I’m delighted to announce that WOLA has just launched “Putting the Pieces Together: A Global Guide to U.S. Security Aid Programs.” This is an epic, sprawling, deep-in-the-weeds attempt to get a handle on all the ways that the U.S. government can work with, give weapons to, train, advise, or otherwise support about 160 countries’ militaries and police forces around the world.
We call it “Putting the Pieces Together” because figuring out how the U.S. government aids foreign militaries is a lot like trying to put together an intricate jigsaw puzzle. The big contribution of this project is that it gives you all the pieces in a nice neat box, even if we don’t yet have the big picture in detail.
I hate to admit it, but this is the product of more than four years of work. (Although this project spent a lot of time on the back burner between late 2012 and now.) The original plan was to document the way these aid programs were migrating out of State Department / civilian control and into the U.S. military’s threat-based, un-transparent management. I thought we’d be producing a guide to 30, maybe 40 programs. But as we intensified our research, it became clear that the scale and the scope were increasing way beyond what we had planned to work with.
In the end, we found 107 programs. Of these, only 14 are managed by, and funded by, the civilian diplomats at the U.S. State Department. Nearly all of the rest—87, plus two that are jointly managed—are part of the U.S. Defense Department’s mammoth budget. The Pentagon is calling most of the shots, now managing 57 percent of military and police aid funds, often with programs it is very hard to get information about.
To manage this huge body of programs, we made a database that allows you to sort and filter them, to see the laws that govern them, and to find out how to learn more about them. (I think this database is the coolest part—and we can quickly update it whenever programs change.) We also wrote a 2,600-word report with some nifty graphics, highlighting the trends that we found while compiling all of this.
Put the report and the database together, make a single publication out of them, and you get a 188-page PDF. (I find this terrifying: I can’t believe we wrote this much over the last few years without really noticing.)
Here’s the text of the landing page for “Putting the Pieces Together,” which explains what this report-plus-database does. (If you prefer the landing page in Spanish, está aquí.) Bookmark it if you care about the U.S. relationship with the world’s militaries, I think you’ll find yourself referring back to it.
Putting the Pieces Together: A Global Guide to U.S. Security Aid Programs
Since the “Global War on Terror” began, the Defense Department has been driving assistance to militaries and police forces worldwide. WOLA’s new guide explains how that happened and what it looks like.
The Trump administration is proposing to cut funding for U.S. diplomacy, and foreign aid programs run by diplomats, by an incredible 29 percent in 2018. But since it promises to grow defense spending, it may not end up cutting military aid. The result could be a giant leap toward the Pentagon shaping U.S foreign policy.
A major part of how U.S. foreign policy gets carried out is through security assistance programs, which aim to further U.S. interests and bolster national security goals by providing aid to military and police forces in around 160 countries.
There are now so many of these programs carrying out this type of assistance, with so little public reporting, that nobody really has a full picture of what the U.S. government is doing with the world’s military and police forces. No public, authoritative, regularly updated list of all U.S. military and police aid programs even exists.
Not until now, that is.
WOLA is pleased to launch a new resource to fill this big gap in our knowledge: a searchable online database listing all 107 programs that currently provide military or police aid across the globe, accompanied by a short report laying out what we found and why it matters. We also have an analysis of U.S. security assistance over the past 15 years to Latin America.
Of these programs, 87 are run by the Defense Department. 14 are run by the State Department. 2 are run jointly, and 4 are managed by other cabinet departments. More than half of the Defense programs are less than 15 years old.
We explain what each program can do, who runs it, who oversees it, how much the military can spend on it, and how researchers and oversight professionals can find more information about it. The online version also includes the complete, amended text of the law governing each program, links to official reports, and links to yearly aid amounts at the Security Assistance Monitor database.
WOLA’s new tool doesn’t solve the problem of the lack of transparency over military aid. It is unclear exactly which programs the Trump administration will support and which ones it will cut. There is not even a precise dollar total of worldwide U.S. military assistance.
But we hope that this guide provides congressional staff, journalists, analysts, and activists with an easy-to-use tool as we work to improve oversight over a high-risk government function, and to turn the tide of militarization of U.S. foreign policy.
Why did a research and advocacy organization focusing on Latin America make this?
WOLA first got to know the “patchwork” of Defense Department-run aid programs in Latin America in the 1990s, when it was far smaller. The War on Drugs brought about the first time the Pentagon got primacy over a big foreign aid program. Twenty years ago, we were surprised to learn that, suddenly, the second-largest military aid program in Latin America wasn’t even in the foreign aid budget. We have followed this issue closely ever since.
How do I use the database?
Go to defenseoversight.wola.org/program. You’ll see all 107 active programs listed in alphabetical order, spread out over six pages.
- To read more about an aid program, click “Show Additional Information” under each program’s name. Or to see all of them, click the checkbox at the top of the page that says “Show the Full Program Descriptions.”
- Viewing the entire program description yields another button you can click to reveal all laws governing that program, with current law at the top.
- Use the search box at the top to find matching programs.
- You can sort the list alphabetically, by the year the programs were created, by their expiration date (if any), and by the maximum authorized amount.
- You can list only active programs, only programs that can operate in Latin America, only programs with or without reporting to Congress, only programs that do or do not involve the State Department, and 15 more categories.
- Use the column on the left to find programs by Latin American country, by category of aid, or by the agencies that carry them out.
Will the database be updated?
Yes, we intend to update the aid programs and reports whenever relevant legislation passes.
How can I find government reports about these programs?
If the programs are relevant to Latin America, they are in this database’s Reports Library at defenseoversight.wola.org/reports. If we have obtained the report, it is there as a PDF. If we have not yet obtained the report, it is listed alongside the date it was due.