Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy

Ready Aim Foreign PolicyAs public debate focuses on the war in Iraq, Defense Department and reduce congressional a disturbing transformation of U.S. foreign policy decision-making is quietly underway.

The Defense Department’s leadership of foreign military aid and training programs is increasing. The State Department, which once had sole authority to direct and monitor such programs, is ceding control. Moreover, changes to the U.S. military’s geographic command structure could grant the military a greater role in shaping, and becoming the face of, U.S. foreign policy where it counts—on the ground.

These seemingly arcane changes will diminish congressional, public and even diplomatic control over a substantial lever and symbol of foreign policy. They will undercut human rights values in our relations with the rest of the world, and increase the trend toward a projection of U.S. global power based primarily on military might.

The Defense Department has been gradually increasing its control over military training and equipping programs for the last two decades, spanning Democratic and Republican administrations. Several recent developments, however, indicated that this trend towards a greater Defense Department role in foreign policy is accelerating. First, the Bush Administration endeavored to expand a pilot program, known as “Section 1206,” into a permanent, large-scale, global Defense Department military aid fund with few strings attached.1 Second, the State Department, rather than contesting this challenge to its authority, called
for a restructuring of foreign aid that would happily cede its management of military aid programs to the oversight. Third, the U.S. military offered plans to restructure geographic commands to give them a greater role in coordinating U.S. civilian agencies’ activities.

The current campaign to expand the Defense Department’s role is couched as an attempt to protect us from the threat of terrorism. But we know that where domestic policy is concerned, the valid fear of terrorist threats must not cause us to abandon all protections to our basic civil liberties. Similarly, the fear of terrorism should not lead us to abandon the protections ensuring that our foreign policy is more than just a narrowly defined vision of national security. It must also incorporate our national values of democracy and respect for human rights.

Our organizations focus on Latin America, so our examples are from that region, where some of the Defense Department’s military aid programs were pioneered. But this trend affects U.S. foreign policy worldwide.2

These proposed shifts are far from a “done deal.” Congress and the next administration can decide to reverse this trend. This report includes specific policy recommendations to reassert the guiding role of the State Department, Congress and the public over this important aspect of foreign policy. Unless we wish to see our military become even more prominently the face of U.S. foreign policy abroad, now is the time to act. 

To read this report in Spanish, click this link:

Para leer este informe en español, haga click aqui: