By Gordon Adams and Rebecca Williams
Events in the Middle East and the tangled US presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan have raised serious questions about the way in which the United States provides support for foreign militaries and security forces, known as “security assistance.” For the past decade, the responsibility for US support for foreign militaries has begun to drift from the State Department to the Defense Department, linking it ever closer to US operational military requirements, but further away from the overall goals of US foreign policy.
Congress has been ambivalent about this trend, has resisted making the new Pentagon security assistance programs permanent, and has looked for ways to strengthen the State Department. In 2009, Congress took one of these programs – support for Pakistan counterinsurgency forces – and transferred it to the State Department, shutting down funding for the Pentagon account. This year, the new budget agreement undoes that decision, denying $1.2 billion in support for the State program and providing a new $800 million in funding to the Pentagon, instead.
This reversal of course sets a bad precedent for the broader effort to rebalance the US national security toolkit, bringing greater civilian control to such efforts. It was done opportunistically – it is easier to raise money for DOD than for State, especially in tough budgetary times - but it undercuts the effort to strengthen what Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called “civilian power” in last year’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.
Security assistance is one key area where the DOD role has grown while State has retreated. Largely because of the operational needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has acquired growing responsibility for a number of programs that train and equip foreign militaries. These programs serve the needs of the Pentagon and forward deployed forces, but it is not always clear that they serve the needs of broader US foreign policy, foreign assistance, and national security strategy, goals, and objectives.
The State Department has largely acquiesced in this expansion of DOD responsibility and has not clearly redefined the place of security assistance in US foreign policy or the role State should play in overseeing these programs. In its most recent version, State has jointly proposed with Defense a new joint fund for security and reconstruction assistance, which would largely draw on DOD resources and give Defense even more of a lead in such assistance.
With the coming departure from Iraq and the draw down in Afghanistan, these programs are at a turning point, and it is time for a serious reevaluation of both the purposes and management of security assistance. It is time to rebalance the toolkit.
In a new report, A New Way Forward: Rebalancing Security Assistance Programs and Authorities, we propose a different context and orientation for these programs. Instead of the operational needs of the military, we propose “governance” as the right framework for US security assistance. This governance framework would embed our support for foreign militaries in the context of a broader foreign policy goal of encouraging the creation of effective, efficient, and accountable governance in the fragile states that pose regional and global security dilemmas.
This change in the framework would avoid one of the most potentially serious side-effects of security assistance programs designed to meet operational military goals: the risk of creating a serious disconnect between strengthening security forces in a country and the need for such effective, efficient, and accountable governance.
Within a governance framework, security, while important, is part of the broader goal of helping an effective nation-state emerge. Military training and equipment would be one piece of a larger strategy of assistance and support, which strengthens governance capacity overall. This framework would integrate overall US security strategy with broader foreign policy goals and the need to strengthen fragile states overall. And it would put the State Department firmly in charge of the programs.
Civil strife and military conflict in states of concern to the US can create urgent requirements for near-term support for security forces. It is critically important, though, that short-term responses be embedded in a longer-term focus of strengthening governance and rule of law in general.