The Hidden Costs of US Security Cooperation

The Hidden Costs of Security Cooperation, Ethiopia’s Security Aid Remains Suspended, Rightsizing U.S. Military Aid and more



March 15, 2021

The Hidden Costs of US Security Cooperation

Responsible Statecraft, March 2021

A new piece by SAM Director Lauren Woods takes a critical look at the hidden costs of America’s vast security cooperation enterprise and the risks it poses to international peace, civilian protection, and U.S. national interests. 

The piece highlights the expanding role of security cooperation in U.S. foreign policy, which has increasingly been used as a one-size-fits-all tool in managing global crises and international partnerships. The problem, as Woods sees it, is “a lack of strategic oversight that can result in and perpetuate humanitarian catastrophes” and work at cross-purposes to broader U.S. foreign policy objectives.  

The outsourcing of U.S. security has dire consequences for civilian protection and international human rights, argues Woods. The shifting of responsibility to foreign partners provides distance between Washington and the consequences of heavy-handed military operations, with insufficient monitoring functions to track how U.S. support is affecting local populations. 

The issue is exacerbated by challenges in oversight, accountability, and transparency in the U.S. security cooperation space. Data can be difficult to source, and the scale and scope of U.S. military assistance programs are understood by very few. However, Woods notes that members of congress have been taking on a more active oversight role in recent years, particularly when it comes to arms sales. 

The full piece can be read here in Responsible Statecraft.

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

U.S. will not resume assistance to Ethiopia for most security programs

Reuters, March 11

The State Department announced that Washington has decided not to lift the pause in assistance to Ethiopia for most programs in the security sector, days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described acts in Tigray as ethnic cleansing.

Iraq paramilitaries agree to stop attacks on US if Kadhimi demands withdrawal

Middle East Eye, March 11

Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitaries have agreed to stop attacks against US forces in Iraq on the condition that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi formally demands an American withdrawal. 

India plans to buy 30 MQ-9 Reaper drones for $3 billion from US company General Atomics

Business Insider, March 10

With eyes towards Pakistan and China, India plans to ink a major defense deal with the US to procure 30 armed drones worth $3 billion.


US senator urges UK to follow Biden in curbing arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The Guardian, March 9

Senator Chris Murphy has called on the UK to follow in the Biden administration’s footsteps and end offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, saying Britain ought not to have any greater interest in “perpetuating war crimes” than the US does.

Seoul agrees to pay more for hosting American troops in 2021

Military Times, March 11

Striking a delicate balance, the United States and South Korea have agreed Seoul will pay 13.9 percent more this year for hosting American troops as part of a multiyear deal crafted to keep Seoul’s share of the overall cost within historical norms.


Research, Analysis, and Opinion  


Trump made it easier to export U.S. guns. Biden must reverse these dangerous policies

LA Times, March 12

A new piece by John Lindsay-Poland and CIP’s William Hartung looks at the Trump administration’s decision to transfer oversight of small arms sales from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce and the risks the decision poses to oversight, civilian protection, and national security. 

A Plan To Reform U.S. Security Assistance

Center for American Progress, March 9

A new report from the Center for American Progress calls for urgent reforms to the U.S. security assistance enterprise, in part by $7 billion in assistance funding from the Pentagon to the Department of State. 


US Arms Sales Are a Means, Not an End

Defense Post, March 9

Bruce Lemkin argues that the sales of American weaponry should be based on principles of mutual benefit and contributing to security and stability, and not be measured merely by dollar value.



Data Fact of the Week:

U.S. Security Assistance Since FY2001 By Government Agency

The graphic above illustrates the country breakdown of U.S. security assistance administered by the Departments of State and Defense since FY2001. The graph shows substantial growth in Defense Department administered programming. 

A new report from the Center for American Progress argues for significant reforms in the U.S. security assistance enterprise, including transferring more authorities to the Department of State. 

The full report can be found here.  

Upcoming Congressional Hearings


Senate Armed Services Committee

3/16: Hearings to examine United States Southern Command and United States Northern Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and Future Years Defense program.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

3/17: Hearings to examine advancing effective U.S. policy for strategic competition with China in the twenty-first century.

House Foreign Affairs Committee

3/18: A Year Out: Addressing the International Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

House Oversight and Reform Committee

3/16: “The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s 2021 High-Risk List”

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