Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Want to see what the quotidian militarization of foreign policy looks like?

It's simple to look back over time and recognize broad, somewhat vague policy trends like "the militarization of foreign policy." You can look at the way we budget for international affairs versus defense; you can point to the myriad wars and other interventions in which we've engaged in recent years; you can even complain, if you like, that our international humanitarian and disaster relief efforts are primarily channeled through the military. But when you think about that trend, you're not imagining a decision-maker waking up one morning, sitting down at his desk, and saying "I'm going to militarize our foreign policy today!" -- it's just the way we label a whole bunch of aggreggated effects of seemingly reasonable decisions, right?

Well, yeah. Most of the time. And sometimes it's a little less honest, and a little less accidental.

In 2009, the administration included in its emergency war supplemental a request for $400 million to assist Pakistan in the development of its counterinsurgency capabilities. Breaking with the traditional custom for military aid, whereby grant funds are appropriated to the State Department for dispersal to the partner nation, the president instead requested that this money be appropriated to the Defense Department as part of what he called the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF).

While report language authored by House appropriators noted that "the Committee believes that the PCCF should be considered within the context of the Department of State appropriations" and expressed the sense that "such a request for training for Pakistan, or any other nation where we have a national security interest, must be considered within the context of Department of State policy guidance, applicable governing authorities and appropriations," the appropriators went one better: they not only established the $400M PCCF account within State's appropriation, but sent another $400M to DoD as the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund.

Yep, you've got that right: the 2009 supplemental (pdf) established a Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund in the Defense appropriation, satisfying the administration's exact request (but under a different name) in spite of expressed reservations about the appropriateness of DoD control over such a fund, and to soften the blow, appropriators also established a Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund in the State appropriation. That's PCF and PCCF: two different funds, two different money-owners, same general purpose.

So what's the difference? DoD's $400M was available upon passage of the bill (June 24, 2009) until the end of FY10, when the program's authority would also expire. The appropriated funds for State's PCCF would only become available on the last day of FY09, and both the funds and the program authority wouldn't expire until the end of FY11. If you're keeping score at home, that means that DoD had from June 2009 until the end of September 2010 to spend its $400M, while State had from October 2009 until the end of September 2011. Presumably this reflected Congress' desire to channel foreign military assistance through the State Department over the long term, while recognizing the Defense Department's unique ability to satisfy urgent Pakistani requirements in an expeditious fashion. What I mean by that is that the Pentagon has the capacity and the expertise to identify what the Pakistanis needed, put the equipment on contract, and deliver it to our partners ASAP -- which State simply wasn't yet suited to do.

That's sort of a funny way to look at things, though, considering how PCCF actually played out: as a simple pass-through fund from Congress to State to DoD, which executed the program. (The establishing legislation allowed for both PCF and PCCF funds to be transferred from one department to the other -- that is, combined with one another -- if the transferring Secretary saw fit.) Ironically (and hilariously), this procedure turns out to have made the State funds even more useful than the ones directly appropriated to DoD, as the State-to-Defense transfer constituted obligation of funds; once State "spent" its $400M with DoD, those funds could no longer expire, so the cash originally appropriated to PCCF (State) didn't have the same calendrical axe hanging over it as the DoD-appropriated funds. The pressure to spend that State money before it expired ceased to exist, while DoD had to scramble around getting equipment on contract with its own PCF cash before it disappeared at the end of September. But I digress...

By now you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with the militarization of foreign policy, so let's get back to the point. Last week when the details of the shutdown-averting budget compromise started coming out, Colin Cookman noticed that there was $800M in there for PCF (Defense). This is interesting not only because of everything you've read above, Congressional intent to transfer responsibility to the State Department, expiration of PCF's program authority, etc etc, but because the White House didn't actually ask for any PCF money for FY11 -- they asked for $1.2B for PCCF, which (as CRS notes on p.18 of this pdf) "moves ongoing activities to increase the capabilities of Pakistan's security forces from DOD control to the purview of the Secretary of State."

In the words of the immortal Lee Corso: not so fast, my friends. As Josh Rogin predictably sniffed out before it had even occurred to me to look, there it is in the legislation signed last week:
For the `Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund', $800,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2012: Provided, That such funds shall be available to the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, notwithstanding any other provision of law, for the purpose of allowing the Secretary of Defense, or the Secretary's designee, to provide assistance to Pakistan's security forces.
But wait, there's more! Section 2112(b):
The authorities contained under the heading `International Security Assistance, Funds Appropriated to the President, Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund' in title XI of Public Law 111-32 shall remain in effect until September 30, 2012.
So the law extends the authorization for both PCF and PCCF until the end of FY12, but only appropriates money ($800M) to PCF... the program that was supposed to go away this year. Sure, it's a $400M cut to what had been requested, but that's not the real story here. (Only $700M was appropriated across the two programs in FY10, so nearly doubling that amount for FY11 would've been a stretch in any politico-fiscal environment.) No, the real story is the way so many players in government colluded to hoodwink the taxpayer and extend the Pentagon's control of a fund that nearly everyone agrees is the legitimate prerogative of the Secretary of State.

1. Congressional Republicans cynically refused to fund through the State Department's budget an account that most of them would agree is important to national security, choosing instead to hide nearly a billion dollars under DoD's topline (notwithstanding the inarguable reality that the program constitutes foreign assistance), secure in the knowledge that such scheming will burnish their collective reputation as supporters of the troops, advocates for a strong defense, and opponents of namby-pamby hand-holding foreign aid.

2. The White House and Congressional Democrats rolled over for this deal, knowing as they did that it would continue DoD control of an element of U.S. foreign policy and increase the likelihood that training and equipping decisions would diverge from the broader context of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, all without saving a single dollar in the overall topline.

3. The State Department, however minimal its say in the final budgetary wrangling, almost certainly breathed a sigh of relief at being able to throw Republicans a $1.2B bone without actually cutting anything. As Rogin noted, State was likely able to save several other programs under threat by satisfying 10% of its total topline cut through what amounts to a transfer to another department's budgetary bin.

4. Department of Defense senior leaders have consistently called for an increase in resources for the diplomacy and development legs of the 3D stool, but just as consistently fight against the normalization of military assistance programs currently being conducted under special Title 10 (Defense) authority and mutely accept the two-year continuance of their control over a program that should rightfully belong to those statutorily charged with the conduct of our foreign affairs.

No big deal, you might say: we need to help the Pakistanis, the money got appropriated, so who cares where program authority lands -- especially when State's been passing money and execution responsibilities through to the Pentagon anyway? Here's why it's a big deal: every single bit of institutional momentum, bureaucratic inertia, and political pressure will continue to facilitate "minor" compromises and symbolic switches like this until a forward-looking, reform-minded government takes a stand.

Next time you hear the president, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, or Congressional leaders bemoaning the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, just think back and remember how they've all got a hand in it.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done. An interesting and instructive example, even if the truth is that State would offer little value added even if it received the money and had nominal program authority.