Pentagon Can Now Fund Foreign Militaries
Defense Secretary Pushed for New Powers to Better Deal With
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Post" -- -- Congress has granted unusual
authority for the Pentagon to spend as much as $200 million of
its own budget to aid foreign militaries, a break with the
traditional practice of channeling foreign military assistance
through the State Department.
The move, included in a little-noticed provision of the 2006
National Defense Authorization Act passed last month, marks a
legislative victory for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld,
who pushed hard for the new powers to deal with emergency
But it has drawn warnings from foreign policy specialists inside
and outside the government, who say it could lead to growth of a
separate military assistance effort not subject to the same
constraints applied to foreign aid programs that are
administered by the State Department. Such constraints are meant
to ensure that aid recipients meet certain standards, including
respect for human rights and protection of legitimate civilian
"It's important that diplomats remain the ones to make the
decisions about U.S. foreign assistance," said George Withers, a
senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and a
former staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. "They
can ensure such decisions are taken in the broader context of
U.S. foreign policy."
Many lawmakers, too, were initially cool to Rumsfeld's request.
The Armed Services committees in both the House and Senate
declined to write the provision into their original defense
authorization bills, citing concerns about a lack of
jurisdiction and an absence of detail about where the money
would be spent.
But the Pentagon pressed its case, with senior commanders
joining top officials in weighing in with reluctant members.
"This was the most heavily lobbied we've been by the Pentagon in
the several years I've been here," said one Senate staff member.
"They really, really wanted this."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also threw her support
behind the measure, overruling lower-ranking staff members who
had argued that existing laws were sufficient and who had
cautioned against granting the Pentagon such flexibility,
department officials said. She joined Rumsfeld last summer in a
letter to Congress urging passage of the legislation.
The initiative addresses an issue that both the Pentagon and the
State Department have identified as crucial in fighting
terrorism and bolstering stability abroad -- namely, "building
partnership capacity" in Africa and other developing regions.
Administration officials complain that attempts to provide such
security assistance, especially in crisis situations, have often
been hampered by a patchwork of legal restrictions and by a
division of responsibilities among U.S. government departments.
Improving security in a failing foreign nation, for instance,
might involve drawing on the Pentagon for military training, the
State Department for police training, the Department of Homeland
Security for border protection and the Treasury Department for
financial enforcement. Cobbling such pieces together can take
many months, officials say.
After striking out with the Armed Services committees, Pentagon
officials found an ally in Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who
has a particular interest in Africa. Inhofe agreed to propose
the new authority on the Senate floor as an amendment to the
Defense Authorization Act. To ensure compliance with existing
foreign aid rules, language was included saying that funds for
the missions would be transferred from the Pentagon to the State
Department before being expended and would be subject to
limitations of the Foreign Assistance Act.
These conditions were dropped in a later Senate-House
conference. But other conditions were added still reflecting
The final version -- Section 1206 of the authorization act --
says the Pentagon can provide training, equipment and supplies
"to build the capacity" of foreign militaries to conduct
counterterrorist operations or join with U.S. forces in
stability operations. But the section also stipulates that
orders for such aid must originate with the president, and it
requires the Pentagon to work closely with the State Department
in formulating and implementing the assistance.
This new authority cannot be used to provide any assistance
banned by other U.S. laws, the provision adds. Further, the
measure grants less money than initially requested -- $200
million instead of $750 million. And it expires after two years,
far short of the open-ended mandate that Rumsfeld had sought.
"We're calling it a pilot program," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.),
chairman of the Armed Services Committee. "But I think it'll
prove its worth."
Defense officials say they are pleased with the outcome. "It's a
very good start," said Jeffrey Nadaner, deputy assistant
secretary of defense for stability operations. "For the
Congress, which hasn't done this before, we think it's a bold,
Reaction at the upper levels of the State Department also has
been positive. Under a separate provision approved with the
train-and-equip measure, the department is getting $200 million
from the Pentagon to bolster a new Reconstruction and
Stabilization Office for coordinating civilian assistance. This
provision stirred its own controversy among lawmakers, who as a
matter of principle have opposed shifting Pentagon funds to the
Having gained this much, the Pentagon and State Department are
now setting their sights on a more ambitious overhaul of foreign
"In the longer run, we need to have our assistance structured in
a way that will give us even broader flexibility," said Philip
Zelikow, the State Department's counselor. "The president and
his advisers must be able to devise a program that can allocate
money as needed among whatever agencies have the skill sets to
deliver the capabilities, whether State, Defense, Justice or
other government agencies."
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