Expending Diplomacy: How Much of the Pentagon Budget Goes to Foreign Militaries?


As most media outlets picked apart or defended the Department of Defense's $518.3 billion 2009 budget request, paying particular attention toward the top heavy and tangible weaponry portion, they overlooked a comparatively miniscule $750 million allocated to training foreign troops. But the significance of this line in the DoD budget lies not in the dollar amount, but what it means for foreign policy.

If the Department of Defense gets its way, the $750 million will be allocated to Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Implemented in fiscal year 2006, Section 1206 granted the Department of Defense the authority -- and $100 million -- to train and equip foreign military forces ("global train and equip"), ostensibly for counterterrorism activities. Most of the funding would go towards equipment provided by contractors, according to the DoD.

The New York Times, two years ago almost to the day and during the first year of implementation, published an editorial that outlined how Section 1206 was the newest step in the "militarization of American foreign policy." The article called upon Congress to require that the State Department set freedom and democratic standards and benchmarks for U.S. military aid. The lack of restrictions within the Defense Department, the Times argued, is problematic -- "and the danger is more than theoretical." "Six of the 10 African nations the Pentagon proposes to train and equip [in 2006] … have poor human rights records."

Section 1206 would allow the Department of Defense to fund and train militaries of foreign governments from the DoD operations and maintenance account -- a program with a long history in the State Department, but one with checks and prodedures that the DoD views as an impediment to its work. In its 2009 budget request, the DoD states that "traditional security assistance takes three to four years from concept to execution," but that global train and equip under its supervision "allows a response to emergent threats or opportunities in six months or less." Passed by Congress in 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act, among other things, reorganized programs and separated military and non-military aid. Critics worry that Section 1206 is another step toward fusing military and diplomatic relations once again, but now under the Pentagon instead of the State Department.

A Growing Budget for Section 1206

For fiscal year 2006, Section 1206 authorized spending of up to $200 million per year for FY2006 and FY2007. In 2007 the amount was amended to raise the limit to $300 million and extend the authority through FY 2008. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, during the course of the fiscal year, the DoD may transfer funds that it will not use for their originally budgeted purposes to Section 1206 programs. The CRS account also reports that in FY2006, $106 million was obligated to Section 1206 programs and $289 million in FY2007. Pakistan, as a key country in the so-called Global War on Terror, has been one of the primary recipients of the aid, at approximately $41 million for the first two years.

The legislation does come with limitations. It requires 15-day advance notification to the Congressional Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Appropriations committees before initiating each program. This notification must specify, among other things, the program country, budget, and completion date, as well as the source and planned expenditure of the funds. Section 1206 authority permits the Secretary of Defense to provide such support with the "concurrence" of the Secretary of State -- a term that has been interpreted to mean the Secretary of State's approval.

But these minor stipulations may be cramping the freedom the Pentagon has become accustomed to. According to the CRS report on Section 1206, unlike in previous years, the proposed legislation for 2009 "would not itself waive restrictions, but would grant waiver authority to the President and the Secretary of State."

In its FY2009 budget request of February 4, 2008, the DoD asked for $500 million for Section 1206 capacity-building purposes. Three days later it submitted, as part of its proposed National Defense Authorization Act for FY2009, an amendment to Title 10 Chapter 20 to add a section permitting the Secretary of Defense to authorize, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, programs to build a foreign country's national military and other forces. These other forces would include "gendarmerie, constabulary, internal defense, infrastructure protection, civil defense, homeland defense, coast guard, border protection, and counterterrorism forces…." The proposal would authorize the DoD to use or transfer to the State Department and other federal agencies up to $750 million annually. The DoD and the State Department would jointly formulate programs; the Secretaries of Defense and State would not itself waive restrictions, but grant waiver authority to the President and the Secretary of State.

Funding for Oppressive Regimes

In a May 2008 issue brief on Section 1206, Amnesty International said that this authority has been used to provide training and arms to more than 40 foreign militaries, "several of which have gross human rights records and/or involved in armed conflict." "For instance, in 2007 the Chadian security forces received $6 million under the 1206 authority to create a light infantry rapid reaction force. At the same time, Chadian security forces were engaged in extrajudicial killings, politically motivated disappearances, rape, the use of child soldiers, and battles with rebel armed groups." Chad is also a recent exporter of oil and the recipient of a U.S. Export-Import Bank loan for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Amnesty reports another human rights case in Sri Lanka, which received almost $14 million in assistance under Section 1206 in 2006 and 2007. "During this period, the Sri Lanka government was accused of supporting a non-governmental force known as the Karuna group that regularly attacked civilians, and the U.S. Congress was developing language to restrict U.S. security assistance to Sri Lanka."

