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Security Assistance and Foreign Aid Reform July 8, 2009

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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The core tools of US conduct of international affairs are nowhere equal in size or scope, nor should they be. Yet, the “creeping militarization” of US foreign policy has expanded the concept of defense, as opposed to diplomacy and foreign assistance. In particular, the expansion of the military’s role in foreign assistance risks undermining both civilian and defense institutions. Any eventual rewrite of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) and related authorities must address this imbalance. An important component of this will be modification of civilian security assistance authorities and operational mechanisms.

US civilian foreign affairs agencies face a fundamental mismatch of demands, authorities, resources and capabilities. Current State-Department-managed security assistance programs such as Foreign Military Financing (FMF), Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and International Military Education and Training (IMET) need to be more agile, flexible and responsive. These programs provide equipment, training and infrastructure to bolster US allies’ capabilities to combat terrorism and maintain global security. The Defense Department (DOD) role in security assistance operations has grown significantly in the last seven years, partly based on the justification that DOD capabilities are more responsive to urgent and changing needs among partner nations. For these parallel security assistance architectures to be merged and managed by civilian agencies, this disparity will need to be addressed.

Apart from security assistance, some of those involved in the FAA rewrite process recommend that the any framework incorporate a national development strategy, a long-term strategic plan that rebuilds US goals and objectives regarding foreign assistance. Currently, the US does not have a valid long-term strategic plan for international assistance. Without a coherent national view or collective rationale behind what motivates US foreign assistance, funding has become increasingly fractured and political. Policymakers decide for themselves if and how international assistance relates to US national security, US foreign policy, American ideals and beliefs, and humanitarian issues.

Equally important, any new FAA framework must confront the reality that US foreign assistance is divided among multiple parts of the US government, administered by 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices. This piecemeal approach to development overlooks the long-term nature of development and disregards the fact that the US is not the only country involved in foreign assistance endeavors. Additionally, the lack of flexible funding remains a key issue of reform, as programs are heavily earmarked and subject to directives, procedural rules and restrictions that add costs and slow the process. These restrictions often represent parochial interests that reelect Congressmen further restraining the limited funding foreign assistance receives.

Current legislation, (H.R.2139) introduced by Representative Howard Berman in the House and the Kerry-Lugar bill (S.962) in the Senate, hopes to succeed where other legislation has failed. The FAA, enacted in 1961, continues to guide the use and allocation of US foreign assistance even though the legislation is largely Cold-War-oriented and obsolete measured against 21st century realities. The FAA has been reauthorized only once (in 1985) and the two efforts to rewrite the act (the 1989 Hamilton-Gilman task force and the 1994 Peace, Prosperity and Democracy Act) failed. The FAA rewrite is no easy task but the continuation of the status quo does little for the critical missions of our civilian institutions responsible for US international and development policy.

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