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Is America Training Too Many Foreign Armies?

February 02, 2013 at 11:19 am by: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Imperialism

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From Foreign Policy:

At a time when not a day goes by without Beltway handwringing about the impact of a potential sequester, there has been almost zero discussion of how to better focus U.S. military assistance around clear objectives and direct it to countries where it can make a lasting difference. And these aren’t insignificant sums when taken together. The administration requested $9.8 billion in security assistance funding for fiscal year 2013.

Much of this military assistance — through programs like Foreign Military Financing; International Military Education and Training; Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs; International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; Peacekeeping Operations; and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund — is supposed to be overseen by the State Department with the Defense Department doing the heavy lifting of actually delivering aid and training.

The rationale on paper for such assistance is straightforward and usually receives uncritical congressional support. U.S. military aid helps train security forces, finance the purchase of military equipment, bolster the ability of law enforcement to tackle the illegal narcotics trade, and shape cooperation on nonproliferation issues. But more than anything, the Pentagon has always insisted that spreading military assistance so broadly is all about building relationships with fellow militaries — a cost effective way of establishing contacts who will pick up the phone in a ministry of defense when needed. For those who say U.S. dollars propped up an autocratic military in Egypt, other argue that it was the senior flag relationships between the Pentagon and Cairo that kept the military from opening fire on democratic protesters during the Arab Spring.

But U.S. military aid looks much better on paper than in practice, in large part because it is often delivered as if on autopilot without a reasoned discussion of its merits. The State Department largely offers rubber-stamp approvals, and the Foreign Service currently lacks personnel with the expertise needed to engage in a rigorous debate with the Pentagon about who deserves aid and why. As Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center has argued, the State Department’s “internal capacity to plan, budget, and manage these programs needs to be seriously strengthened.” This, combined with the general tendency of Congress to treat military spending requests as something just short of a papal writ, has meant that U.S. security assistance programs receive very little oversight.

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