American security assistance needs to fit with larger foreign policy goals

American security assistance needs to fit with larger foreign policy goals
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As Congress marks up the draft fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), it has an opportunity to fine tune the historic security cooperation reforms that it made last year. The fiscal 2017 NDAA focused on revamping the Defense Department’s security cooperation portfolio, whereby it overhauled Pentagon “authorities, planning cycles, funding mechanisms, oversight, and supporting workforce.” While the Defense Department continues to implement these changes, Congress should consider ways to reinforce those efforts with provisions for enhancing oversight and accountability of security cooperation and assistance.

The United States has become increasingly reliant upon partners and allies to protect shared interests and pursue common security goals. Security sector assistance thus serves as a vital tool of U.S. foreign policy. However, these programs have of late been under increased scrutiny for their lack of strategic clarity and cohesion with broader U.S. foreign policy, inconsistent standards in upholding human rights and governance norms, inadequate oversight and accountability mechanisms, but perhaps most significantly, rising concerns about the U.S. “return on investment” for billions of dollars worth of funding.

In his State of the Union address, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE urged Congress to direct U.S. security sector assistance funding only to “America’s friends,” focusing further attention on the issue. As Congress builds upon the reforms introduced in the fiscal 2017 NDAA, it must streamline and integrate the ongoing Pentagon efforts, still in the early stages of implementation, with the introduction of reinforcing reforms in the fiscal 2019 NDAA. Congress may consider the following provisions as it debates the policies to be introduced in new legislation.

Clarifying strategic goals

Congress should call upon the executive branch to articulate strategic goals of U.S. security sector assistance and security cooperation to allies and partners, establish metrics of progress in accomplishing these goals, and take pains to ensure that further reforms that may be introduced on the State Department side are integrated with those currently underway in the Defense Department.

Encouraging these two departments and other interagency partners involved in security sector assistance to develop a common taxonomy for security sector assistance to clarify what policies, tools and activities should be considered under the security sector assistance umbrella should be a priority. There remains an unclear delineation of authority and responsibility between the Pentagon and the plethora of security sector assistance actors within the State Department, which the NDAA could press the Defense Department to address.

Reinforcing Pentagon reforms

The Defense Department is undertaking important steps to implement the fiscal 2017 NDAA reforms. However, given the increasing emphasis of the Trump administration on burden sharing with allies and partners, Congress should also reinforce its call for assessment, monitoring and evaluation of security sector assistance and security cooperation activities, beyond what was framed in the fiscal 2017 NDAA.

This process should entail a clear definition of U.S. and partner interests, a rigorous baseline assessment to determine partner political will, capacity and country context, the identification of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound goals for security sector assistance, the development of an accountable security sector assistance plan in an adaptive theory of change for the security partnership, and routine feedback opportunities through consistent policy and programmatic evaluation that also accepts failures on a pathway to success.

Streamlining interagency efforts

In the past, security sector assistance policy formulation and programming has involved uneven coordination among the various interagency stakeholders carrying out duplicative efforts or partnerships with gaps, because of a lack of interagency clarity and delegation. Congress may consider bolstering existing efforts to promote a more streamlined and collaborative security sector assistance strategy involving both the Pentagon and State Department. The Security Sector Assistance Steering Committee mentioned by Ambassador Tina Kaidanow in her September 2017 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the topic serves as one such example.

Prioritizing global human rights

Inconsistent accountability for human rights violations by partner countries, usually in the face of overriding national security priorities, jeopardizes not just U.S. security missions and objectives but also U.S. credibility writ large. As an example, a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction illuminates how the lack of consistent standards and overriding priorities are an achilles heel for ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

As discussions around security sector assistance reforms continue to take place in Congress, so must the conversation about promoting a clearer and more transparent calculus and set of standards that the United States can stand behind as it upholds human rights and governance norms in its security sector assistance programming. The Leahy Laws provide both a deterrent but also a possible incentive to professionalize partner behavior through remediation efforts. However, beyond checks under the Leahy Laws, human rights considerations should also be built into the Defense Department’s emerging assessment, monitoring and evaluation process.

Developing the assistance workforce

The fiscal 2017 NDAA called for the development of a security cooperation workforce. It will take time for the services and civilian agencies to build this capacity. Having the requisite human capital resources to more effectively carry security cooperation and security sector assistance policy formulation and programming could significantly improve the return on U.S. investment in allied and partner countries.

Moreover, increasing demand for foreign military sales and burden sharing with allies and partners only raises the imperative of having a capable workforce in place to plan, program and execute security cooperation and security sector assistance activities. Providing additional resourcing for the development of this workforce and for its assessment, monitoring and evaluation functions could be achieved by requiring a modest tax on security cooperation and assistance programs.

With the state of U.S. foreign policy and heightened attention on U.S. security sector assistance activities around the world, the time is ripe for Congress and the Trump administration to further the reform agenda to pursue U.S. interests in a manner that is strategic and effective, and upholds human rights and governance values.

Melissa Dalton is a senior fellow and deputy director of the International Security Program and director of the Cooperative Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Hijab Shah is a research associate with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This commentary is drawn from the findings of the report, “Oversight and Accountability in Security Sector Assistance: Seeking Return on Investment,” published earlier this year.