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American Military Assistance Programs since 1945

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Please check back later for the full article.

Military assistance programs have been a crucial instrument of American foreign policy since World War II, valued by policy-makers for combating internal subversion in the “free world,” deterring aggression, and protecting overseas interests. The 1958 Draper committee, consisting of eight members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, concluded that economic and military assistance were interchangeable as, without internal security and the “feeling of confidence engendered by adequate military forces, there is little hope for economic progress.” Less explicitly, military assistance was also designed to uphold the U.S. global system of military bases established after World War II, to ensure access to raw materials, and to help recruit intelligence assets while keeping a light-American footprint. Police and military aid was often invited and welcomed by government elites in so-called “free world” nations for enhancing domestic security, or enabling the swift repression of political opponents. It sometimes coincided with an influx of economic aid, as under the Marshall Plan and Alliance for Progress. In cases like Vietnam, the programs contributed to stark human rights abuses owing to political circumstances and the prioritization of national security considerations over commitment to civil liberties.