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last updated:9/2/03
Foreign Military Interaction (FMI)
(Also known as "military-to-military contact")

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Overview | Types of FMI | Other sites



The U.S. military relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean goes well beyond security assistance programs, exercises and deployments. The Defense Department carries out a large number of other initiatives whose primary goal is to maintain military-to-military contact with the region. These "foreign military interaction" (or "FMI") initiatives range from formal mechanisms like exchange programs and confidence-building measures to the informal contact that occurs during receptions, meetings and even telephone conversations.

U.S. defense agencies -- in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) – assert that foreign military interaction is necessary for several reasons. Maintaining regular contact, they contend, is essential for confidence-building and exchanges of information relevant to regional security. Knowledge of how other militaries "work" -- procedures, capabilities, command and control -- is regarded as important for future cooperation. The U.S. military seeks the interpersonal relationships that FMI programs build with foreign officers; friendships and acquaintances with top officers, the argument goes, can increase "access" to the region's militaries, making them more likely allies in future conflicts, more amenable to U.S. foreign policy concerns, and more inclined to "internalize" U.S. values regarding human rights and civil-military relations in a democracy.

Southcom manages most military-to-military contacts within its area of responsibility (all of Latin America and the Caribbean except Mexico). The command places a high priority on foreign military interaction programs, which it sees as fulfilling a strategy of "cooperative regional peacetime engagement."

Critics caution that FMI programs must undergo greater oversight and scrutiny from civilian leaders, in order to avoid the development of a "parallel foreign policy" that values military objectives over political goals. Some also express concern about the tacit message of U.S. "approval" that these activities might convey when they involve militaries with poor human rights records or undemocratic credentials.

Types of FMI


Though many FMI initiatives are too informal or ephemeral to document, several permanent programs exist and merit some description. The following list, which is not comprehensive, documents the military-to-military contact activities that this study has encountered.

Embassy personnel | Exchange programs | Office of the Secretary of Defense | Joint Chiefs of Staff | U.S. Army | U.S. Navy | U.S. Air Force | International Organizations | Other FMI

Accounts that pay for FMI

Embassy personnel

  • Defense Attaché Offices (DAOs)
  • Defense attachés are Defense Department personnel assigned to U.S. embassies; in most cases, they do not perform security-assistance functions. DAO duties include "overt gathering of military information, representing the U.S. Department of Defense in the conduct of military liaison activities, and performing as a component of the U.S. country team." All of these functions, particularly the first two, call for a very close relationship with host-country military personnel.1

  • Security Assistance Organizations (SAOs)

    Security Assistance Organizations (SAOs) are Defense Department personnel stationed, like DAOs, in U.S. embassies throughout the region. SAO members play a key role in military-to-military contact, as their management of security-assistance programs requires them to cultivate relationships with host-country military officers through regular visits, meetings, and other activities.

Exchange programs


Exchanges between U.S. and foreign military personnel are governed by section 544 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195, or the "FAA"), as amended. Section 544 specifies that exchanges must take place on a one-to-one basis, at comparable institutions, and at no cost to the United States.

Click to read the text of Section 544 of the FAA, also known as section 2347c of Title 22, U.S. Code. (From U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library)
  • Personnel Exchange Program (PEP)
  • The Personnel Exchange Program is defined as "a reciprocal exchange of personnel between a U.S. military service and a counterpart unit in another nation's military service."2

  • Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEE)

    Subject Matter Expert Exchanges are short visits by three or four U.S. military experts who exchange information with host-nation counterparts on a mutually-agreed topic. Topics may include "personnel, intelligence, operations, logistics, civil affairs, information processing, and others that may be of interest." Usually, both countries' subject-matter experts brief each other on their methods and procedures for dealing with the topic.3

  • Schools of Other Nations (SON) Program

    U.S. officers participating in the Schools of Other Nations program attend a foreign military school and get credit for courses attended.

  • Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program

    The Foreign Area Officer program is an "immersion" training program. Participating officers must speak the local language, have a graduate degree, and have lived in the area for one or two years. The FAO attends schools in the country without receiving credit.

Office of the Secretary of Defense

  • Defense Ministerials
The first meeting of the hemisphere's defense ministers took place in 1995 at Williamsburg, Virginia, at the initiative of Secretary of Defense William Perry. Subsequent Defense Ministerials were held in 1996 at Bariloche, Argentina, and in 1998 at Cartagena, Colombia. A U.S. defense official described Washington's objectives for the Cartegena meeting.

