Over the past decade and a half, the United States has greatly expanded its investment and involvement in the security sectors of other countries, moving from more than $5 billion in FY (Fiscal Year) 2001 to more than $19 billion in FY 2015, to help address a range of U.S. security concerns. This investment, often-called security assistance, can be a helpful tool to reduce security threats from violent actors and help make security forces more accountable to the civilian population. However, done poorly it can also undermine stability or have no effect at all.
According to a RAND study last year, U.S. security assistance has several risks. It can undermine legitimate governance, exacerbate the balance of power within the state, give weapons to unintended users, and abet human rights violations. There is also the risk of moral hazard. Since transnational terrorism is not always high on a foreign country’s security concerns, the incentive is also real for some countries to make slow progress in addressing terrorism in order to keep the aid flowing.
Unlike other forms of U.S. foreign assistance, much of the U.S. security assistance is not published on the State Department’s “Foreign Aid Dashboard” or in the International Aid Transparency Initiative registry, making it nearly impossible for journalists, civil society, and policy makers to help identify the specific risks and steer U.S. taxpayer money to more effective programs. When there is information, sometimes that data is widely different than what the Defense Department has told Congress.
For instance, the Foreign Aid Dashboard indicates that the Pentagon allocated money to Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Iraq through the Section 1206 authority in FY 2011. However, Congressional Research Service reports don’t list those countries receiving any Section 1206 funds for that year. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, the Dashboard indicates that Section 1206 funding is addressing health issues instead of counterterrorism issues.
This gap in public information on State and Defense Department assistance efforts prompted the creation of the Security Assistance Monitor (SAM). SAM is the first, and most comprehensive resource to house all publicly available, official data on U.S. security assistance in one place. SAM searches through a diverse range of U.S. government reports, submits Freedom of Information requests, and interviews government officials to obtain sought-after data, including from the growing amount of Pentagon military aid.
Our interactive online databases covering military aid, economic aid, arms sales, and military training provide journalists, civil society, and policy makers in the United States and abroad with key information needed to conduct oversight of this assistance. We also analyze the data to identify important trends and potential concerns and publish our findings on the Security Assistance Monitor blog or in outside sources.
However, there is still some key U.S. security assistance data and information that is not yet available to the public. Unlike the State Department, the Defense Department does not provide a public, comprehensive budget justification to Congress for the next year that shows the type of security assistance it plans for each country and the related costs. There is also no reporting yet to Congress with a full accounting of how the Defense Department spent its money for more than 50 security assistance authorities the previous year.
Improved access to quality, timely, usable information has many benefits. Detailed information on military and police aid helps the U.S. government coordinate security assistance efforts within the State and Defense Departments. It also helps identify where there may be duplicative efforts or an under focus on key issues. Without such basic transparency, it’s also nearly impossible to begin to assess whether or not the United States is spending its money on the right activities and ensuring that such lethal aid doesn’t abet human rights and undermine stability.
Colby Goodman is Director of the Security Assistance Monitor.