Newly proposed legislation would expand existing
Pentagon security and military aid programs in Iraq and Afghanistan to "coalition
partners" in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The Building Global Partnerships Act of 2007 would authorize the secretary
of defense, in consultation with the secretary of state, to allocate up to $750
million to help foreign governments set up security and military forces to "combat
terrorism and enhance stability."
The White House has submitted the bill to the House of Representatives and
Senate but it has not been reviewed in committee or sent to the floor of either
chamber for a vote.
The new legislation is an expansion of an existing program that initially provided
funds to the Pentagon to train security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and was
renewed annually without State Department involvement.
State Department involvement in funding decisions was introduced when the program
expanded its reach to "coalition partners" in Algeria, Chad, Dominican
Republic, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Senegal, Sri
Lanka, Thailand, Yemen and São Tome and Principe.
The Pentagon's ability to fund foreign aid programs has in the past been contingent
on compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act, which imposes restrictions on
foreign aid recipients, including strict compliance with human rights standards.
"To ensure that commanders have adequate flexibility to meet operational
needs, this section also would eliminate Foreign Assistance Act restrictions,"
the bill reads. "The joint approval process and advance congressional notification
will ensure transparency and that respect for human rights and civilian authority
remain a key component of program under this section without sacrificing flexibility
critical to United States national security."
Last year, the Pentagon likely used a portion of its $200 million aid budget
to provide military aid that may have been blocked had it not bypassed the Foreign
Assistance Act, which insists on basic human rights standards to be observed
by military units receiving U.S. aid.
"With Indonesia, the Pentagon has one foreign policy and the U.S. has
another foreign policy," Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace and
Liberty at the Independent Institute, told IPS.
The Foreign Assistance Act has limited the allocation of military and security
aid to Indonesia out of concern for the human rights abuses committed by the
Indonesian military in East Timor.
"Section 1206 was intended to be a pilot program. They were supposed to
report back to Congress about what happened but they have an extension until
next January," George Vickers, senior policy analyst at the Open Society
Policy Center, told IPS. "There's been no reporting on if the pilot program
has worked so it's premature to be making it permanent and expanding its scope
Human rights advocates have expressed concern that the new legislation represents
a structural shift that would allow the Pentagon greater leeway in setting foreign
policy and permit it nearly complete protection from Congressional oversight.
"We are very concerned that this is another way the Pentagon is encroaching
on territory traditionally occupied by the State Department," Scott Stedjan,
legislative secretary at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told
IPS. "We're afraid this Pentagon program will bypass the Foreign Assistance
Act, and specifically the human rights component."
The new legislation would create more oversight than previous aid budgets allocated
to the Pentagon because it would require State Department approval for allocation
of funds, but the considerable increase in budget and its continued avoidance
of congressional oversight is believed by many to give the Pentagon unprecedented
leeway to distribute security and military aid with few restrictions.
Pentagon leadership would be able to more easily coordinate their military
and security aid allocations with areas of interest in the "war on terror"
without the congressional oversight and limitations of the Foreign Assistance
Act, which have specifically limited the Pentagon's discretionary aid allocations
in various African countries.
"(The Building Global Partnerships Act) will have an impact in Latin America
but the area they're most interested in is Africa," said Vickers. "Sub-Saharan
Africa, Somalia and Ethiopia are areas where they'd like to be able to do more
to build the capacities for local forces. The way they've proposed it would
allow them to make proxy armies."
The Pentagon's desires to set its own foreign aid policy independent of the
state department and Congress has led a number of analysts to question the consequences
of a Pentagon-led foreign aid policy with little or few restrictions.
"If you're giving aid to undesirable countries, by human rights standards,
it usually backfires on you," said Eland. "It may provide short term
benefits in the 'war on terror', but the long-term consequences may be unclear."
(Inter Press Service)