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  • Operation Overseas Series

  •   U.S.-Run Center Helps Shape Future Leaders

    By Dana Priest
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, December 14, 1998; Page A29

    A former prisoner-of-war camp once run by the U.S. Army beneath the snow-dusted Bavarian Alps has become the intellectual center for the inconspicuous revolution taking place inside the militaries of Eastern Europe.

    With English language labs, workshops on how to use the Internet and discussion groups on the benefits of democratic regimes, the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies may be doing as much to shape Europe's future as any academic center on the continent.

    The United States spends more than $25 million a year to create an Ivy League atmosphere in which both the old guard and the new feel the freedom to entertain the notion that their militaries should be much smaller, smarter and more loyal to elected civilian leaders.

    One day this fall, most of the 80 colonels, generals and foreign ministry officials attending a lecture listened to simultaneous translation from English into Russian, reflecting the high percentage of students from former Soviet republics. Rob de Wijk, a defense planner for the Dutch Defense Ministry, argued from the podium that NATO should be considered an alliance of adult democracies as much as of willing militaries.

    "The big problem is mind-set," said de Wijk during a break. "It's very, very difficult to really change the mentality of the people who never had the opportunity to think differently."

    Nearby, two Slovakian officials talked quietly about pressures to politicize their armed forces. A Bulgarian foreign ministry official ruminated on the slow pace of reform in his country. A Latvian officer hovered nearby, listening intently.

    "We don't want to provide them with the tools but with the ideas of democracy," said Robert Kennedy, the center's director.

    Not all U.S. military educational programs for Eastern Europeans seem as relevant. Seminars and training sessions offered across the region are like a smorgasbord on every conceivable military subject, instead of more keenly focused on a few areas. Some are even nonsensical, such as a recent conference in Stuttgart in which 30 high-ranking foreign officers were bombarded with terms such as "data mining and data visualization," and "remedial action program requiring multiproponent involvement." The talk was complemented with charts labeled with Army acronyms incomprehensible to the non-American officers, who had rudimentary command of English and cursory understanding of the U.S. Army's organization.

    This does not seem a problem at the Garmisch center, which has attracted more than 3,800 foreign officers, parliamentarians and ministry officials for conferences and months-long courses. Some have parlayed the prestige and connections gained here into promotions back home. There are enough of these rising stars to spot the outlines of a new Western-trained military elite.

    Georgia's David Tevzadze and Estonia's Johannes Kert were both promoted repeatedly after attending the center and now are ministers of defense. Col. Zvonko Stojanovski has become Macedonia's air force chief of staff. Four alumni -- from Armenia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Azerbaijan -- have gone on to become their countries' military attaches in Washington. Eighteen former students have been assigned to NATO headquarters.

    After Lt. Col. Halit Daci was purged for his political beliefs from Albania's Defense Ministry, he started a first-of-its-kind national security think tank. Four other alumni are members.

    For all its haute policy aims, the center's first step is to encourage men used to thinking about war plans and killing techniques to master basic English and signing onto the Internet. The curriculum reflects some of the emphasis of U.S. instruction across the region, where the Defense Department has opened 88 language labs in military facilities in 22 countries, with another 49 labs on the way. Hundreds of East European officers go to the United States each year for English classes.

    "It may sound funny," said Ambassador Vladimir Philipou, foreign affairs secretary to the president of Bulgaria, "but language training, that is what you need."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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