On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed its version of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 5122). In addition to approving a budget of more than half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon next year, this bill solidifies the Defense Departmentâ€™s role as a major and growing source of military assistance to Latin America and the rest of the world.
Two Defense Department counter-narcotics aid programs begun on a temporary basis in the 1990s would be made permanent and expanded in scope. The bill would also expand a counter-terror training program begun in 2002.
Why does this matter, you might ask? Shouldnâ€™t the U.S. military budget provide U.S. military aid?
The answer to that question is forty-five years old. Back in 1961, U.S. foreign aid was growing as the cold war intensified. But it was a mess. Military and economic aid were divided among many overlapping programs carried out by different departments of the government, and overseen by different congressional committees. With every department doing its own thing, there was no coordination, poor accountability, and little congruence with U.S. foreign policy goals. Nobody was in charge, and nobody was minding the store.
â€œNo objective supporter of foreign aid can be satisfied with the existing program â€“ actually a multiplicity of programs,â€ said the new president, John F. Kennedy. â€œBureaucratically fragmented, awkward and slow, its administration is diffused over a haphazard and irrational structure covering at least four departments and several other agencies.â€
The fix came with the September 1961 passage of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA), which created a legal framework to put all foreign aid programs under the same umbrella. The FAA put the State Department in charge of all aid programs, both military and economic. This increased civilian diplomatsâ€™ control over arms transfers and training programs for the worldâ€™s militaries. A new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was created to manage economic aid.
Legislatively, all foreign aid came to be funded through one single budget bill, the annual appropriation for Foreign Operations. Oversight of all aid became the responsibility of the congressional foreign relations committees and foreign operations appropriations committees. Since foreign aid is unpopular in some quarters and doesnâ€™t send funds to legislatorsâ€™ own districts, these committees usually pay strict attention to how these funds are being spent.
Over the years, amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act have sought to keep aid from going to militaries that grossly abuse their own citizens. Other amendments banned aid to countries â€œdecertifiedâ€ for failing to cooperate in the drug war, or to countries that fail to exempt U.S. personnel on their soil from the International Criminal Court. Still other amendments have required detailed reporting to Congress and the public about foreign aid. The resulting transparency allowed citizens to have at least a rough idea of how much aid every country received and what it provided.
Not everyone was happy with this arrangement, though. Conservatives complained that human-rights protections in the FAA made it difficult to send weapons to allies who happened to be dictators. Public reporting revealed some inconvenient truths about who was receiving lethal aid. Skepticism about foreign aid made it difficult to create new programs or increase funding within the annual Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which was always small (around 1 percent of the federal budget).
Pressures built to find ways to aid the worldâ€™s militaries without dealing with the foreign aid billâ€™s â€œimpracticalâ€ human-rights conditions, â€œburdensomeâ€ reporting, and stingy proportions. The most obvious way around these limitations was to fund some military assistance through the Defense Departmentâ€™s massive budget.
Since the defense budget is governed by a separate section of the U.S. Code, none of the human-rights conditions and other protections in the Foreign Assistance Act can touch it. Reporting to Congress is not compulsory unless otherwise specified. Congressional oversight of military aid in the defense bill is almost nonexistent: a few hundred million dollars hardly demand the attention of the few dozen Armed Services Committee staffers who must oversee a $500 billion-plus budget. (Three years ago a House Armed Services Committee staff member told me that, to oversee the entire Pentagon, the committee had a bipartisan staff of 45 people, including administrative support staff.) Besides, since much of the defense budget creates employment in their own districts, committee members feel far less incentive to question every dollar that is spent.
Moving military aid back into the defense budget, out of the jurisdiction of the State Department and the congressional foreign relations committees, represents a big step back from the reforms of 1961. It means a return to the time when our overseas assistance was â€œfragmented, awkward, slow, diffused, haphazard and irrational.â€
But the lure of the Pentagon budget is proving to be irresistible. Certainly, joint military exercises and Special Forces training deployments have always occurred with defense funds (the excuse being that their â€œprimary purposeâ€ was to train U.S. forces involved). But the first major foray beyond the Foreign Assistance Act and into the defense bill took place fifteen years ago, as the drug war intensified in Latin America.
The progression since then has been inexorable. The following timeline tells the story of the Pentagonâ€™s increasing role in funding and managing military aid. Above all, note the impossibility of ending a program once it has begun. Once a military-aid program gets a toehold in the defense budget, it grows and grows, even if â€“ as is the case with counter-drug programs â€“ it consistently fails to achieve its stated goals.
- 1989: As the Bush 41 administration ratchets up the drug war in Latin America, Congress designates the Defense Department as the â€œlead agencyâ€ for the detection and monitoring of illegal drugs coming from overseas.
