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Foreign Aid And National Security

Foreign Aid and Homeland Security: A Match Made in Washington

President Trump released his first budget on March 16th which largely functions as his programmatic wish list, or perhaps better said, as his strategic vision for the nation’s priorities.  The drastic cuts he proposed will likely not all come to fruition as Congress still has it’s say on the matter, but they speak volumes to the workforce who has to implement his programs and to our partners overseas whom we rely on for security cooperation.  Leaving aside the cuts to domestic agencies, the President’s proposed cuts to the State Department generated a lot of angst among national security professionals.  In what seems to be a hallmark of decision making by the Trump Administration, the architects of the budget seemed unable to account for second and third orders of effect of their budgetary decisions—in this case, that these massive budget cuts to the State Department would have significant effects on our Homeland Security.

The President’s budget calls for an overall funding reduction of nearly 30% for the State Department (including USAID).  While some of this reduction includes cuts to outlays to the World Bank and U.N., some of it is accounted for in the conversion of foreign aid grants to loans.  Overall these cuts would obviously lead to tightening of budgets across the Department, as President Trump has promised to give his Cabinet Secretaries wide latitude to shift money around as needed to make their new budgets work.  This is where the effects would be felt regarding Homeland Security.

Security Sector Assistance (SSA) is not necessarily a new concept—the United State has long been providing technical assistance to partners’ militaries, security and intelligence forces, and judiciaries.  Moreover, the State Department has always been the focal point and clearinghouse for determining what assistance should be provided to which countries particularly for foreign counterparts of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury.

In April 2013 President Obama signed a Presidential Policy Directive concerning SSA.  It aimed to “strengthen the ability of the U.S. to help allies and partner nations build their own security capacity” and pursue a new approach to achieve these ends.  This new approach sought to involve more input into the SSA process from parts of the government that had the resident expertise.  While the money comes from the State Department budget, if the security capacity building in question concerned local prosecutors or the rule of law then the Department of Justice would provide its expertise while if borders or human trafficking expertise were needed, then DHS would lend its specialists.  This would extend to the Department of Treasury or the FAA and others as needed.  The idea behind the directive is that regardless of who is footing the bill, the U.S. can provide the most up to date techniques, tactics and procedures so our partners can truly implement best practices in security.

Frequently the money used to build American partners’ capacity comes from the State Department’s foreign aid or foreign assistance budgets.  And this funding is not in the form of a check to a country’s treasury with some guidelines on how to better secure their borders, for example, but rather it comes in the form of the State Department sending human resources—those agents and subject matter experts described above.  As the Trump Administration’s budget slashes foreign aid and money for other State Department programs, it will likely either directly or indirectly cut these direct exchange capacity building programs that not only hinder the growth of less developed countries but also stifle the important expert-to-expert exchanges that build good will and channels of communications between countries.  The unnecessary hindrance to the development of partner countries across the globe where ISIS, al Qaeda, criminal groups, and others have a presence or are threatening to expand pose a needless and preventable threat to the security of the United States and our officials posted overseas and make cooperation and information sharing that much more difficult.

As the Congress seeks to reconcile its priorities and political imperatives with President Trump’s March budget proposal, it must decide the importance they play on these sorts of capacity building efforts. Congress often takes trips to visit our foreign partners called Congressional Delegations or CODELS.  No doubt the U.S. staff they meet with at our embassies, to say nothing of the host national officials they engage with on these CODELS place a premium on the exchanges the State Department sponsors and they ought to avail themselves of the opportunity to educate the President and his staff.

And no doubt there are ways to strengthen the process and increase its efficiency, which many be a way to entice the White House to agree to the funding’s reinstatement.  As PPD-23 outlined in the Obama Administration, the current White House should continue to support the decentralization of control of security sector assistance.  Rather than the State Department having a monopoly on who can provide what assistance to what countries (and whether it is provided by contractors or government experts), the implementing agencies (namely DHS, DoJ, and Treasury) should have much more control over their training and capacity building priorities.  Taking this one step further, future budgets could provide the authority and some direct funding for certain security sector agencies to provide this capacity building itself after coordinating with the State Department.  This would streamline the process and ensure that partner countries receive up to date expertise and best practices to improve their security posture and in turn better secure American communities.

In Saner Thought

We have a new president, 89 days in case you were unaware (LOL), his policies are clear foreign aid bad, national security good…..the problem is the two issues can go hand in hand…..

President Trump released his first budget on March 16th which largely functions as his programmatic wish list, or perhaps better said, as his strategic vision for the nation’s priorities.  The drastic cuts he proposed will likely not all come to fruition as Congress still has it’s say on the matter, but they speak volumes to the workforce who has to implement his programs and to our partners overseas whom we rely on for security cooperation.  Leaving aside the cuts to domestic agencies, the President’s proposed cuts to the State Department generated a lot of angst among national security professionals.  In what seems to be a hallmark of decision making by the Trump Administration, the architects…

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