The specific U.S. objectives for DMA-III [the third Defense Ministerial of the Americas] are to demonstrate our commitment to regional cooperation on defense and security matters, and to the continuation of the DMA process; to strengthen and consolidate the leadership of defense and security policy in the hands of democratically elected officials; to deepen the dialogue among the civilian and military leaders on defense and security issues common to the hemisphere; and lastly, to promote transparency, confidence, and security building mechanisms and increase defense cooperation in areas such as peacekeeping, humanitarian disaster relief, and combatting terrorism, and advocate appropriate defense support for law enforcement and counternarcotics and other national security topics.4

  • Bilateral Working Groups
  • Assistant Secretaries of Defense and their staffs maintain regular contacts with counterparts in foreign civilian defense ministries. Their meetings are usually accompanied by a "military cooperation committee," in which military officers from both countries meet separately. Bilateral working groups have been established with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.5

Joint Chiefs of Staff

  • Joint Staff Talks
  • Members of the U.S. Joint Staff hold annual bilateral consultations with counterparts from Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Participants in these formal meetings share information about structures and activities. The talks, largely regarded as confidence and security-building measures, are normally accompanied by a good deal of informal contact.

  • Joint Mexico-U.S. Defense Commission (JMUSDC)

    JMUSDC, staffed by representatives of the Joint Staffs of the United States and Mexico, has been largely inactive for years. It may soon be revived, as military-to-military contact with Mexico is now in a period of rapid growth.

U.S. Army

  • Conference of American Armies
  • Founded in 1960, the Conference of American Armies is a biennial meeting of leaders of the hemisphere's armies. The conference has seven specialized sub-conferences, including a Training and Military Education Conference. Technical meetings usually occur between the formal meetings.

  • U.S. Army War College Peacekeeping Round Table

    A discussion of peacekeeping attended by representatives of the armies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay and the United States.

  • Brazil-U.S. Army Staff Talks

    These discussions are usually held annually.

U.S. Navy

  • Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC)
  • This conference, similar to the Conference of American Armies, meets biennially and has seven specialized supporting conferences.

  • International Seapower Symposium (ISS)

    The International Seapower Symposium is hosted by the U.S. Navy and attended by 70 states worldwide, including 18 states from the Western Hemisphere.

U.S. Air Force

  • System of Cooperation Among American Air Forces (SICOFAA)
  • The SICOFAA hosts an annual Conference of the Chiefs of the American Air Forces (CONJEFAMER), attended by 18 member states from the hemisphere. It has a Permanent Secretariat and nine functional committees.

  • Model Code of Military Justice

    A three-year effort involving thirteen countries, led by U.S. Air Force lawyers, drew up a non-binding Model Code of Military Justice for the Americas. The code, which began as part of the Air Force's ongoing program of military justice Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEEs), was signed in June 1998 at a ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.6

International Organizations


The bodies discussed in this category are not coordinated by the U.S. government. They are internationally-managed forums for FMI in which U.S. military representatives participate.

  • Inter-American Defense Board (IADB)
  • Founded in 1942, the Inter-American Defense Board is a security body within the Organization of American States (OAS). It has four major components: the Council of Delegates, the Staff, the Secretariat, and the Inter-American Defense College.

    The Council of Delegates advises the OAS in military matters and serves as "an organ of planning and preparation for the defense and security of the American Continent."7 The Staff performs planning and advisory functions. The Secretariat performs administrative and support functions.

  • Inter-American Defense College (IADC)
  • The Inter-American Defense College offers military officers and civilians with defense responsibilities a one-year post-graduate curriculum. Each student researches and publishes a monograph on a hemispheric defense issue. The IADC hosts symposia and conferences, as well as organizing visits to hemispheric defense institutions throughout the region.8

  • Caribbean Island Nations Security Conference (CINSEC)
  • CINSEC is an annual meeting attended by representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. Canada attends as an observer.

Other FMI

  • The U.S. military frequently invites officers or small groups from foreign countries to observe an exercise or operation to become familiar with U.S. methods, procedures and equipment.

  • "Defense Diplomacy"

    The 1996 Strategic Assessment published by the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies coins a term, "defense diplomacy," to describe the wide variety of high-level professional contacts and policy-related outreach activities the U.S. Defense Department conducts with defense establishments worldwide. 

    The Strategic Assessment divides "defense diplomacy" into five rough categories:

