Academic journal article Parameters

One Team, One Fight: The Need for Security Assistance Reform

Academic journal article Parameters

One Team, One Fight: The Need for Security Assistance Reform

Article excerpt

Helping other countries better provide for their own security will be a key and enduring test of US global leadership and a critical part of protecting US security, as well. Improving the way the US government executes this vital mission must be an important national priority. (1)

--Robert M. Gates, Former Secretary of Defense

US defense strategy requires an improvement in its security assistance program to adequately empower allies and partners to provide for their own security and to support the US defense-industrial base. A struggling global economy and shrinking defense budgets, however, may hamper such efforts. Allies and partners struggle in their attempt at spending adequate amounts on defense, and US budget reductions may reduce America's defense spending, thus curtailing foreign military aid and revenues available to US defense contractors. Without adequate levels of revenue, the already brittle defense-industrial base may be incapable of developing technologies and offering the American military the best capabilities in the future.

Ultimately, major reductions in defense spending will lead suppliers, as well as research and development projects, to fall by the wayside. An "American Way of War" that has utilized technology to offset quantitative advantages of our opponents may not be sustainable. (2) Accordingly, with a limited defense budget, the United States needs to find new ways to simultaneously provide for national security, while maintaining its industrial base. Improved security assistance will be a key pillar of this effort. Without significant reforms that increase US responsiveness and competitiveness in the global defense market, efforts to innovate will be impacted. Fortunately, the United States can improve the existing security assistance apparatus by reforming export controls, updating legislation, expanding financing programs, and developing a dedicated security assistance workforce.

The Value of Security Assistance

Security assistance is a form of security cooperation that contains programs through which the United States provides defense articles and services to international organizations and foreign governments in support of US policies and objectives. Although usually administered by the Department of Defense (DOD), specifically the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), these programs are legally under the control of the Department of State. Major security assistance categories include Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), and International Military Education and Training. Through the FMS process, the US government procures defense articles, services, and training on behalf of the foreign customer country, under the auspices of the DSCA. Sizable sales also occur through the DCS process between a foreign country and a US contractor.

The strategic rationale for increased security assistance is two-fold: it empowers regional partners and allies, and it sustains the defense-industrial base through increased US exports. US efforts during the Second World War and the US security architecture throughout the Cold War utilized security assistance funding to bolster the defenses of regional allies against the spread of fascism and communism. Although the Cold War has ended, US support of strategic "strong points" continues as an economical means to check power imbalances among countries and counter state instability.

Although security assistance consists of much more than arms sales, the transfer of major weapons systems does permit the United States to access and influence various nations. For example, a nation will not simply buy a squadron of F-16 fighters. It will send its pilots to the United States for training, bring in US contractors to conduct maintenance and logistics activities, and engage in a strategic dialogue with the United States on the employment of assets. Common technology and materiel builds similar Concepts of Operations (CONOPS), promoting interoperability with nations that may later become coalition partners. …

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