National Security Education Program: Who's setting the agenda?
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The National Security Education Program (NSEP), or Boren Program, created by the National Security Education Act (NSEA), is moving to blunt criticisms of the program from scholars and to seek applicants for $7.5 million in grant awards in 1994. This article reviews the activities of the program during the past six months and assesses to what extent criticisms from the scholarly community have been addressed. A summary of the three grant programs and a list of persons nominated to the White House to serve on the NSEP Advisory Panel are provided at the end of the article.
A new look for the NSEP?
In response to the criticisms and reservations of the various area studies associations nationally, the new Department of Defense staff of the NSEP have made a number of alterations in the program, which they hope will answer these concerns. These include the following:
By legislative amendments, the NSEP Program has been removed from the Defense Intelligence College under the Assistant Secretary for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence and attached to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy and Peacekeeping. Dr. Morton Halperin was nominated by the White House to this position, but his confirmation was opposed by some Republican Senators, was referred back to the White House, and Halperin withdrew from candidacy, partly because of the lack of support for the proposed unit by former Department of Defense Secretary-designated Inman. The NSEP offices have been moved from the Pentagon to an office building in nearby Roslyn.
The NSEP is no longer headed by Martin Hurwitz of the Defense Intelligence College but by Charlene King, a former academic administrator and staff member for Senators Goldwater and Boren. Her deputy director is Robert Slater, Ph. D., a practicing political scientist. Slater, formerly attached to the Defense Intelligence College, is more familiar with academia, having staffed a Department of Defense-Association of American Universities Task Force in the early 1980s that assessed Department of Defense linkages with the university community. That effort was prompted by the controversies over the export control censorship of scholarly meetings and the decisions by the directors of the Title VI African studies centers to decline funding from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The legislative goal of the NSEP is to enable U.S. citizens to "communicate and compete," with other countries by increasing federal support for language and area studies needs. The new NSEP brochure slightly softens the emphasis on competition.
The brochure describes the mission in somewhat broader terms, "to lead in developing the national capacity to educate citizens and to understand foreign cultures, strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness, and enhance international cooperation and security."
As a recent meeting in Seattle, the NSEP staff indicated that institutional awards initially will be focused on the peacetime global priorities of the environment, health, and energy. It is not clear if or how these will be reflected in the funded institutional programs for foreign language and area studies.
The NSEP staff is seeking to operationalize the program in 1994, reportedly to counter criticism of the program's inactivity and, therefore, to decrease susceptibility of NSEP to being folded into the Title VI Programs of the Center for International Education of the U.S. Department of Education (US/ED). Members of the Advisory Panel have been nominated by the White House. They include few foreign language and area studies specialists. (A list of members thought to have been nominated is appended.) The NSEP also has countered the proposal of combining NSEP with Title VI in the US/ED by indicating it "will not duplicate Title VI programs." Grant applications are expected to be solicited in December 1993 for the student programs and in winter 1994 for the institutional program.
The new NSEP administrators have consulted more widely with individual scholars and groups from higher education, ending much of the tone of unilateralism found in the public statements of the previous staff about targets of the programs and the aims of the NSEP funding. The NSEP staff has held a number of regional briefing meetings across the country to discuss the program with interested parties as well as one meeting with representatives of six Title VI language and area studies centers.
Simultaneously, the NSEP has asked each U.S. institution of higher education to designate an "NSEP representative" for disseminating application forms to students.
Already, the staff reports, approximately 1, 500 institutions have responded.
The NSEP staff recently indicated they are retitling graduate student support abroad from "research abroad" to "overseas studies" and indicating their openness to finding a new title for students studying abroad on NSEP funding, replacing "National Security Education Program Fellow" or "Boren Fellow." These changes seek to reduce the feared danger to NSEP Fellows abroad if they are identified as associated with or presumed to be linked military and intelligence agencies.
Finally, the NSEP staff has indicated that they are personally and institutionally flexible and that they intend to modify the program in the years ahead to create a more intelligent and respectable program.
