How Foreign Policy Functions Shifted to the Pentagon

By Walter Pincus
Monday, August 4, 2008

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened a hearing last Thursday on the creeping militarization of U.S. foreign policy by saying: "There has been a migration of functions and authorities from U.S. civilian agencies to the Department of Defense."

He noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has described the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development as "chronically undermanned and underfunded for too long."

As the hearing showed, two programs that began in 2006 provided through the Pentagon the kinds of military and development funds to partner countries in the fight against terrorism -- support that is traditionally directed by the State Department.

Section 1206 programs gave the Pentagon the authority to spend $200 million to train and equip foreign military forces to carry out counterterrorism operations in their own countries or give support elsewhere -- say, Iraq -- in association with U.S. forces.

This change was needed because the traditional approach through State was "too slow and cumbersome," according to a May 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Section 1207, also initiated in 2006, gave the Pentagon the authority to transfer as much as $100 million in equipment, services or training to the State Department, which used the money for "reconstruction, stabilization or security activities in foreign countries," according to another May 2008 CRS report.

Section 1207 programs were originated by country teams and needed approval from Defense and State leaders before they could be carried out.

In testimony Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte called this a "dual-key" authority to ensure that Pentagon security needs met State Department foreign policy objectives. Undersecretary of Defense Eric S. Edelman, who appeared at the hearing, said these programs were born of "a fundamental mismatch of authorities, resources and capabilities." In short, the Pentagon had the money and people, and State had the legal authority to act.

In its latest request, for fiscal 2009, the Pentagon sought $750 million in Section 1206 funds and $200 million in Section 1207.

Though Negroponte and Edelman tried to arrest concerns that the programs were a step toward militarization of civilian authority, not all senators were convinced that traditional foreign policy standards were being met.

For example, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) noted that a section of the Foreign Assistance Act bars security aid to governments that engage in "a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." He then asked about $6 million given to Chad under Section 1206 in 2007, the same year State declared that country's security forces "were engaging in extra-judicial killing, arbitrary detention and torture," according to a May 2008 CRS report. The $6 million, the report said, was used to establish a "light infantry rapid reaction force."

Edelman said: "I know that we, as a matter of law, are barred from providing assistance to units that we know are involved in any human rights violations, and we certainly abide by that."

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them

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