  • "High-level contacts: official visits overseas, counterpart visits to the United States, defense ministerial meetings, bilateral-security working groups, contact with the Washington diplomatic corps, and personal associations with senior foreign leaders that mature over time.
    One of the most frequent visitors is the Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of the U.S. Southern Command. The current CINC, Gen. Charles Wilhelm, said in March 1999, "In the last 12 months I have made 33 trips to the region during which I have made 60 individual country visits."9
  • Staff talks: bilateral Joint Staff talks, multinational service conferences, and both joint and service expert exchange opportunities (relating to subjects such as military law, simulations, and force development).
  • Sharing professional expertise: OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] briefing (teaching) teams from such staff offices as Program Analysis and Evaluation, the Emergency Planning Directorate, and the Defense Intelligence Agency; the U.S.-U.K. Kermit Roosevelt exchange military lecture series; NDU's [the National Defense University's] collaboration with the Inter-American Defense College; and various DOD outreach programs.
  • Developing an understanding of defense issues and requirements among civilian defense officials: foreign attendance of courses in service and defense education systems for DOD's civilian professionals; meetings between visiting government and legislative officials and DOD's civilian functional area experts; and short workshops in Washington designed to address this need.
  • Academic/research support of policy: formal affiliation with sister institutions for military education; counterpart exchange visits by directors of military colleges and universities; roundtable discussions and workshops to share ideas with visiting civilian and military dignitaries, academics, and journalists on topics of their interest; and the distribution of magazines, reports, and other professional literature published by service and defense academic and research institutions--ideally material published in foreign languages."10

Accounts that pay for FMI programs


Joint Staff and armed-service funds for operations and maintenance pay for many FMI activities. Some accounts, however, are specifically designed for this purpose.

  • CINC Initiative Fund (CIF)
  • Traditional CINC Activities (TCA)
  • Latin American Cooperation Funds
  • The Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of Southcom is given a certain amount of money each year to pay for FMI and training activities. The chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force have "Latin American cooperation funds" for similar activities.

    The CINC Initiative Fund is governed by section 166a of Title 10, U.S. Code. It authorizes the use of this account for the following activities:

    1. Force training (activities whose primary purpose is to train U.S. forces);
    2. Contingencies;
    3. Selected operations;
    4. Command and control;
    5. Joint exercises (including activities of participating foreign countries);
    6. Humanitarian and civic assistance;
    7. Military education and training to military and related civilian personnel of foreign countries (including transportation, translation, and administrative expenses); and
    8. Personnel expenses of defense personnel for bilateral or regional cooperation programs.

    Other limitations on the fund's use include the following:

    • No more than $7 million may be used to buy items whose individual unit cost exceeds $15,000;
    • No more than $1 million can pay for expenses of foreign countries participating in joint exercises;
    • No more than $2 million can pay for military education and training; and
    • Funds may not be provided for an activity that has been denied congressional authorization.

    The Defense Department Appropriation law for 2000 sets a $25 million limit for the CINC initiative fund account worldwide.

    According to the General Accounting Office, the Traditional CINC Activities (TCA) category allows commanders-in-chief to "fund military-to-military contacts with foreign nations for such activities as seminars, conferences, and educational exchanges of civilian and military personnel."11

    Section 1050 of Title 10, U.S. Code authorizes Latin American cooperation funds, allowing the secretary of an armed service to "pay the travel, subsistence, and special compensation of officers and students of Latin American countries and other expenses that the Secretary considers necessary for Latin American cooperation."

    TCA and co-op funds usually pay for travel, per diems, lodging, and "representational expenses" (small gifts, meals and social functions) associated with military-to-military contact programs. In Latin America and the Caribbean, these funds also pay for Familiarization Visits and Subject Matter Expert Exchanges. As it may be used for contingencies and humanitarian and civic assistance, the CIF was employed to support aid efforts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in Central America in late 1998.

Click to read the text of section 166a of Title 10, U.S. Code. (From U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library)

Other sites


1 United States, Department of Defense, Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management, The Management of Security Assistance, 17th ed. (Wright-Patterson AFB, OH: May 1997): 722.

2 United States, Mission to the Organization of American States, "Note From the Permanent Mission of the United States of America Forwarding an Inventory of Confidence- and Security-Building Measures," I Regional Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in the Region, Santiago, Chile, November 8-10, 1995, Document no. OEA/Ser.K/XXIX.2: 10.

3 Mission to the Organization of American States 10.

4 Senior Defense Official, “Secretary of Defense Trip to Colombia,” Background Briefing (Colombia: November 25, 1998) <>.

5 Senior Defense Official.

6 1st Lt. Amie Mize, “New code sets right tone for military justice throughout the Americas,” Air Force News Service June 30, 1998 <>.

7 Inter-American Defense Board, Organization of American States, April 1998 <>.

8 Inter-American Defense Board.

9 United States, U.S. Southern Command, “Posture Statement Of General Charles E. Wilhelm, United States Marine Corps Commander In Chief, United States Southern Command Before The Senate Armed Services Committee,” March 4, 1999.

10 United States, Department of Defense, National Defense University, "Chapter nine: Defense Engagement in Peacetime," Strategic Assessment 1996: Elements of U.S. Power, 1996, April 1998 <>.

11 United States, General Accounting Office, Military Training: Management and Oversight of Joint Combined Exchange Training, document number GAO/NSIAD-99-173, (Washington, DC: GAO, July 1999) 21 <>. Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) version <>.


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