Force Multipliers and Stealth Imperialism


The force multiplier mechanism is not just something envisioned in military writing, but is instead a cornerstone of US intervention, both overt and covert. The CIA uses the term “disruption” when referring to the covert support of allied agencies who aid the CIA in the capture of so-called “terrorists”—collaborating security forces in other countries then hide the fact of CIA involvement (Johnson, 2004, pp. 15, 16). Other keywords in the vocabulary of “stealth imperialism” are infiltration and destabilization.

Special Forces and Foreign Military Training Exercises

Regarding destabilization, in 1987 the US created the Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, Florida; its mission was to engage in “low-intensity conflict” by covering units that worked closely with the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), while training units from target nations with the aim of marshalling them towards destabilizing or overthrowing their own governments (Johnson, 2004, pp. 71-72). As Chalmers Johnson explained, in 1991 the US Congress, “inadvertently gave the military’s special forces a green light to penetrate virtually every country on earth” (Johnson, 2004, p. 72). Congress did so by passing (Section 2011, Title 10) that authorized the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program, allowing the Pentagon to send Special Operations Forces on overseas exercises with military units of other countries, “so long as the primary purpose of the mission was stated to be the training of our soldiers, not theirs” (Johnson, 2004, p. 72). One consequence is that such forces can then engage in espionage: “They return from such exercises loaded with information about and photographs of the country they have visited, and with new knowledge of its military units, terrain, and potential adversaries” (Johnson, 2004, p. 72). This law also permitted US Special Forces to “train foreign military forces in numerous lethal skills, as well as to establish relationships with their officer corps aimed at bringing them on board as possible assets for future political operations” (Johnson, 2004, p. 72). By 1998 the Special Operations Command had established JCET missions in 110 countries (Johnson, 2004, p. 72). During 1998 alone, Special Forces operations “were carried out in each of the nineteen countries of Latin America and in nine Caribbean nations” (Johnson, 2004, p. 73).

Foreign Internal Defense

In 1990 the US Army published Doctrine for Special Forces Operations (Field Manual No. 31-20) which described one of the principal activities of Special Forces on JCET missions as training foreign militaries in what the Army calls “Foreign Internal Defense” (FID). As Johnson noted, “most of the training exercises are meant to prepare foreign militaries for actions against their own populaces or rebel forces in their countries” (Johnson, 2004, p. 73) Brig. Gen. Robert W. Wagner of the US Southern Command in Miami told the Washington Post that FID is the “heart” of special operations, and an officer of the US Special Forces Command asserted that FID is “our bread and butter” (quoted in Johnson, 2004, p. 73). Stripped of the euphemisms, Johnson called FID little more than “instruction in state terrorism” (Johnson, 2004, p. 73).

Special Forces do not just train foreign militaries as part of FID missions, they also support insurgent groups trying to overthrow their governments:

“SF can conduct a UW [Unconventional Warfare] mission to support an insurgent or other armed resistance organization. The United States may undertake long-term operations in support of selected resistance organizations that seek to oppose or overthrow foreign powers hostile to vital US interests. When directed, SF units advise, train, and assist indigenous resistance organizations. These units use the same TTP [tactics, techniques, and procedures] they employ to conduct a wartime UW mission. Direct US military involvement is rare and subject to legal and policy constraints. Indirect support from friendly territory will be the norm”. (US Army, 1990, p. 1-17)

Using local actors, in fact even creating insurgent armies, with the explicit aim of overthrowing foreign governments is stated in very direct terms within the Army document, in an absolutely brazen violation of international law:

“The United States cannot afford to ignore the resistance potential that exists in the territories of its potential enemies. In a conflict situation or during war, SF can develop this potential into an organized resistance movement capable of significantly advancing US interests….the objectives may range from interdicting foreign intervention in another country, to opposing the consolidation of a new hostile regime, to actually overthrowing such a regime”. (US Army, 1990, p. 9-5)

What the US Army deceptively terms “resistance” organizations, are intended as force multipliers, “that enhance US national interests” (US Army, 1990, p. 9-5).

Even as Indonesia was conducting genocide in East Timor, US JCET missions in Indonesia were expanded in the 1990s, despite the US Congress cutting off military aid (Johnson, 2004, p. 78). It is interesting to note the individual force multipliers at work, and their web of interests: beneficiaries of the JCET missions were US partners in Indonesia, such as Lt. General Prabowo, a business partner of President Suharto; Prabowo’s wife was Suharto’s daughter and she owned a sizeable share of Merrill Lynch Indonesia; Prabowo was himself “a graduate of elite military training courses at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina” and had spent “ten years fighting guerrillas in East Timor, where he earned a reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness”—his units participated in 24 of the 41 US military exercises (Johnson, 2004, p. 78). Indonesian commandos under Prabowo were also trained by the US in “military operations in urban terrain” following the outbreak of the Indonesian economic crisis (Johnson, 2004, p. 78). US President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, visited Indonesia at the height of the economic crisis, meeting for hours with Prabowo, with the visit taken as a green light “to use force to maintain the political status quo in the face of protests against the International Monetary Fund’s hyperausterity measures” (Johnson, 2004, p. 79).