Organizations like Amnesty International are calling for Congress to invoke the Leahy Law, which was first invoked in the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act and provides a human rights stipulation to congressional foreign assistance. However, the Leahy Law is often, as in the case of Section 1206 funding, circumvented by dispersing the funds through a contractor as a means to avoid oversight.

The War on Drugs Connection

Paving the way for Section 1206 was the decision by Congress in 1989 to put the Department of Defense in charge of detecting and monitoring illegal drugs coming out of Latin America. Placing the DoD at the forefront of the drug wars allowed the Pentagon to use its operating funds for activities like anti-drug maritime patrols and flights, building radar sites and carrying out surveillance. Although it was unclear at first whether Congress also meant for Defense Department to use its funds to help "partner" militaries and police forces fight drug trafficking themselves, Congress cleared any misconception by creating the defense budget military aid program.

Section 1004 of the FY1991 National Defense Authorization Act allowed defense funds to pay for training, equipment upgrades, construction, and intelligence to militaries and police forces. Not unlike Section 1206 today, Congress envisioned Section 1004 as a temporary authority set to expire in 1995. Nonetheless, it has previously been extended three times and now a fourth time to 2011, with no legislative debate.

Growing Criticism

Just as the Pentagon has sought to grow its powers under Section 1206, so have the critics grown.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 28th, Gordon Adams, a professor at American University's School of International Service, warned that "relying increasingly on DoD … puts a uniformed face on the U.S. international engagement" and that "this expanded military role is not always viewed benignly outside the U.S. A growing foreign assistance role for out military sends the wrong message, one that could even prove counter-productive for out international image and our long-term interests and goals."

A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Commission on Smart Power, led by Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye stated, "The Pentagon is the best trained and best resourced arm of the federal government. As a result, it tends to fill every void, even those that civilian instruments should fill." And as Adams points out, "Expanding the military's role makes the weaknesses of the civilian tools a self-fulfilling prophecy. They become even less coherently organized, funded or staffed for the responsibilities they should have."

Returning these programs to the State Department isn't likely, however, if tacit consent for the DoD programs is provided by the Secretary of State. At an April 15th hearing before the House Armed Service Committee on "Building Partnership Capacity and Development of the Interagency Process" Condoleezza Rice said, "Let me underscore that this is not a substitute for more robust funding for security assistance accounts, but we strongly advocate continuing these important contingency authorities and they are the additional tools that we need to meet emergence exigent problems that very often emerge out of budget cycle."

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a peace lobbying organization, in a May 22, 2008 letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised concerns about Section 1206: "we are concerned that there is little or no external or internal Pentagon oversight as to the magnitude and impact of U.S. military assistance being provided on a country-by-country basis."

Lawrence J. Korb, a Senior Fellow at American Progress and a Senior Advisor to the Center for Defense Information, points out that since Section 1206 is viewed as emergency funding and is provided by DoD as needed, we don't know how the funds will be dispersed but without the proper oversight "even after the fact, it's difficult to figure out where the money went." But perhaps the Pentagon isn't concerned with millions of dollars missing when an internal audit reported $15 billion in missing funds in Iraq.

Others, including the FCNL, are calling on various congressional committees to act to help strengthen the capabilities of the Foreign Assistance Act, if it is in fact incapable of dealing with contemporary defense concerns. For his part, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates doesn't view this as counter to the DoD programs. "In my view, building partner capacity is a vital and enduring military requirement -- irrespective of the capacity of other departments -- and its authorities and funding mechanisms should reflect that reality," he said. Oddly, in an era when the United States has come to rely so heavily on Blackwater and other private contractors, Gates stated, "The Department of Defense would no more outsource this substantial and costly security requirement to a civilian agency than it would any other key military mission."

"At a minimum," the FCNL letter asks Congress "to guard against the expenditure of U.S. taxpayer funds to arm and train the military and police apparatus of repressive regimes."

We encourage you to legislate benchmarks that countries must meet before they can receive military assistance under DoD programs … Doing so would ensure that U.S. taxpayer funds are not invested in supporting corrupt or non-democratic governments that might use the equipment and training to suppress democratic development and to retain autocratic rule."
A lack of congressional action, Adams fears, will result in the residual refrain: "Why bother fixing the civilian tools when we can just ask DoD to do the job?"

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