Proposal to Move the NSEP
While the NSEP staff have been modifying the structure and image of their programs on the margins, Vice President Gore has recommended that the NSEP and its Trust Fund "should be consolidated with the Center for International Education in the U.S. Department of Education (US/ED) to strengthen foreign language study and eliminate duplication of effort." This Administration recommendation is part of Gore's "reinventing government" proposals contained in the Report of the National Performance Review, Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less (Washington, September 7, 1993). Unfortunately, this recommendation does not have the support of most of the higher education associations in Washington. They argue that removing the program from the Department of Defense will lose support for additional funding of the Trust Fund by members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and that the political base of the program is too fragile to withstand this loss. (In the mean time, the OMB has ruled that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees should now replace the oversight jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committees over NSEP.) At this time, no bill has been introduced to implement this transfer of NSEP to US/ED.
Responses to NSEP
A number of area studies and other scholarly associations have voice criticisms of the NSEP, including the Boards of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), African Studies Association (ASA), Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), Association of African Studies Programs (AASP), and the Association of concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS).
In one of the first response, the presidents of ASA, LASA, and MESA, wrote to Sen. Boren in February 1992, stating that, "we are gravely concerned...at the presence of the Director of the CIA in the oversight of the program...For scholars of our regions, these provisions represent a significant problem, if not outright risk. Linking university-based research to U.S. national security agencies, even indirectly, will restrict our already narrow research opportunities; it will endanger the physical safety of scholars and our students studying abroad; and it will jeopardize the cooperation and safety of those we study and collaborate with in these regions."
The presidents further observed that the end result of the NSEP will be "to restrict the flow of information from the regions to the U.S.; to erode our basic research capacity on Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East; and to limit on-site training opportunities in languages, cultures, politics, and economics."
Criticism from Africanists
Africanist associations, including the ASA, AASP, and ACAS, for more than a decade have opposed the Department of Defense and CIA being involved in the funding, determining priorities, and oversight of foreign language and area studies. The NSEA gives the Secretary of the Department of Defense authority to determine the target countries, languages, and study topics of the program. The Board that advises the Secretary includes the Director of the CIA, along with the secretaries of Commerce, Education, and State; Directors of the USIA and National Endowment for the Humanities; and six Presidential appointees. Noting that the federal government transformed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA Title VI) a number of years ago into the Higher Education Act, a number of area studies scholars have questioned the wisdom of re-inventing a foreign language and area studies program operated directly by the military. (Some in the House Select Intelligence Committee also have questioned the wisdom of giving CIA funds to the NSEP for public education programs during this period of "increased threats after the Cold War" and increased needs for intelligence.)
Most Africanists have also believed that military and intelligence links would reduce scholarly linkages, collegiality, and access in Africa. ACAS has urges scholars to refrain from seeking funds from the program, "Specifically, we reaffirm our conviction that scholars and their international programs and universities should not accept research, fellowship, travel, programmatic, and other funding for international studies and program activities in the United States or abroad from military and intelligence agencies or their contractual representatives," and so called on, "universities and scholars…to separate foreign language and area studies in the United States from military, intelligence, and other security agency programs and priorities. In this post-Cold War period, we believe that the broader and longer-term interests of the people of the United States are best served by this separation."
In spite of recent changes in the NSEP, these convictions were reaffirmed in December (1993) at the annual meetings of the African Studies Association by the directors (or their representatives) of 13 of the Title VI National Resource Centers in African Language and Area Studies (Boston U., Berkeley/Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Pennsylvania, UCLA, Wisconsin, and Yale) and 28 program representatives who are members of the Association of African Studies Programs. Both groups decided at the Boston meeting that the changes in NSEP did not address their central concerns and that we continue to support the Clinton Administration position, with Department of Defense Secretary Aspin concurring, to move NSEP to US/ED.
The Middle East Studies Association
Other associations have focused on the fact that this is a program of the Department of Defense with the Director of Central Intelligence sitting on the Board. This links foreign language and area studies directly to the perceptions, priorities, and oversight of U.S. military, and intelligence, it is argued, at the very moment when military and intelligence action is less needed to serve the longer-term and broader national interests. The concerns of the associations and their members have varied. MESA voiced a serious concern for endangering U.S. students and scholars in the Middle East. The MESA Board passed a resolution in October 1992 stating,
"The Board of Directors of MESA…deplored the location of responsibility in the U.S. defense and intelligence community for a major foreign area research, education, and training program of students and specialists. This connection can only increase the existing difficulties of gaining foreign governmental permission to carry out research and to develop overseas instructional programs. It can also create dangers for students and scholars by fostering the perception of involvement in military and intelligence activities, and may limit academic freedom."
