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System.

The deployment of US military forces has received a bump in attention over the past year or two. Most recently, as Michael Allen has discussed, US military forces were deployed to Poland in response to the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. In 2011 President Obama sent 100 US military personnel to Uganda to help track Joseph Kony, bolstering forces that were already deployed to the region. Obama recently moved to strengthen the presence of US forces in Uganda, sending aircraft and an additional 150 Air Force personnel in mid-March. According to the Washington Post article linked above, the total number of US military personnel deployed to Uganda is currently at 300. These sorts of deployments are not uncommon, but they also don’t necessarily represent the whole of US military deployments across the globe. While many deployments are certainly aimed at affecting the security situation in (or around) the host-state, they have functions and effects that extend well beyond more narrow military/security concerns. Recent examples include aiding in the search for Flight MH370, and providing relief following the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean region.

I, along with Michael Allen and Julie VanDusky–Allen, have been working on several projects that focus on how US military forces affect various aspects of the environments to which they’re deployed. This work is couched in a relatively small, but growing, body of literature that has emerged over the past few years (for examples see here, here, here, here, and here). Some of this research has focused on traditional security issues, but much of it has focused on the broader economic and developmental implications of such deployments for the host-state. Tim Kane collected the Department of Defense troop deployment records that often serve as the basis for research focusing on troop deployments. He’s also done some work on how US troop deployments affect economic growth and human development (see here and here).  Kane’s findings generally indicate that US troop deployments to a state have beneficial effects for a range of factors, such as economic growth, child mortality, life expectancy, and infrastructural development. To explain these findings, Kane posits a few primary mechanisms. Though these differ slightly between the two papers listed above, I think we can safely categorize them as follows:

  1. Security/Peacekeeping/Stability: Troop deployments serve to create an environment in which investment and growth are possible through the provision of security and stability.
  2. Diffusion/Infrastructure: Troop deployments help to promote institutional and infrastructural changes that promote innovation, development, and growth. This can be the result of the diffusion of technological advancements, or possibly the diffusion of norms that are conducive to strengthening respect for human and property rights.
  3. Demand: The presence of foreign troops can stimulate demand within the host-state. Troops move in, get paid, and spend their money on goods and services within the host-state.

I’ve not devoted a lot of attention to this particular line of research—most of my work in this area has been aimed at understanding how US troop deployments influence security issues in the host-state. The work that Michael Allen and I have done on troops and crime has focused more on how troops can directly stimulate, or passively facilitate, black market activity and violent crime within the host-state. To a certain extent, our logic is related to points 2 and 3 listed above. That said, I’ve been thinking a little bit more about some of the mechanisms that Kane highlights in his research—primarily the idea of diffusion as a mechanism for promoting growth and development. At some level, I’m fine with the idea that the presence of foreign military forces contributes to the diffusion of knowledge and technology, but I’ve found the articulation of this process to be pretty sparse in Kane’s existing work. One example that Kane provides concerns the construction of a naval base. That’s fine, but these kinds of large-scale projects are probably not all that common, and I’m not sure these kinds of projects, in the aggregate, could have the kind of effect that Kane is arguing. To be fair, Kane does acknowledge in his work that the specific causal mechanisms remain unclear.

So how can we bridge the gap between troop deployments and improvements in these kinds of outcomes? I recently came across this article from the American Forces Press Service, which I think helps to provide some clarity as to the micro-foundations of how the diffusion and infrastructure mechanisms work. The article led me to this page: US Southern Command’s Beyond the Horizon / New Horizon’s page. These exercises are run by Southern Command and are aimed at facilitating multilateral military cooperation and promoting civilian assistance throughout Southern Command’s region of responsibility. Here’s a snippet from the program backgrounds:

Beyond the Horizon is a joint foreign military interaction/humanitarian exercise.  Begun in 2008, Beyond the Horizon continues U.S. Southern Command’s proud legacy of humanitarian civic assistance exercise programs in the region.  The governments of each participating nation, the U.S. Department of State, and Department of Defense have carefully evaluated and approved these exercises.

New Horizons is an annual series of joint and combined humanitarian assistance exercises that U.S. Southern Command conducts in Latin American and Caribbean nations. Since New Horizons began in the mid-1980s, U.S. troops have deployed annually for the exercise.

