Talking Past Each Other? How Views of U.S. Power Vary between U.S. and International Military Personnel

  • February 01, 2013
  • COL Richard H M Outzen



The 21st century U.S. military seldom operates alone. Except for initial entry and organizational training, it works almost always with and through foreign partners. Yet over the past decade, anecdotal evidence suggests that U.S. military organizations and personnel have trouble understanding, influencing, and cooperating with international partners. This evidence includes high-profile incidents from Iraq and Afghanistan: civilian deaths, Koran burnings, blue-on-blue or green-on-blue lethal attacks. It also includes more numerous, lower profile bits of friction that follow U.S. service members around the globe in the form of protests, lawsuits, criminal cases, and difficult military-to-military relations from Iraq and Afghanistan to Turkey and Pakistan. In some instances, the U.S. military may be entirely without fault, suffering friction driven by problematic local attitudes or political dynamics. On the other hand, it is possible that certain characteristics of thought or behavior within the U.S. military culture increase the likelihood of severe friction. Against this backdrop, the gap between the U.S. military’s self-image and its image in the eyes of an international military audience is examined. When considering U.S. power, do response patterns indicate great difference between how U.S. military officers view themselves, and how they are viewed by their international peers? If so, is there anything that the United States can do about it, or does a fundamental and pathological anti-Americanism predetermine outcomes? Based on a survey administered at the National Defense University, this study offers observations and recommendations about the increasingly central question of how U.S. forces can form better and stronger ties with partners.