Security Cooperation for the 21st Century

By Representative Jim Banks (R-IN)

Interoperability with partners is vitally important for the United States to prepare for contingencies worldwide and to forge lasting military alliances. History tells us we can expect to fight together with others in the future, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified to the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year:

In the past, I had the privilege of fighting many times in defense of the United States, but I never fought in a solely American formation; it was always alongside foreign troops. Easier said than done. Winston Churchill noted that the only thing harder than fighting with allies is fighting without them. History proves that we are stronger when we stand united with others. Accordingly, our military will be designed, trained, and ready to fight alongside allies.

It is not surprising that the U.S. Congress and executive branch have focused significant attention in recent years on security cooperation reform. Much of current law and policy were borne of a Cold War formulation, with a patchwork of amendments adding to it for more than 50 years. Streamlining programs such as foreign military sales (FMS) takes great attention to detail but has the potential to assist both longstanding allies and nascent partners. Larger security cooperation programs such as those undertaken in Afghanistan and Iraq have been commensurately more difficult.

The Government Accountability Office has at least 29 open FMS-related issues outstanding for the Department of Defense (DoD), stretching back more than three years. Six recommendations from a 2015 FMS-related report specifically address protection of critical technologies across the federal government, a subject of concern in view of strategic competition with China and Russia. Challenges throughout the interagency remain, including coordination between cases involving the DoD, State Department, and Congress.

A recent lessons-learned report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reveals that the framework for security cooperation has not been able to meet Afghanistan’s massive requirements. Additionally, an October 2018 SIGAR report found that advising efforts in Afghanistan ministries could not be effectively assessed, monitored, or evaluated. Not one of these problems is surprising to me, as I witnessed firsthand the complexities and frustrations while serving in Afghanistan as a naval officer nearly five years ago. We can and must do better than this as a federal government to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are spent efficiently.

Congress provided sound reforms in the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which implemented a quadrennial review of U.S. security sector assistance and streamlined security cooperation authorities. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have called for more specific security cooperation–related reforms from the DoD in the FY 19 NDAA. First, recognizing it is important to streamline the process, the DoD Inspector General must audit FMS program implementation. A number of non-standard articles and services provided under defense security cooperation authorities are ad hoc efforts, so I sponsored a provision for DoD to assess the scope of non-standard or non-program-of-record articles and services that are part of FMS and look for further opportunities to improve them.

Because this effort will necessitate a well-trained and experienced workforce, I have included language in the proposed FY 19 NDAA that directs the Secretary of Defense to brief Congress on the plans and implementation for improving the Security Cooperation Workforce Development Program. Included in these improvements is a mandate that DoD specify how it provides promotion opportunities for foreign area officers to serve through general or flag officer ranks.

The Trump administration should be commended for updating the conventional arms transfer policy this past spring. As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson noted at the 2018 Reagan Defense Forum, “We recognized early in the administration that some of our mechanisms and processes needed to evolve to keep up with the current requirements.” The current administration has begun to accomplish this improvement through its Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, issued in April.

These broad improvements, combined with recent efforts taken in Congress to reform defense acquisition, should lead to commensurate, well-defined assessments on the effects of the policy reforms. Congress must continue to oversee implementation to ensure swift security cooperation reform throughout the interagency.

As the DoD provides its assessments this year and continues to focus on streamlining acquisition processes, it should also sharpen security cooperation processes. Policies for this critical area need to be updated to reflect current business processes, and then fine-tuned to ensure the appropriate requirements are established and met in a timely manner that will accomplish key foreign policy objectives. In so doing, we will foster interoperability between U.S. and partner militaries as well as strengthen defense innovation right here in America. This approach will foster capable and likeminded partners who will contribute to an international order that is brighter, with greater freedom and stability.

Representative Banks (R-Indiana) was elected to Congress in 2016. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee. He is also a Supply Corps officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and served in Afghanistan as a foreign military sales officer.





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