The House Foreign Affairs Committee Discusses the Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance

DISAM Journal, August 2009 | Go to article overview

The House Foreign Affairs Committee Discusses the Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance


[The following are excerpts from opening remarks and testimony relative to the title subject, 18 Mar 2009.]

The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) conducted the hearing, "Striking the Appropriate Balance: the Defense Department's Expanding Role in Foreign Assistance," on 18 March 2009 to discuss the role of the military in foreign assistance. Representative Howard L. Berman of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the decision to hold this hearing was due to the fact that several full and subcommittee hearings addressed the issue of foreign assistance last year and that they touched upon the Defense Department's increasing role in foreign assistance.

The following is a transcript of Representative Berman's remarks:

We have heard the same explanation for this over and over again: DOD is filling a vacuum left by the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which lack the capacity to carry out their diplomatic and development functions. For example, USAID has only about 2,500 permanent staff today, compared to 4,300 in 1975. The agency is responsible for overseeing hundreds of infrastructure projects around the world, yet employs only five engineers. They have only 29 education specialists to monitor programs in 87 countries. Likewise, the State Department lacks resources to fill critical diplomatic posts. Today, the agency has a 12 percent vacancy rate in overseas Foreign Service positions, and an even higher vacancy rate here in the United States. This hollowing out of the State Department cripples its ability to aggressively pursue and protect American interests abroad. President Obama's fiscal year 2010 international affairs budget request represents an important step forward in addressing these weaknesses. The Committee also plans to tackle these troubling capacity issues when we take up the State Department authorization bill and foreign assistance reform legislation later this year.

Beyond capacity and resources, there are some deeper issues I would like to examine today:

* Is providing military assistance to a foreign country a foreign policy decision that should be the primary responsibility of civilian agencies with appropriate Defense Department involvement in implementation? Or is it a national security mission that should be planned and carried out by the Pentagon?

* Does DOD have such a comparative advantage in performing certain non-traditional defense missions that it should be carrying out activities previously reserved for civilian agencies? And what are the implications of putting a military face on development and humanitarian activities? How does this affect the way we are viewed in the world, and what is the practical impact on USAID's ability to carry out development projects?

The Department of Defense has always played an important role in carrying out certain security assistance activities, particularly implementing military training and military sales directed by the Department of State. However, DOD's role significantly expanded in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan, where they took on a direct role in planning, funding, and implementing military and police training and other non-military activities. …

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