Options for security assistance reform this September

As mentioned in my previous blog, over 25 Members of Congress (MoC) are traveling across Sub-Saharan Africa this month.  Countries visited will include Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, and Liberia.  The trips provides the chance for MoCs – many of them for the first time – to see first-hand the programs and activities being implemented on the ground through the security assistance funding that they appropriate.

In September, MoCs will return to Washington to debate a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014 budget.  The confluence of these events provides an opportunity for the humanitarian and security communities to engage with these policy makers on issues of reform.

U.S. Policy Statement on Security Assistance

According to an April 2013 White House Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-23), “U.S. Security Assistance Policy,” (PDF) security sector assistance is defined in U.S. law as the policies, programs, and activities the United States uses to:

  • Engage with foreign partners and help shape their policies and actions in the security sector;
  • Help foreign partners build and sustain the capacity and effectiveness of legitimate institutions to provide security, safety, and justice for their people; and,
  • Enable foreign partners to contribute to efforts that address common security challenges.

While security assistance has long been a component of the U.S. foreign policy tool kit, its definition, scope and countries of operations has broadened substantially in the last 50 years. 

Authority and Implementation: Post 9/11 Shift

For nearly 50 years, since the enactment of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), the Secretary of State exercised the leadership role for foreign assistance, which included military and security assistance, with an emphasis on military education and training. All major foreign military assistance programs were carried out under State Department authority, with the Department of Defense (DOD) responsible for the day-to-day implementation.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, the U.S. concept and approach to global security changed fundamentally.  Weak and failing states and non-state actors such as transnational terrorist networks rose dramatically as priority foreign policy focal points, and within just a few short years, the DOD’s role as a direct provider of foreign  assistance – and therefore security assistance – also increased dramatically (for more information, read this CSIS report).

Moreover, with the enactment in 2005 of “Section 1206” of the FY2006 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), P.L. 109-163, the Secretary of Defense was for the first time in U.S. history [i]given the expressed authority to train and equip the national military forces of foreign countries in two situations:

  • To enable foreign military forces, as well as foreign maritime security forces, to perform counterterrorism (CT) operations; and
  • To enable foreign military forces to participate in or to support military and stability operations in which U.S. armed forces are participating.

While enacted in 2005 as a temporary authority, “Section 1206” authority, as it has become known, has been regularly extended ever since.  Currently, the FY2013 NDAA (P.L. 112-239, Section 1201) extends the authority through FY2014.  This has led to operational and administrative creep of DOD authorities, personnel and management structures into what were once diplomatic and humanitarian spaces. 

Entry Points and Issues for Reform

A series of governmental and non-governmental reports have indicated a need for results based assessments for U.S. security assistance, creating space for humanitarian practitioners, security experts and policy makers to engage in discussions around reform.  These include:

  1. A June 2008 Henry L. Stimson Center and MIT Report, “Strengthening Statecraft And Security
  2. An October 2008 Henry L. Stimson Center Report, “A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future.”
  3. A February 2012 Government Accountability Report titled, “Modernization Act Provides Opportunities to Help Address Fiscal, Performance, and Management Challenges.”
  4. A January 2013 State Department International Security Advisory Board Report titled, “Report on Security Capacity Building.”
  5. The April 2013 White House Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-23).


Given the increasing size of security assistance and the critiques of negative impacts on civilians, communities, humanitarian practice, and national, regional and international stability of an over-militarized U.S. foreign policy, the Obama administration must rebalance U.S. foreign policy and make clear his administration’s position on the role of security assistance within U.S. grand strategy.  

As compiled by the Congressional Research Service in April 2013, shared broad recommendations from the above reports include “a new architecture that is agile, flexible and adequately funded to deal with the new security challenges” and that “can and should make ample use of DOD’s capabilities…” without encroaching on the purpose of security assistance or creating more harm for civilians.  More specific recommendations include for “changes that would improve strategic planning, policy coherence, interagency coordination, budgeting procedures, transparency, and discipline, and congressional oversight”; as well as for regular results-based assessments to be conducted by Congress.

The time is ripe for negotiations around reform during the FY2014 budget cycle.

[i] With the exception of a short period of time during the Vietnam War


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