The Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance: Background, Major Issues, and Options for Congress: August 25, 2008

DISAM Journal, December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance: Background, Major Issues, and Options for Congress: August 25, 2008


[The following are excerpts of a report prepared for members and committees of the Congress by the Congressional Research Service. References to Annexes or Appendices have been retained in the excerpt even though the Annex or Appendix itself may not be included. A full copy of the report can be found at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL34639.pdf.]

Summary

The Department of Defense (DoD) has long played a role in U.S. efforts to assist foreign populations, militaries, and governments. The use of DoD to provide foreign assistance stems in general from the perception that DoD can contribute unique or vital capabilities and resources because it possesses the manpower, materiel, and organizational assets to respond to international needs. Over the years, Congress has helped shape the DoD role by providing DoD with its mandate for such activities through a wide variety of authorities.

The historical DoD role in foreign assistance can be regarded as serving three purposes: responding to humanitarian and basic needs, building foreign military capacity and capabilities, and strengthening foreign governments' ability to deal with internal and international threats through state-building measures. The United States and the U.S. military benefit from DoD foreign assistance activities in several ways. U.S. diplomacy benefits from the U.S. military's capacity to project itself rapidly into extreme situations, such as disasters and other humanitarian emergencies, enhancing the U.S. image as a humanitarian actor. Humanitarian assistance, military training, and other forms of assistance also provide opportunities to cultivate good relations with foreign populations, militaries, and governments. U.S. military personnel have long viewed such activities as opportunities to interact with foreign militaries as part of their professional development. Since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, DoD training of military forces and provision of security assistance have been an important means to enable foreign militaries to conduct peacekeeping operations and to support coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DoD's perception of the appropriate non-combat role for the U.S. military has evolved over time. Within the past few years, the perceptions of DoD officials, military officers, and defense analysts have coalesced around a post-9/11 strategy that calls for the use of the U.S. military in preventive, deterrent, and preemptive activities. This strategy involves DoD in the creation of extensive international and interagency "partnerships," as well as an expanded DoD role in foreign assistance activities. Critics point to a number of problems with an expanded DoD role in many activities. Indeed, a key DoD document acknowledges that state-building tasks may be "best performed by indigenous, foreign, or U.S. civilian professionals." Nevertheless, although reluctant to divert personnel from combat functions, DoD officials believe that the U.S. military must develop its own capacity to carry out such activities in the absence of appropriate civilian forces.

In the second session of the 110th Congress, members have faced several choices regarding the DoD role in foreign assistance. The Bush Administration has proposed legislation to make permanent two controversial DoD authorities. It has also proposed legislation to enable U.S. government civilian personnel to perform some of the tasks currently carried out by the U.S. military, as well as to form a civilian reserve corps for that purpose. Congress may also consider options to improve DoD coordination with civilian agencies on foreign assistance activities.

Introduction (1)

The Department of Defense has long played a role in U.S. efforts to assist foreign populations, militaries, and governments. The use of DoD to provide foreign assistance stems in general from the perception that DoD can contribute unique or vital capabilities and resources because it possesses the manpower, materiel, and organizational assets to respond to international needs. …

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The Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance: Background, Major Issues, and Options for Congress: August 25, 2008
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