Monday, August 15, 2011

Afghanization hurt by U.S. budgeting practices?

The newest edition of Armed Forces Journal contains a piece by the great Joe Collins on "Afghanization," the natural and inevitable transition to Afghan lead in security and governance operations as coalition forces draw down. "In the end," Collins writes, "the next phase of this war effort needs not an Afghan 'face,' but an Afghan essence." The article lays out a series of reasonable suggestions for making this transition successful -- challenging as that will be.

Collins notes that continued efforts to train and mentor Afghan security forces and national defense institutions will be vital to a meaningful and sustainable transition. But one paragraph in particular really jumped out at me for the apparent misunderstanding it's based upon:
Throughout the process of transition, the U.S. must fence the resources devoted to the advisory and training units that are engaged in building the capacity of Afghan forces. It would be highly dysfunctional if the forces that are making the ANSF more capable have to compete with the shrinking combat forces for money. As we close in on December 2014, the worst of all worlds would be to take resources from those developing Afghan capacity to keep essential combat units in the fight. These drastic choices can be avoided if the Congress appropriates for the Defense and State departments the right amount of funds to keep the strategy in our exit strategy.
Funds that support the development of the ANSF -- from tactical training to the provision of materiel to ministerial and institutional mentoring -- are currently requested and appropriated primarily through the DoD's Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) in the Overseas Contingency Operations account. (See the first page of this SIGAR pdf for a few more details.) Collins surely knows this, but his choice of words may create some confusion for those who do not. He's right to suggest that separate Departmental appropriations would help keep capacity- and capability-building funds conceptually and legislatively distinct from the money that facilitates U.S. combat operations, but the presumption or suggestion that this is current SOP is incorrect.

Military aid is typically appropriated to the State Department and provided to partner governments as grant assistance to be used for the purchase of U.S. military equipment and training. The large-scale training and equipping efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in the creation of an unusual funding model and execution apparatus, in large part because of the significant U.S. troop presence in both countries. Security capacity-building funds for those states have been appropriated directly to Defense Department organizations in-country through ASFF and (in Iraq) ISFF; the U.S. training/transition commands in each country then use those funds to provide training and purchase equipment for the host nation.

This model makes some sense: it's consistent with the military's role as the USG lead for building security capacity in the host nation during combat operations, and it simplifies execution. It's also a bit misleading to suggest that capacity-building dollars aren't sufficiently "fenced" from combat operations funding, seeing as they are conceived, requested, considered, and appropriated under distinct headings (despite ending up with the same Department).

But there are a host of reasons that security assistance and other military aid should be dispersed by State in the peacetime "steady state," and both Congress and the White House seem cognizant of them. (An instructive example: the FY 2012 budget request is the first since the beginning of the war in Iraq to include military aid for that country in the form of State-managed Foreign Military Finance grants as opposed to ISFF. This is consistent with the "normalization" of U.S. security cooperation with Iraq in the wake of the withdrawal of the bulk of American combat forces. See specifically slides 8, 9, 26, and 33 in this pdf.) I am an extremely committed proponent of State's continuing responsibility for security assistance and other military aid. But take one look at what's happened with the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund during the budget battles of the last year if you want to see how difficult it will be to adequately resource the training and equipping of ANSF through State Department accounts.

Here's the bottom line: I agree with Collins that security capacity-building funds are essential to our departure from Afghanistan and should be privileged over funds for continued U.S. combat operations, but I fear that in the current fiscal and political climate, a move to channel those funds through the State Department will make them more vulnerable to cuts and have the opposite effect to what's intended.


  1. But there are a host of reasons that security assistance and other military aid should be dispersed by State in the peacetime "steady state," and both Congress and the White House seem cognizant of them.

    Can you expand on this point? I see it invoked a lot, but have never read a satisfactory explanation of why it's better for DOS to be the lead agency on security assistance. Based on what I've seen of how DOS runs some of these programs (and their over-reliance on contractors), seems like there's a good case for DOD involvement, if not lead. That said, I'm only know a couple in any detail, and realize they may not be representative.