The introduction of US “military advisors” into a “host nation” requires the government of that host nation (HN) to serve as a force multiplier by paving the way for a US military presence: “before advisors enter a country, the HN government carefully explains their introduction and clearly emphasizes the benefits of their presence to the citizens” (US Army, 2003, p. I-5). The US Army and its Special Forces also instruct the host government to, “provide a credible justification to minimize the obvious propaganda benefits the insurgents could derive from this action”—which serves to underline the esteem in which propaganda is held by the US military, and their worry about their status and presence being named for what it is: “the country’s dissenting elements label our actions, no matter how well-intended, an ‘imperialistic intervention’” (US Army, 2003, p. I-5). Again, how the US and its client state are judged, is a matter of utmost strategic importance for the US in a counterinsurgency situation, as it indicates under the heading of “populace and resources control”: “if the insurgents win popular support among the majority of the populace, the HN government’s military successes are irrelevant” (US Army, 2003, p. 3-22). Given the degree to which public opinion can impact on the US military, it is no wonder then that it undertakes major operations in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, and reacts as harshly as it has done against WikiLeaks (see chapter 7).

When US leaders speak of “engagement” they are summing up the full range of activities described above. As retired US Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich explains about engagement,

“this anodyne term encompasses a panoply of activities that, since 2001, have included recurring training missions, exercises, and war games; routine visits [abroad]…by senior military officers and Defense Department civilians; and generous ‘security assistance’ subsidies to train and equip local military forces. The purpose of engagement is to increase U.S. influence, especially over regional security establishments, facilitating access to the region by U.S. forces and thereby laying the groundwork for future interventions”. (Bacevich, 2008, p. 47)

As he also explains, US requests for over-flight rights and permission to use local military facilities are also a part of “engagement” and a form of intervention that can permit escalation when desired.

Stealth Imperialism

“Stealth imperialism” was a term used by Chalmers Johnson to describe the Pentagon’s JCET operations, as well as the US’ public and private arms sales abroad. He noted that the US is the world’s largest exporter of weapons, the source of 49% of global arms exports, selling to over 140 countries (Johnson, 2004, p. 88). The sale of weapons could be construed as having an intended “force multiplier” effect—as Johnson explains, according to the White House under Bill Clinton, “the United States’ arms export policies are intended to deter aggression,” and to “increase ‘interoperability’ of the equipment of American and allied armies” (Johnson, 2004, p. 88). Arms sales also provide justification for contacts with foreign military officers: “as a means to get to know [foreign military] leaders personally and to develop long-term relationships of trust” (Johnson, 2004, p. 91).

However, Johnson’s understanding of imperialism, like that of his other libertarian colleagues in academia, was almost exclusively focused on the “big government” dimensions of imperialism, such as military expansion with the growth in the number of bases abroad, heightened military expenditures, the militarization of foreign policy, and so forth. In addition, they usually prefer to speak of “empire” rather than imperialism, and their narratives often retain that margin of US patriotism that sees occasional “good intentions” behind US “miscalculations”. What they also tend to exclude even when speaking of “US interests,” given their generally anti-Marxist stance, is anything dealing with capital investments, debt, natural resources, labour, trade or aid. Johnson and other scholars in his circle, notably his contemporary, Andrew Bacevich, had ties to US military or intelligence agencies at some point in their careers, and their scholarly work tends to be in the areas of political science and history, which perhaps explains their focus, if not their bias. Had they expanded their understanding of imperialism to include something more than the power of states over other states, and bemoaning the failure of “citizens” to stand up to the national security state, they might have developed the idea of “stealth imperialism” further to better match actual practice, and to better grasp the large range of what military, political, and corporate leaders mean when they speak of “force multipliers”.

A more comprehensive analysis of “stealth imperialism” must include the workings of US-dominated financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and Western-dominated multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization, each of which has done far more to remake societies around the world than anything the US military could ever dream of achieving. The IMF, World Bank, and WTO have served to extend the power of US-based transnational corporations over global production, exchange, and finance, while other non-US but still Western corporations have benefited as well (Ash, 2003, p. 239). Even in the view of such a mainstream, establishment economist as Jeffrey Sachs, “the IMF is essentially a covert arm of the U.S. Treasury,” adding,

“Not unlike the days when the British Empire placed senior officials directly into the Egyptian and Ottoman financial ministries, the IMF is insinuated into the inner sanctums of nearly 75 developing country governments around the world—countries with a combined population of some 1.4 billion”. (Jeffrey Sachs quoted in Johnson, 2004, p. 210)

Even though Johnson quotes Sachs, his understanding of imperialism remained nonetheless restricted to familiar political and military themes. Instead, as we shall see further on, the conceptualization and employment of “force multipliers” today is largely dominated by the biggest US corporations, in “partnership” with the state and “civil society”. What is described in terms of “connected capitalism” below is not separate from or added to “stealth imperialism,” it is firmly a part of it. (Had we not sought to multiply terms beyond Kwame Nkrumah’s “neo-colonialism,” we might have been better off.)


Ash, G. (2003). The Empire’s Coming Crisis. In Andrew J. Bacevich (Ed.), The Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire (pp. 238–244). Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Bacevich, A.J. (2008). The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company.

Johnson, C. (2004). Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

US Army. (1990). Doctrine for Special Forces Operations (Field Manual No. 31–20). Washington, DC: Department of the Army.

————— . (2003). FM 31-20-3, Foreign Internal Defense Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Special Forces. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army.


zaniv5smExtracted from:
Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism
Edited by
Maximilian C. Forte
Montreal, Alert Press, 2015
Available in print, or as a
Free E-book