The MESA Board also called upon Boren and the NSEP administrators, "…to ensure that the priorities, criteria, and funding goals of the program are developed from within the academic community; are consonant with the integrity of the scholarly process; and further, that there is separation of Middle East studies scholars, students and their institutions from military and intelligence organization and priorities."
The South Asian Studies Council
The South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies and the Joint Committee on South Asia of the SSRC and the ACLS has urged that the funds be transferred to the US/ED and calls on institutions not to accept the funds. "Past experience, in South Asia as elsewhere, amply demonstrated the perils of connections, however tenuous, between scholars and U.S. national security agencies. Possible consequences range from mistrust and lack of cooperation to physical violence against U.S. scholars and their colleagues abroad."
They continue observing that the May 1992 issue of India Currents states about the NSEP, "Now, for the first time, the CIA will be involved directly and openly in higher education and research on campuses. The CIA will support students and scholars interested in Third World languages and cultures…a major purpose of the bill seems to be the training and recruitment of industrial and technological spies for international convert operations."
The Council statement concludes, "While these statements may not be true, they represent the perception which we expect to spread widely in may parts of the world if the NSEP is implemented."
Responses of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS)
Writing to Sen. Boren in March 1993, Tetsuo Najita, AAS President, in a letter approved by the AAS Board, also urged that the NSEP be taken out of the Department of Defense. "There is no question that continued close identification (of NSEP) with the defense-intelligence community will seriously limit the scope of the NSEP and preclude it achieving in full role in international education. In many of the most critical and neglected areas of Asia, access to field work and study, and productive relationships with colleagues, will be seriously curtailed by the defense-intelligence identification. In the post Civil War world, the problems posed by the linkages with the defense intelligence community will probably increase, fostered by heightened nationalism…Many nations will be inaccessible to NSEP students and scholars, often those most important to repairing our international knowledge and competence."
Support from overseas study groups
Some associations outside of foreign language and area studies have found no objections to the funding. For instance, there appears to be a strong interest in the money from most administrators of overseas studies, the majority of whose programs have been concentrated in the UK and Western Europe. Similarly, many higher education administrators are hungry for funding to bring to their campuses to support the new interest in internationalizing programs and curricula and funding overseas study. One scholar noted that many on campuses who are not associated with field work and studies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Caribbean, and the Middle East are saying, "the only problem with tainted money is there t'aint enough of it."
Many administrators from these programs apparently believe that the concern for military intelligence linkages is overemphasized by the area studies scholars. However, some overseas studies professionals are concerned for potential liability issues if, in fact, there is danger to U.S. undergraduates taking NSEP Scholarships for study in countries sensitive to NSEP funding.
Support from the Association of American Universities
The president of the AAU and the Chairman of its International Studies Task Force, however, wrote Boren in April 1992 expressing gratitude for this initiative and stating that the presidents and chancellors of the AAU research universities “stand ready to assist you in any way we can in establishing and expanding this promising new program.” This was based on the strong belief that “…America's position in the world will depend increasingly on our national competence in the languages of the world and our knowledge of the customs and cultures of the nations with which we both cooperate and compete.”
Some others have criticized the “national service requirements” of the program which ask undergraduates who receive funds to work for an equivalent number of months in either some branch of the federal government or in education. Graduate students must work in similar agencies for one to three times the number of months they are supported. Employment in NGOs or other voluntary agencies is not eligible for fulfilling the service obligation.
In addition, the associations and individual scholars have made suggestions for amending the NSEA to make the programs more acceptable for many. Several amendments to the NSEA have been put through Congress, but none of the suggested alterations were incorporated.
At this time, we know of no written response from Senator Boren, his staff, or the NSEP staff to any of those suggestions or criticisms.
Have changes in the NSEP address objections of area studies scholars?
Many criticisms of area scholars remain unaddressed:
- Military control of NSEP goals, principles, and administration. The NSEP continues to be operated by the U.S. military, taking advice from six other federal agencies, including the CIA, and six members from outside government, not necessarily from the scholarly community.