- 1991: Congress clarifies the Pentagonâ€™s new role, interpreting it to mean that the Defense Department may use its counter-drug budget to provide several kinds of non-lethal aid to foreign militaries and police forces. Section 1004 of the 1991 Defense Authorization law allows defense funds to pay for training, equipment upgrades, construction, intelligence and a few other types of assistance. What comes to be known as â€œSection 1004â€ aid is now a principal source of military funding for Latin America. Today, more Latin American military personnel are trained by Section 1004 funds than by any other military-aid program. Section 1004 is not permanent law, however; it is envisioned as a temporary authority set to expire in 1995.
- 1995: The 1995 Defense Authorization law renews Section 1004 until 1999.
- 1997: Section 1031 of the 1997 Defense Authorization law allows up to $8 million in non-lethal counter-drug military aid to Mexico. â€œSection 1031â€ aid expires at the end of 1998 and is not renewed.
- 1998: Section 1033 of the 1998 Defense Authorization law creates yet another parallel counter-drug military-aid program for Latin America. Also known as the â€œRiverine Program,â€ Section 1033 allows the Pentagon to use its budget to give boats and other non-lethal equipment to Colombia and Peru, to help both countriesâ€™ navies and police fight drug trafficking on rivers. It provides for a combined $9 million in 1998 and $20 million for each following year. Section 1033 is set to expire in 2002.
- 1998: A series of articles in the Washington Post reveals that, under the Special Forcesâ€™ Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program, defense-budget funds are being used to train with militaries, and units of militaries, that are banned from receiving U.S. aid through the Foreign Assistance Act. The series notes, â€œJCETs often appear to bring America’s premier soldiers into conflict with aims of American diplomacy enunciated in Washington.â€
- 1999: The 1999 Defense Authorization law renews Section 1004 for a second time, until 2002.
- 1999: Following a December 1998 agreement between U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Lloreda, Section 1004 funds are used to train and partially equip a new Counter-Narcotics Battalion within the Colombian Army. This is the first significant counter-narcotics aid to the Colombian Army in many years, but few congressional oversight personnel on the foreign relations committees are aware of it. Also in 1999, Section 1033 funds help the Colombian Navy to establish a Riverine Brigade.
- 1999: The 1999 Defense Appropriations law includes the first human-rights condition on Pentagon military aid: a version of the â€œLeahy Lawâ€ (named after Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy) prohibiting aid to foreign military units that commit gross human-rights violations with impunity. This version of the Leahy Law is weaker than that found in the regular foreign aid bill, however: it allows the Secretary of Defense to waive the conditions entirely, and allows aid to flow freely as long as undefined â€œcorrective stepsâ€ are taken. Because it is on an appropriations law, the Leahy Law, just like its counterpart on the foreign aid bill, must be renewed every year.
- 2000: Congress passes a special $1.3 billion â€œemergency appropriationâ€ for Plan Colombia. Of the $642 million in military and police aid for Colombia in the bill, about $155 million is appropriated through the Defense Department.
- 2001: The 2001 Defense Authorization law slightly scales back the Section 1033 Riverine Program, cutting out Peru and effectively making it a Colombia-only program. However, it extends the program â€“ which was to expire in 2002 â€“ through 2006.
- 2001: The 2001 Defense Authorization law also requires, for the first time, a report on Section 1004 expenditures for the previous year. For the first time, Congress gets a country-by-country breakdown of Section 1004 aid and a rough idea of what it paid for.
- 2002: The 2002 Defense Authorization law renews Section 1004 for a third time, until 2006.
- 2002: The 2002 Defense Appropriations law creates a new Counter-Terror Fellowship Program (CTFP) to provide non-lethal training and education in counter-terrorism doctrine and techniques. Though the program closely resembles training programs that already exist in the Foreign Assistance Act, the CTFP is given an initial $17.9 million.
- 2002: Language in a supplemental appropriation for the â€œwar on terrorâ€ expands the purpose of counter-drug aid to Colombia, whether through the foreign aid law or the defense budget law. From now on, aid to Colombia through counter-narcotics programs (such as Section 1004 and Section 1033) may now be employed in a â€œunified campaignâ€ against drugs, the FARC, the ELN and the AUC.
- 2003: The report on Section 1004 aid disappears from the 2003 Defense Authorization law.
- 2004: The 2004 Defense Authorization law expands the Section 1033 Riverine Program. The word â€œriverineâ€ is removed to make it a more general-purpose counter-drug aid program. The list of eligible countries is expanded from the existing one (Colombia) to nine: Peru is reinstated and joins Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and five Central Asian states (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan). The maximum annual budget for Section 1033 is increased from $20 million to $40 million.
