Security Assistance Monitor Spotlight: "Return on Investment for U.S. Military Aid"

This blog was originally publish at the Project on Middle East Democracy's (POMED) blog.


The Center for New American Security (CNAS) released a report titled, “Security Cooperation and Assistance: Re-thinking the Return on Investment.” Authors Dafna Rand and Stephen Tankel produce a detailed assessment of the efficacy and implications of the growing American security assistance apparatus, offering recommendations and improvements for future strategic military cooperation.

The CNAS report is pertinent as POMED contributes to the Security Assistance Monitor project, a database that promotes transparency for U.S. security assistance across the globe.

The report begins by acknowledging the importance of security assistance as a critical tool to help the United States achieve diplomatic and security objectives. It then identifies deficiencies within American security assistance efforts and categorized them as either Strategic or Structural deficiencies.

Strategic Deficiencies as identified:

  • When security assistance is thought to be a “quick fix” to a complex security issue
  • The difficulty in developing evaluative metrics to determine the effect of American security assistance
  • The failure to address efficacy, as well as the potential overreliance on security assistance as a tool of statecraft
  • When a security relationship becomes an end rather than a means to address long-term security concerns


Structural Deficiencies as identified:

  • American and foreign authorities who have limited coordination and understanding about foreign security objectives
  • Security assistance which is given based on convenience of foreign authorities present, rather than through extensive oversight and/or vetting processes
  • Security assistance delivered through programs that allow the Department of Defense to meet certain objectives, but are disconnected from an overarching foreign policy strategy

Despite these deficiencies, the report suggests that security assistance is expected to remain an attractive option for policymakers to address terrorism in the post 9-11 climate. The report points out certain realities when it comes confronting violent extremism: 1) Policy makers may remain hesitant about deploying ground troops, 2) Not all extremists groups pose the same caliber of threat, 3) American military presence may be counter-productive, as it may generate anti-American sentiment.

Ten policy improvements are suggested in the concluding section of the report:

  • Consolidate, rationalize, and rebalance the many security assistance and cooperation authorities
  • Undertake regional reviews of security assistance and cooperation programs
  • Increase the use of regionally-appropriated funds for assistance and cooperation where appropriate
  • Improve interagency coordination and enhance State’s capacity to manage security assistance programs
  • Focus on specific implementation goals for the PPD 23 to connect military and non-military goals
  • Revise IMET and focus more on professionalizing military and civilian security institutions
  • Invest in a consistent policy for promoting accountability among U.S. security partners
  • Invest early and focus more on “headware” [qualitative and leadership skills] than “hardware” for military Bipartisan cooperation
  • Use positive conditionality proactively
  • Develop a systematic, interagency method of tracking outcomes