WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
27 Apr 2017 | Press Release

U.S. Budget Cuts Set Up Pentagon to Take Lead on Foreign Aid

$20 Billion, 107 Programs, Over 160 Countries: A Guide to U.S. Security Assistance

Washington, DC—In a report released today, WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America) reveals that while the Trump administration vigorously supports cuts to foreign aid funding, its Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal would be likely to hand the Pentagon responsibility for administering foreign military aid.

The report, “Putting the Pieces Together: a Global Guide to U.S. Security Aid Programs,” sheds new light on the increasing number of foreign aid programs that are carried out by the U.S. military. It is accompanied by a searchable online database offering a comprehensive, updated list of all existing U.S. security aid programs.

“This is what militarization of foreign policy looks like: our foreign policy is becoming ever more based on threats instead of opportunities, and this budget merely continues the trend,” said report co-author Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Defense Oversight. “Traditionally diplomats were put in charge of arms transfers, military training, and similar programs because they were in charge of looking out for all U.S. interests, not just military or national security interests. But the steady move of U.S. security assistance to the Pentagon is moving non-military interests to a second tier.”

The report finds that the number of security aid programs—whether overseen by the Department of Defense or the Department of State—increased dramatically amid the security buildup that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks. Since then, the number of U.S. security aid programs has more than doubled, to 107 separate programs with different objectives and focuses across the globe. Of these, 89 are managed by the Pentagon.

“Security assistance programs are meant to advance U.S. relations, interests, and in other countries, and can serve as a kind of diplomacy. But the kind of message the United States sends with these programs depends on the messenger, and increasingly that messenger is wearing fatigues,” said report co-author Sarah Kinosian, a WOLA Program Officer. “Without congressional oversight and readily available public information about these programs, it is hard to know their impact. Are they legitimizing corrupt actors? Are we upsetting delicate regional power balances? Are we even spending our money wisely? It’s about who is asking these questions,” said Kinosian.

As a research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas, WOLA first began to focus on defense aid programs in Latin America in the 1990s, when the U.S. prioritization of drug trafficking as a security threat undid an expected post-Cold War decline in such aid to the region. Today, WOLA’s Defense Oversight program researches and documents U.S. military relations with the hemisphere, and synthesizes it into a Defense Oversight Research Database, a unique resource for journalists, policymakers, scholars, and analysts interested in tracking U.S. security assistance.