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Building State Department Muscle by Linking Security Assistance to Foreign Policy Priorities April 5, 2010

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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This op-ed is re-posted from the 05 April edition of Defense News.  It is available in its original form here.

by Paul Clayman, former chief counsel to Senator Richard Lugar

Einstein, channeling Dr. Seuss, famously remarked, “A question that sometimes drives me hazy, am I or are the others crazy?”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates must sympathize. Between campaigning against plus-ups in his budget for purchases such as the C-17 transport plane and the Joint Strike Fighter’s second engine, Gates routinely advocates for increasing State Department authority and funding in core foreign policy areas such as security assistance.

Promoting other agencies’ budget growth often is seen as the definition of crazy through the lens of Washington’s zero-sum budgetary game. Fortunately for Gates and the rest of us, he is as sane as ever.

In a February address at the Nixon Center, he emphasized that “whatever we do should reinforce the State Department’s lead role in crafting and conducting U.S. foreign policy, to include foreign assistance, of which building security capacity is a key part.”

That vision is absolutely correct. As Gates implies, his counterpart at State is properly charged with determining which countries should receive U.S. assistance, as well as the timing, content and duration of such assistance.

The Defense Department, however, has been moving the other way. Responding in 2006 to the urgency of Afghanistan, Iraq and global counterterrorism efforts, Congress authorized a Pentagon request for new, albeit temporary, security assistance authorities. These authorities widened the mission for an already-stressed Department of Defense while eroding the tradition of State Department leadership in aligning security assistance with America’s foreign policy priorities.

Major elements of this security assistance structure will soon expire, however, and the time has come to rethink the underlying authorities beyond the immediate needs of Afghanistan and Iraq. Gates anticipated this need and proposed a more robust State Department role in his December “pooled resources, shared responsibility” memo to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Under his plan, the State and Defense departments would pool security assistance funds into a single account and then obligate those funds jointly.

Though innovative, “pooled resources, shared responsibilities” is an inappropriate construct for conducting America’s foreign policy. For the first time, it would grant the secretary of defense a veto over foreign policy decisions made by the secretary of state. That, in turn, would misalign the roles of the Defense Department in policymaking and the contribution of security assistance to America’s delicate diplomatic balance.

At a baser level, the presumption that eight congressional committees, including two authorizing committees in each chamber and two appropriating subcommittees in each chamber, could effectively collaborate in supporting this solution is disconnected from Washington’s reality.

There is an alternative, however, that is truer to Gates’ call for stronger State Department leadership, less complex and more consistent with our policy tradition. Section 506 of the Foreign Assistance Act authorizes the president to direct the drawdown of resources from any agency of the government to provide disaster assistance, to counter terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to fight narcotics trafficking, among other things.

This authority does not explicitly include security assistance, yet an amendment to include this type of aid under the drawdown authority umbrella would better represent the State and Defense departments’ appropriate roles. Rather than trying to craft some new concept of shared jurisdiction through pooled resources, shared responsibility, it would unify decision-making authority under the president, acting in his dual capacity as America’s commander in chief and top diplomat.

Amended Section 506 authority would allow the secretary of state to link security assistance to the larger foreign policy environment, just as she currently does when providing disaster assistance and efforts to counter transnational threats. To support those goals, she would submit drawdown recommendations to the president.

At the same time, Congress could appropriate security assistance funds to the Defense Department that would be available to support the president’s administration-wide decision. No change in State Department appropriations would be required.

A drawdown authority solution would achieve these gains while still giving the Defense Department an important role. Just as with foreign military financing and sales, these inputs are received in part through the routine, working-level collaboration between departments both in the field and in Washington.

Additionally, such drawdown requests are coordinated by the White House’s National Security Council and Office of Management and Budget, allowing DoD a venue to express its views.

Gates’ vision of “the State Department’s lead role in crafting and conducting U.S. foreign policy” as stated in the memo offers hope that the Defense Department might accept this proposal. Doing so would position us to heed important advice from Dr. Seuss: “Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”



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