And, while the Government Accountability Office concluded last year that the risks of unintended consequences, perverse incentives, and moral hazards from U.S. security assistance programs were considered in some of the planning processes, it produced no evidence either that they were actually taken into consideration, or that such consideration led to any decisions not to undertake a security assistance effort in a specific country.
I observed these problems firsthand when I oversaw these programs at the Office of Management and Budget in the 1990s. U.S. security assistance programs, in Africa or elsewhere, have never been embedded in a strategic design or reviewed in the context of our overall engagement with a country or a region (unless considering any opposition activity in any country as an agent of the Soviet Union constitutes sensible strategy); they have never undergone a systematic evaluation for effectiveness; and they have been increasingly driven by the narrow military or quasi-military objectives of the Defense Department.
There are a lot of critical things to say about U.S. security assistance. Many of them I said in a Stimson Center report I co-authored with Becky Williams two years ago, A New Way Forward: Rebalancing Security Assistance Programs and Authorities.
The fundamental problem, bolstered by the Perry report, is that the U.S. plans its security assistance programs in a strategy and policy void and, with a focus on "security" but not "governance," they are largely implemented to meet the bureaucratic, regional, and program priorities of the Defense Department, in this case, Africom. The choice of countries, programs, and individuals to receive support in Africa is driven largely by the military -- the regional combatant commander, the military services, and DOD policy officials. While the State Department has input into these decisions, State simply lacks the staff and the interest to overcome the "security" orientation to these programs.
U.S. security assistance, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan, does put "security" first and "governance" second, which is characteristic of these Africa programs. Sounds like a Tea Party projection of the U.S. constitution overseas. The downside is that by putting security first but having little or no strategy to help African countries develop effective governance, too many of them will end up insecure in another way: hostage to a strongly developed military-paramilitary-gendarme-police force which is the only effective form of political power. As the Perry report said in its subdued way: "In many countries, whether intended or not, the U.S. is choosing sides in the partner nation's political process when it provides assistance to security forces."
Algeria and Mali, and the desperate-looking, one-dimensional focus on terrorists in the Maghreb, combined with the expanding appetite of U.S. Special Operators, suggest that we are entering another generation of misguided efforts to strengthen militaries and their security cousins at the expense of governance capacity and economic development in Africa. Each new "partner" with whom we are "building capacity" draws us more deeply into the internal politics of these countries, becoming a commitment, first with money and equipment, then training, then co-operation, then implicit political support.
Africa can and should do better. And, lest we slide down that slippery slope to military commitments in fragile states, we should do better as well. There is no doubt that bad guys operate in the Sahel. It is less clear that they threaten our interests. The context for our engagement should be responsive and accountable governance, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and development -- none of which is a core skill in the military, as well-intentioned as they may be. If the supported country feels a need for a security dimension in its approach to these three critical tasks, then, and only then, should the State Department oversee the introduction of support for security forces, under the authority of a legitimate government.
I fear we are getting this wrong, and may live to rue the day we see the outcome of this un-strategic, un-evaluated set of programs.