A Big Question: Are US Troops Good For Peace Abroad?

  (Photo credit: Sgt. Jessica Lucio, via DVIDS)

(Photo credit: Sgt. Jessica Lucio, via DVIDS)

U.S. Army Intelligence recently asked one of Washington D.C.'s leading think tanks a hell of a big question: Is the presence of U.S. troops or U.S. military aid abroad good or bad for peace there?

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The think tank, the RAND Corporation, analyzed conflict data from around the globe going back to the end of the Second World War and then responded with a 100-plus-page study that supports something of a murky answer: Yes, U.S. military presence and aid can deter major conflict between states, but it doesn't necessarily stop internal violence and comes with other significant "trade-offs" including a higher likelihood of "low intensity militarized disputes," a more aggressive opposition to the local government and "greater levels of state repression" by that government, which could lead to civil war.

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With respect to countering major U.S. rivals like China and Russia specifically, the study suggested there's great value in having a substantial number of U.S. troops in the related regions, but stressed the importance of strategic placement. They're best when they're far enough from the adversaries' borders to minimize perceived provocations, but close enough to effectively respond to any potential conflict, the report says.

In the Middle East, the RAND researchers found that increased military assistance to nations there, in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, "may strengthen and assure U.S. partners in the region, but it may also do so at the cost of increased risk of repression and greater domestic instability among recipient states."

With such a huge question to answer, the researchers are aware their conclusions are broad and urged policy-makers to proceed with caution when consulting them.

"While these findings are statistically significant and robust, application of these findings to specific cases, and to U.S. policy, should be made cautiously," the study says. "Our statistical results represent average associations between U.S. troop presence and conflict behavior, and the net effect of U.S. forward presence. However, in specific cases, some effects may prove stronger or weaker, resulting in diverging effects that are idiosyncratic to specific contexts or state pairs."

If you're a security, history or statistics nerd, there's a lot to unpack here, so dig in:

Primary Source: US Presence and the Incidence of Conflict (RAND)

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