Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: IU’s relationships with defense agencies embed students in imperialism

When I first came to IU in 2019, I had a plan. I wanted to double major in international studies and political science and double minor in Arabic and Spanish with the goal of working for the Department of State as a foreign service officer. The distinction of IU’s language and international studies programs drew me to the university.

That distinction is partly because IU partners with government agencies to advance its international studies program. There are three Language Flagship programs — Arabic, Chinese and Russian — aimed at educating students in languages and regions critical to national security

From the narrow perspective of an eager, naive student ready to prepare for a career in foreign service, the university’s programs and IU’s connections with government agencies and other organizations seemed like a golden opportunity. 

On closer examination, these opportunities are not just beneficial to students but also beneficial to government agencies that work to advance U.S. imperialism. This is unacceptable for the university to promote.

These partnerships are not essential to providing comprehensive education in either language or international studies. Not every student engaged in programs such as these hopes to join the military industrial complex. 

IU’s engagement with government agencies, however, establishes a pipeline for students to enter America’s web of imperialism. 

The U.S. imperialist framework operates with both soft and hard power. American imperialism casts a wide net consisting of cultural hegemony, white savior nongovernmental organizations, heavy-handed diplomacy, slanted economic deals, the military industrial complex and intelligence agency schemes.

IU — while not directly involved in standard imperialist foreign policy of heavy sanctions, invasion, covert or not-so-covert regime change — is still culpable because of its role in partnering students with these government agencies and defense-minded organizations.

The university’s relationship with government agencies has its incentives. IU accepted $1.26 million from the Department of Defense to support the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies’ Language Training Center in June 2020.

IU partners with the Defense Department through academic programs and helps develop weapons technology with the Indiana Innovation Institute, a coalition of universities, government agencies, NGOs and the military industrial complex. 

The university’s relationship with the military industrial complex and the intelligence community is extensive. 

HLS announced March 23 its new partnership with U.S. Strategic Command, and a conference with the defense agency will be held March 30 and April 1. Former CIA Director David Petraeus will attend. 

On its career page, HLS markets graduate careers with employers such as Booz Allen and Northrop Grumman, both defense contractors. 

Language study at the university can have an imperialist slant. The Language Flagship specifically targets languages such as Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Korean and other languages viewed as important to national security — while partnering with different government agencies.

The U.S. government’s reasons for helping to fund these programs are found in our relationships with the countries who speak them. 

Russia and China are our two biggest rivals on the world stage. Even in recent months, under the new leadership of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the State Department has made adversarial remarks toward China and Russia.

Korean language is important both as an adversary of North Korea but also to maintain the 15 military bases and almost 30,000 U.S. soldiers in South Korea, a blatant display of American power abroad.

Our government has committed atrocities in the Middle East. Our destabilization of an entire region at the cost of many’s safety and quality of life has made the U.S. government’s interest in maintaining power a perennial issue. Knowledge of Arabic makes this pursuit more efficient. 

IU’s partnership with government agencies — which antagonize others in pursuit of American power — is not healthy. It is toxic. 

IU should be providing language and cultural study without preparing ready footsoldiers to work on behalf of imperialist interests.

Partnerships with the Defense Department, the State Department and the corporations forming  the military industrial complex should not be essential to a wider understanding of the world or to learning a language.

Instead, IU should push back against these partnerships.

I am a former member of the Arabic Flagship program, so I understand why students participate. In my own experience, students have access to a variety of instructional and financial resources as well as study abroad experiences they would not otherwise have access to. 

However, the flagship programs’ purpose is related to national security and economic competitiveness. It is federally funded and part of the National Security Education Program — a Defense Department initiative — aimed at creating a partnership between national security and education.

The cost of effective language training should not come at the expense of being a participant of the military industrial complex. IU can and should offer these programs without relying on forces that promote U.S. imperialism.

Through these partnerships, IU enables U.S. imperialism. The university must reevaluate its relationship with the Defense Department and others.

Evan Shaw (he/they) is a sophomore studying journalism. He also minors in Arabic and Spanish and hopes to one day become a polyglot.

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