- Preservation of access abroad for U.S. scholars and students. The area studies communities for Africa, Asia, Latin America, Caribbean, and the Middle East have long maintained that open collaboration and partnership with foreign colleagues and scholars is in the national interest. U.S. global participation and leadership—private and public—requires the very best knowledge and understanding of foreign nations and societies, knowledge that has not been a priority during the more unilateral policy period of the Cold War. Full, candid, and uncompromising access for U.S. scholars and experts abroad is requisite for solid, long-term building of the documentary and knowledge base in the U.S. concerning those areas. Because they often are not based on the in-depth and long-term research in the foreign field, military and intelligence estimates often are inadequate and frequently imbalanced and flawed. U.S. access can be maintained only if foreign scholars and officials have a sense that scholarly exchange and training is public, transparent, and not allied with narrowed military and intelligence goals. In many of the southern hemisphere nations, there is a long history of Western military and intelligence activity. In Africa, for instance, over the past 30 years, U.S. and Western intelligence agencies were engaged in the fingering for the South African authorities of Nelson Mandela while he was in hiding, installing Idi Amin as dictator in Uganda, the assassination of the Zairean head of state, removing Kwame Nkrumah—the major symbol of Africa self-determination, providing financial and arms support of various military dictators, and sparking and maintaining the continuing Angolan civil war, producing the largest limbless population per capita in the world. In such a context, links to U.S. military and intelligence agencies and programs is neither a neutral fact nor an immaterial consideration.
To our knowledge, no proponents of the NSEP has addressed these issues or even acknowledged their relevance to the debate.
- Public review and comment on the NSEP. While the NESP staff have consulted with and listened to many individuals, scholars, and organizations, they have retained command and control of the shape of their programs; therefore, the resultant programs do not reflect a public determination of national needs among the three program areas nor an apportioning of priorities according to those needs. Unlike the US/ED Title VI language, area, and international studies programs must seek public comment on their intent in the Federal Register and Commerce Business Daily, over the three years of its planning the NSEP has sought public comment, criticism, and revision of their goals, priorities, or the regulations implementing those goals for allocating NSEP funding to programs. The previous director of NSEP indicated that NSEP would likely focus on “where the State Department and CIA think we'll see the hot spots abroad in the next three to five years.” The new staff does not have so short a time span in mind, but they also have not indicated their targets or the criteria used to choose them. In short, the NSEP programs are not transparent.
- Setting priorities for using NSEP funds. The NSEP staff notes that the choice of student candidates will be peer-reviewed in regional and national panels: however, the strategic choices of priority countries, languages, and study topics to be targeted in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the CIS countries, and the Middle East remain totally at the discretion of the Department of Defense staff and the Secretary of Defense. As a result, it is not surprising that even though the purposes of the graduate and undergraduate student grants is to increase student experience in language and foreign area studies of the world outside Europe, Scandinavia, and Canada, the NSEP staff have not consulted the specialists on the languages, area, and overseas study programs in those priority world areas in setting targets, goals, and the programs.
- Linking NSEP programs to the extant U.S. expertise on foreign language and area studies. The NSEP bias against language and area studies scholars and directors has been reflected in the approximately 100 persons invited to a Seattle, Washington meeting in September, entitled “Grants to Institutions: Building Programs in Critical International Fields.” Apparently none of the directors of the 110 federally designated Title VI National Resource Centers in Foreign Language and Area Studies were invited, even though the awards are to foster language and area studies development in U.S. institutions. The meeting was convened to discuss the program foci of NSEP in grants to universities and programs, not to undergraduate and graduate students. One uninvited Title VI director listened to the conversations there and reported he did not find them to be informed or intelligent.
- Building a panel of advisors with foreign area studies and language expertise. Even though the NSEP staff indicated that language and area studies must be the foundation of all their programs, the NSEP nominated to the White House a 28-member panel of NSEP Advisors most of whom have neither had careers in overseas research nor focused on language and area studies curriculum and program. This panel of Advisors has long been heralded as the means by which the scholarly language and area studies community would have input into the process and would help shape the NSEP programs. Of the 28 reported nominees, half are administrators in universities and higher education associations. Including those focused primarily on U.S. AID projects, less than one-third have an identifiable language and area studies background, of which only two have been directors of the nation's 110 National Resource Centers in Foreign Language and International Studies. Few of the 28 are scholars who have spent their careers in the filed studying the NSEP-designated “priority areas” of the state of the former Soviet Union, East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Inner Asia, or Africa.
In summary, while the new staff of the NSEP are more flexible, open to conversation with those of other perspectives, and have consulted widely, the Program remains an operation of the U.S. military with intelligence agency participation on the oversight board. No steps have been taken to open the determination of goals, principles, setting of priorities, and regulations to public review. Clearly, the Program has a “friendlier face,” but its basic structure and procedures remain that which originally was criticized by the area studies associations who work in the target areas of NSEP.