  2. State Department lead doesn't necessarily mean contractors. FMS is State lead, but executed by DOD. The reason State should be the lead for SA is that they're the lead for foreign policy, and SA is foreign policy. DOD shouldn't be executing its own foreign policy by determining what capabilities and capacity to build in which partner militaries.

  3. Understand it's the law, but 'DOS is the lead for foreign policy' and 'DOD shouldn't be executing its own foreign policy' aren't reasons for why the law is (and should remain) the way it is.

    To be clear, I'm not arguing for DOD (or any other executive agency) to be running their own foreign policy. I'm asking why DOS is presumed to be the right agency to lead on all aspects, given the comparative advantage in expertise of that other agencies have on certain issues.

    So let me ask again: could you explain in greater detail why DOS should remain the sole lead on security assistance? You said there are a host of reasons - what are they? (leaving aside straw man arguments, I hope).

  4. I consider the provision in the law that specifies that SA must be integrated with the broader foreign policy of the United States to be a "satisfactory explanation." DOD has a different set of interests and objectives than DOS (and than the nation writ large). To abandon our other national prerogatives to the demands of "security policy" is a very, very negative trend, one that's been shared across history by a number of states that I don't think we want to look like.

    I'd like you to expand on what you mean by the "comparative advantage in expertise" of other agencies as that pertains to SA. As I mentioned before, DOD executes a number of SA programs under State oversight and direction because the relevant expertise (on weapon systems, training curricula, etc.) exists in the military services. This is a perfectly reasonable distribution of labor based on the appropriate roles and missions of the two Departments.

    What's NOT appropriate is for the Defense Department to unilaterally determine which countries should be the recipients of assistance. That's what "lead" means in this context.

    When I say there are a "host of reasons" that State should keep the lead for SA, they all stem from this reality: the State Department is the USG agency responsible for foreign policy -- determining appropriate courses of action to achieve broader policy goals (inherent in this is developing the expertise to understand how U.S. actions will influence the decisions and behaviors of partners and adversaries), for integrating the range of tools available to the government into a coherent and unified policy. The military instrument is available to the president when he sees fit to use it (either for partnering and assistance or the threat of or use of force), but it's not the military's place to determine when and where and how it will be used. It's important to make this distinction whether we're talking about peacetime engagement, assistance to a partner nation fighting its own wars, or intervention in armed conflict. The military doesn't decide when and where to go to war; why should it decide when and where to aid other states in doing so or preparing to do so?

  5. What's NOT appropriate is for the Defense Department to unilaterally determine which countries should be the recipients of assistance.

    Aaaand there's the straw man argument I hoped to avoid. Which part of 'I'm not arguing for DOD to run their own foreign policy' was unclear?

    I would post a longer reply, but Jason has just provided a perfect example of what I was referring to, although in the case he presents it's not obvious who in the USG would have the comparative advantage on police assistance.

    There are other security assistance programs run by DOS that support foreign military forces and have suffered from a distinct lack of expertise on the management team. That's not to suggest DOD or any other agency has flawless records, but the particular weaknesses I'm thinking of specifically stem from a lack of expertise.

  6. If you think that's a straw man, then I'd encourage you again to indicate exactly what you mean by "lead." In this world, that means program authority and appropriations. Which part of "lead" is unclear?

    And again I'd encourage you to specify exactly what you mean by expertise. Are you talking about contract management? Subject-matter expertise in the military skills being trained or the piece(s) of equipment being transferred? On the political, cultural, and military context in which the assistance will be provided and employed? If you think this exists in any significant quantity in DOD, you're mistaken.

    The specified SA programs that are executed (which is what I assume you mean by "run," because I would use "run" to mean managed and overseen, and by that definition ALL SA is "run" by DOS) by State are the Economic Support Fund (ESF, which is basically just grant aid given to states whose weakness is considered to cause security concerns); Peacekeeping Operations (PKO); International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE); Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR); and the licensing of commercial defense exports (which is performed with a significant amount of DOD input). Aside from possibly the military tasks performed in the service of peacekeeping functions, I'm at pains to think of what expertise the military may bring to bear on any of these programs that is not by both law and common sense within the appropriate purview of the civilian agencies of government.