NYT Letter to the Editor: Training Foreign Armies

Ten days after an editorial appeard in the New York Times on June 12 (see below or link on NYT here) suggested a reduced role by State granting (and managing) foreign aid, the Pentagon responded. Today, two Secretaries of Defense co-signed a rebuttal: Training Foreign Armies

To the Editor:

Re "In Foreign Territory" (editorial, June 12), about the training and equipping of foreign militaries:

You argue that Congress "should at least mandate that the programs financed by the Pentagon conform to the same democratic and human rights standards that apply when they are run by the State Department." We agree.

Section 1206 of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act states that "the authority may not be used to provide any type of assistance that is otherwise prohibited by any provision of law," and that all programs incorporate "elements that promote observance of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and respect for legitimate civilian authority within that country."

You contend that this legislation "marks the continuation of a dangerous shift in responsibilities" from the State Department to the Defense Department. Not only do both departments jointly develop 1206 programs, but the secretaries of state and defense must also both approve them. The law enables the two departments to maximize their capabilities to address war-on-terrorism challenges.

Michael Coulter
Jeb Nadaner
Washington, June 16, 2006
The writers are deputy assistant secretaries of state and defense, respectively.

    Here's the detail from the Editorial that's their primary bug:

Traditionally, the authority to train and equip foreign forces was the territory of the State Department... [U]nder law, Congress requires the State Department to verify that a government meets certain standards of rights and democracy before it can receive assistance. But no such restrictions impede the Defense Department, and the danger is more than theoretical.

It is already clear, as the editorial comments, that American foreign policy is increasingly militarized but what the editorial ignores and the Pentagonn alludes to is the role of the Executive. The Executive Branch "owns" both State and Defense. Defense has seen an increase in responsibility and issue ownership since 9/11, a fact MountainRunner has been commenting on for a while...

EDITORIAL DESK

In Foreign Territory
(NYT) 301 words
Published: June 12, 2006

The Senate plans to begin consideration today of the defense authorization bill for the coming year. One particularly distressing section of the package would reauthorize the Pentagon to arm and train foreign militaries, something it was first authorized to do for 2006. Although the money involved represents only a $200 million piece of the half-trillion-dollar Pentagon budget, it marks the continuation of a dangerous shift in responsibilities from the Department of State to the Defense Department and the militarization of American foreign policy.

Traditionally, the authority to train and equip foreign forces was the territory of the State Department, and Congress legislated accordingly. Arming a foreign power that does not respect human rights invites disaster. And so, under law, Congress requires the State Department to verify that a government meets certain standards of rights and democracy before it can receive assistance. But no such restrictions impede the Defense Department, and the danger is more than theoretical. Six of the 10 African nations the Pentagon proposes to train and equip this year (Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Tunisia) have poor human rights records.

Washington has little control over how recipient countries choose to wield their newfound might. And so train-and-equip programs must be kept under strict observation to ensure that they adhere to necessary guidelines. But the Pentagon is notorious for not operating transparently. And the Congressional committees that are supposed to oversee Pentagon spending are unlikely to spare much attention for such a small piece of the overall military budget.

Congress should return these programs to State Department supervision. If it cannot summon the will to do that, it should at least mandate that the programs financed by the Pentagon conform to the same democratic and human rights standards that apply when they are run by the State Department.