- 2004: The Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program begun in 2002 is made permanent by the 2004 Defense Authorization law, which includes it as Section 2249c to Title 10, U.S. Code. The annual budget of the CTFP is raised to $20 million per year, and it is permitted to provide lethal training. The program went from training 431 students from four Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2003 to 1,107 students from 22 countries in 2004.
- 2004: As it does every year, the Pentagon submits a draft Defense Authorization bill for 2005, presenting its idea of â€œideal languageâ€ for the annual legislation. Its draft includes an attempt to allow all defense-budget counter-drug aid to be used to combat terrorism in every country in Latin America, from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. Neither congressional armed-services committee adopts this audacious proposal in its version of the 2005 bill.
- 2006: Section 1206 of the 2006 Defense Authorization law allows up to $200 million from the defense budget to be used as aid to foreign militaries, completely outside the Foreign Assistance Act framework. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had originally wanted $750 million for this military-aid â€œslush fund,â€ and had strong-armed the State Department into offering its assent, but resistance from some legislators (notably Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar) reduced the amount. Because it is so general â€“ not specifically tied to the drug war, for instance â€“ this â€œauthority to build the capacity of foreign military forcesâ€ represents the biggest shift of military-aid authority to date from the State Department to the Defense Department.
In a May 5 memo, the White House determines that the recipient militaries will be those of Algeria, the Bahamas, Cameroon, Chad, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Indonesia, Jamaica, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, and Yemen.
- 2006: The 2006 Defense Authorization law reinstates the report on Section 1004 aid that appeared in 2001 and 2002. It was to be submitted by April 15; we have yet to see a copy.
- 2006: The House approved its version of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill on May 11; the Senate Armed Services Committee sent its version to the full Senate on May 9. The bills break still more new ground for defense-budget military assistance.
- The Senate bill would renew Section 1004 for a fourth time, until 2011, even though the program, after fifteen years, has utterly failed to affect the supply of drugs on U.S. streets. The House bill would go still further by making Section 1004 permanent, enshrining it as a new Section 383 of Title 10, U.S. Code.
- The Senate bill would renew Section 1033 (the ex-Riverine Program) for a second time, until 2011. It would also expand it, doubling its budget to $80 million per year and making it available to twenty-four countries: the current nine plus Belize, Guatemala, Panama and twelve others (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chad, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Philippines, and Thailand). The House bill would make Section 1033 permanent, as a new Section 384 of Title 10, U.S. Code. The House would also expand the programâ€™s budget to $60 million while adding six new eligible countries â€“ Belize, Guatemala, Panama and three central Asian countries (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) â€“ for a total of fifteen.
- Both housesâ€™ versions of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill would increase the annual budget of the Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program, from $20 million to $25 million.
- The Defense Departmentâ€™s draft â€œideal languageâ€ for the 2007 Defense Authorization bill includes an attempt to revive the â€œSection 1031â€ program, which benefited Mexico in 1997 and 1998 and was thought to be long since dead (see 1997 above). This time, it would be a non-country-specific counter-drug program. Neither house of Congress includes this proposal in its version of the 2007 bill.
As this long story makes clear, when it comes to Defense Department authority to provide military aid, if you give them an inch, they take a yard, then a mile. The amount of foreign military assistance falling under the Defense Departmentâ€™s sole jurisdiction keeps growing each year.
The reasons given are familiar â€“ â€œthe defense bill is where the money is,â€ â€œthe foreign aid process is too cumbersome and bureaucratic,â€ â€œthe cold war is over, weâ€™re in the 21st century nowâ€ â€“ but the consequences are the same. U.S. military assistance â€“ a risky foreign policy tool in the developing world, even at the best of times â€“ is increasingly responding to narrow defense priorities, while our diplomats and our congressional overseers, who are charged with guarding our larger national interest, simply stand by.
CIP is not the only organization sounding the alarm about this trend. George Withers, a Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and a former House Armed Services Committee staffer, wrote an excellent memo on the subject [PDF] back in January.
Why are Latin America-focused programs making the most noise about the Defense Departmentâ€™s growing military-aid role? In large part because the trend began in Latin America, with the drug war fifteen years ago. But this problem is too important to be left up to regional specialists at non-governmental organizations.
Those being steamrolled by the Defense Departmentâ€™s yearly power grabs need to start sticking up for themselves. The State Department must defend the central role that the Foreign Assistance Act gives it in guiding military-aid priorities. The congressional foreign relations and foreign operations appropriations committees must defend their turf, lest the programs they fund continue to shrink in relative size and influence.
The Defense Department should not be given the right to manage military aid as it sees fit, with few safeguards and minimal legislative oversight. Back in 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act and its State Department-managed architecture were put in place for a reason. It is important to recall that reason and to get U.S. military aid programs back under control.