Remarks by Senior Advisor Lee Litzenberger on Security Assistance at the Middle East Institute

Senior Advisor Lee Litzenberger
Middle East Institute
Washington, DC
March 1, 2018

As prepared

Thank you, Ambassador Chamberlin, for your kind introduction and for inviting me to speak today on this important topic. Security Assistance is a complex foreign policy tool, and the Middle East is a complex region, so we welcome opportunities such as this one to discuss the policy process. Having been detailed to the German Marshal Fund before joining the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, I know firsthand how effective the expertise resident in the DC think tank community can be in helping us better shape our policies.

Before diving in to the issue of U.S. arms transfers in the region, I would like to outline the range of security cooperation activities overseen by PM at the Department of State, because arms transfers are an integral part of this broader process.

In addition to our role in overseeing and licensing over $153 billion in annual defense exports, both government-to-government and commercial sales, PM develops and manages military grant assistance policy and funding, which amounted to over $7 billion in FY 2017. This includes Foreign Military Financing (FMF), or grants that facilitate the acquisition of U.S. military equipment, services, and training; the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which contributes to the professionalization of foreign militaries and forms lasting relationships; and Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) funding, which supports peacekeeping, security capacity building, security sector reform, counterterrorism, and stabilization efforts.

In addition, PM’s funding for Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs assists partners with securing vulnerable stockpiles of small arms and light weapons – including man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS – as well as clearing landmines, IEDs, and other explosive remnants of war.

More broadly, PM provides diplomatic support to our colleagues in the Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure that U.S. foreign policy goals fundamentally inform decision-making in all security sector assistance with our allies and partners. Through all of our lines of effort, we seek to build enduring security partnerships around the world that advance U.S. national security objectives. Policy is at the center of all these efforts.

PM – and the State Department more broadly – plays a critical role in overseeing all these activities because, as Bilal articulates in this paper, security assistance and security cooperation are and should be tools of foreign policy. These policy tools are a means to an end: they develop defense capabilities for our partners and allies, facilitate interoperability between U.S. and partner militaries, and of course build and strengthen relationships that help us address global and regional security challenges collectively. That’s the goal.

In the face of growing authorities and resources for DoD’s parallel security assistance programs, Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis have committed to improving State-DoD coordination of security assistance for this purpose. For example, the two Departments have created a Security Sector Assistance Steering Committee, through which State and DoD work together to determine how best to utilize both Departments’ security assistance funding in support of the Administration’s priorities.

In the longer term, our goal is to extend State-DoD coordination to include synchronizing budget requests and refining the use of each Department’s authorities. Despite what you may have read, State has the resources and capacity to continue its leading role in this process.

Now, turning to the Middle East, we have pressing concerns in the region, and our efforts to counter the destabilizing spillover effects of open conflict, violent extremism – and defeating ISIS in particular – porous borders, state failure, malign influence from Iran, and encroachment by Russia, are significant. Balancing these immediate concerns with the longer term, strategic objectives of stability and development requires almost day-to-day management and coordination across the defense, diplomacy, and development agencies of the United States government.

Our security partnership with Lebanon is one example of how U.S. security assistance has empowered an ally to promote regional stability and reduce threats from hostile non-state actors.

In recent years, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have emerged as a well-trained, well-equipped, and fully capable fighting force – one that many Lebanese see as the sole, legitimate defender of Lebanon, thanks to U.S. assistance. The United States has provided nearly $1.7 billion in security assistance to Lebanon since 2006. This long-term partnership and investment is showing outsized dividends for U.S. interests in the region: Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the LAF have bravely fought on the front lines against ISIS and al Qaida and repelled serious incursions into Lebanese territory. In the summer of 2017, the LAF executed a successful campaign in Ras Baalbek, eliminating ISIS inside its borders. This LAF operation demonstrates the LAF’s professionalism, resolve, and strong capabilities – all of which were fostered with U.S. training and equipment. The Lebanese people have taken notice of the LAF’s newfound capabilities, which directly undermines Hizballah’s false narrative that it alone can and should provide security for Lebanon.

In addition to supporting the professionalism of the LAF, the United States has also provided over $60 million to support the clearance of unexploded ordnance remaining from multiple conflicts in Lebanon. This U.S. assistance has enabled the Lebanon Mine Action Center to strengthen its capacity, and Lebanon now serves as a critical hub for bolstering capacity for conventional weapons destruction across the region.

In his paper, Bilal made a few recommendations to State that I would like to address directly:

  1. That U.S. security assistance has to be integrated into a broader U.S. Middle East strategy and linked more directly to clearly defined U.S. policy goals,
  2. That we need to craft clearer policies toward our Arab partners to allow for more effective arming, funding and training of their militaries,
  3. That it is vitally important for Washington to try to understand its Arab partners’ perspectives on their own national security and U.S. security assistance.

With regard to the first point, I hope the example I have given illustrates that our security assistance, is rooted directly in our goals for the region. Where the goal is and has been defeating ISIS, we are providing our partners with the means to win the battles and to keep the peace. Where the goal is to ensure our partners can defend themselves and maintain regional stability, we are ensuring they have the capability to do so, whether in the form of air defense systems, or in weapons systems that provide a deterrent effect in general, and an ability to strike accurately, when needed. And, across the board, we are supporting our partners’ efforts to reform their defense institutions, from the Ministerial level on down.

Let me combine my responses to Bilal’s second and third recommendations, and say this: I think that for a lot of our friends and allies, the United States will always be the partner of choice. And certainly it is in our interest that our partners build militaries that are capable of contributing to countering mutual threats. But we can’t forget that we are not the only available option. That is one reason the Department is working with our partners to better understand their requirements. Defense Resourcing Conferences are bilateral engagements where we sit down with our partners to listen and identify requirements that fit their security situations and our shared view of the region, and then align resources to meet those requirements. We started this process with Pakistan, then included Egypt and Jordan, and hope to expand to more partners.

At the same time, we recognize that we may not always agree with the sovereign decisions our partners make regarding how they wish to spend their own funds. Nationally-funded arms transfers provide capabilities to our partners, and can also help form the basis of valuable relationships. When the United States approves a foreign military sale of major defense articles, like a squadron of fighter aircraft, that package will include training for the pilots who operate those jets, maintenance, and other services that require the United States and the recipient country to cooperate on security matters over the lifetime of the system. We take a long term view of balancing the need to encourage capabilities in the U.S. interest and building and maintaining the relationship. Provided that a proposed sale does not run counter to our national interests regarding technology security, human rights, and regional balance, such transfers can be a means to demonstrate our reliability while laying the groundwork for future decades of security cooperation, which in turn gives us greater credibility when we urge partners to consider our suggestions for focusing their investments.

In conclusion, Bilal has framed these important issues well in his paper – I hope it is widely read. We can all surely agree that security cooperation and assistance work best when they are coordinated with the many other foreign policy tools available to us, in a region where a range of complex issues requires a multi-faceted approach led first and foremost by diplomacy. It is our job in PM to ensure that our security cooperation aligns with and advances U.S. strategic goals, and that everything the many and varied entities of the U.S. government are doing in foreign security sectors advances a coherent strategy.

As a part of that work, we should be constantly evaluating and assessing how we conduct security cooperation, and acknowledge and make adjustments when there is room for improvement. In 2012, PM’s Office of Security Assistance began including elements of monitoring and evaluation into military grant assistance as part of an internal process to look holistically at the effectiveness of our programs. State is committed to continue this process and assess the effectiveness of our assistance in furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives, more broadly, and recommend changes as appropriate.

Thank you for your time today; I look forward to further discussion.