Here’s another snippet from the program description concerning the various kinds of medical services that are provided during these exercises:

U.S. military health care professionals will conduct multiple Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs) in each country, working with host nation medical personnel to provide general and specialized medical and dental services to thousands of citizens requiring care.  These services include public health and preventive medicine, dental care, adult and pediatric medicine, medical education, immunizations, and nutritional counseling.

The exercises also include veterinarian care, a vital service that ensures the safety of valuable food sources and helps prevent diseases that could be passed from animals and livestock to a population.

The training events enhance the medical readiness training of U.S. forces as well as provided sustained health benefit to the population.  Additionally, the relationships forged during these exercises can be called upon in the event of a regional situation that requires a cooperative response.

I’ve had some vague ideas related to military cooperation for a while now. Ideas is maybe too strong a word—curiosity and interest might be better terms. It’s widely known that the US engages in cooperative military exercises with other countries, but I typically think of things like war games. I think these sorts of regularized exercises that are devoted less to security, and more to humanitarian needs, are much more interesting though.

Guatemalan families wait in line outside a Medical Readiness Training Exercise during Beyond the Horizon 2014, Zacapa, Guatemala, April 21, 2014.
Guatemalan families wait in line outside a Medical Readiness Training Exercise during Beyond the Horizon 2014, Zacapa, Guatemala, April 21, 2014. Image from US Southern Command.

Additionally, I do think these kinds of exercises can give us a clearer picture as to the micro-level foundations of any troops-development relationship that might exist. The idea that the US military is regularly engaged in construction projects, as well as the provision of basic medical care, is a much more compelling mechanism than some grand construction project that occurs rarely. This article states that US troops provided medical care to roughly 13,000 people in rural Panama over the course of four months during the 2013 round of exercises. Additionally, it appears as though these activities involve the construction of clinics, dormitories, and schools in rural areas. And who knew the US military provided veterinary care? It’s easy to see how these activities could have a positive impact on outcomes of interest, like life expectancy and mortality rates. The training, construction, and educational components to these exercises provide us with a much clearer and more direct link between the presence of US military forces and growth/development, and provides some additional support for the theoretical diffusion mechanisms that Kane discusses.

But what about other regions of the globe? Beyond the Horizon is the province of US Southern Command—operating throughout Central and South America—but other military organizations have similar programs in place. The annual Pacific Partnership exercises, run by the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet, began following the aforementioned 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. As with Beyond the Horizon, these exercises are designed to provide a regular means by which US naval forces in the Pacific can train alongside other regional actors, including governments, militaries, and non-governmental organizations. This Stars and Stripes article provides some additional descriptive information from the 2013 round of exercises:

The Navy partnered with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Canada and Malaysia to hold scores of disaster-response events and medical training sessions.

Among the highlights: treatment of 18,679 medical and dental patients; veterinary evaluation of 4,925 animals; and 49 engineering civic action projects. The partnership also included 102 community service events in six host nations: Samoa, Tonga, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiri­bati, Papua New Guinea and the Solo­mon Islands.

Some of these programs are relatively recent in terms of becoming institutionalized (like Pacific Partnership), but they provide some insights as to how military deployments can have the kinds of positive effects discussed above. I’d be interested to see if these programs are the successors of earlier version that have been phased out. The works that I’ve read concerning US troop deployments and basing haven’t focused on these kinds of dynamics, so I’m not clear what the broader post-WWI landscape looks like.

I’d also be curious to see what the extended effects of such deployments are. If there are indeed systematic benefits for the host-states’ residents, this is certainly a plus. But the US clearly benefits (or at least policymakers think they benefit) from such activities. In the most narrow sense, US military personnel gain valuable training and experience in the field. However, US bases and deployments have a contentious history in many countries, and there are often particularly high-profile and egregious crimes involving US military personnel that shape these general perceptions. These events have often led to a strong public backlash against the continued presence of the US military, so good PR is probably a desirable outcome for US military leaders and civilian policymakers. These sorts of programs don’t seem to be picked up by the media all that often (at least in the US), and without more fine-grained data on media reports or public opinion surveys from within the host-states it’s difficult to tell how these exercises are perceived, or what kinds of effects they have on domestic attitudes within the host-state.

Michael Flynn

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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