Capacity Building for Partner Nations: The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
December 18, 2014
U.S. defense officials have long understood the value in ensuring that partner nations develop and maintain critical military capabilities—in large part because these nations often participate alongside U.S. forces in operations but also because close military-to-military relationships can strategically shape the security environment in times of relative peace. The last decade of authorization acts has reflected the Defense Department’s growing interest in training, advising, and equipping foreign military and security forces. The NDAAs have also reflected Congress’ focus on a careful balance between these programs and efforts to promote respect for human rights, civilian control of the military, and the rule of law.
The fiscal year 2015 act is no exception. In addition to lengthy subtitles on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, the Russian Federation, and the Asia-Pacific region, the legislation signals clear congressional support for the Defense Department’s assistance and training authorities, especially relating to counterterrorism operations. After nine years as a pilot program, Congress has graduated the Global Train and Equip (“section 1206”) authority to statutory status. This statutory authority allows the secretary of defense, with the concurrence of the secretary of state, to work with a partner nation’s military, national maritime or border security, and certain national-level security forces to combat terrorism. This expansion to include certain security forces indicates Congress’ understanding that not all counterterrorism operations will cross national borders, as this catch-all will now allow DOD to work with ministries of interior and other like bodies focused on domestic security. As such, it reflects Congress’ willingness to support partner nations’ ability to conduct such operations wherever they occur. Another 10-year old authority to allow U.S. Special Operations Command to assist counterterrorism efforts also received additional support this year. In fact, during the conference process, it appears that the final authorized funding exceeds the amount in both the House-passed and Senate Armed Service Committee bill – a rare occurrence and a clear indication of congressional support.
Despite these notable steps, Congress also clearly indicated its very real, continuing concern regarding recipients of U.S. security assistance. The fiscal year 2015 legislation codifies a prohibition on assistance to units that have committed a “gross violation of human rights” and includes a separate authority to conduct human rights training to prevent such violations, strengthen civilian control of the military, and promote rule of law. Moreover, many programs—such as Global Train and Equip—specifically require human rights training as an essential requirement for receiving assistance. Finally, the law requires several reports, which may irk the Defense Department officials who must complete them but which, when viewed together, provide Congress the information to conduct responsible oversight.
The ability for the U.S. military to train, advise, and equip foreign forces is a key component of the foreign assistance toolbox. That ability is predicated upon the reliability of recipient forces to use their capabilities with respect for human rights, civilian control of the military, and rule of law—the basic building blocks that can effectively shape the security environment in peacetime and ensure that the United States has responsible partners in times of war.
Stephanie Sanok Kostro is a senior fellow with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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