Beginning in 2010, the U.S. military started to reinvent itself from a force of coercion to one of cooperation. In military parlance, “security cooperation” is “any program, activity (including an exercise), or interaction of the Department of Defense with the security establishment of a foreign country”.
Nonetheless, these interactions are less about cooperation than co-optation. The most common form of “cooperation” is essentially foreign military welfare in the form of U.S. military hardware or training. Approximately $8.1 billion of the Department of Defense’s $9.2 billion request for security cooperation is allocated for this purpose. Though representative of only a fraction of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, it plays an outsized role in the U.S. empire.
The U.S. war on terror spans 80 countries, and the Department of Defense transfers weapons to and trains 60 of them. The U.S. military assumes subsidizing foreign military and police forces produces security either because receiving U.S. military technology deputizes the recipient to fight for U.S. interests, or because it ‘buys’ the U.S. military access to the country (or its neighbors) for direct operations.
This assumption remains theoretical. The U.S. military refuses to provide Congress with the necessary information to assess whether operational security “outputs” (i.e. military technology and training directed abroad) advance strategic security “outcomes” (i.e. public safety, either for the U.S. or for the population in the recipient state). Despite some variant of “partner” or “partnership” being mentioned 142 times in the security cooperation budget request, the Department of Defense doesn’t actually identify any specific partners. This marks the second year in a row the U.S. military flatly ignores the congressional requirement that it include in its budget justification the specific countries receiving US military hardware and expertise. This is both a symptom and a function of a culture of unaccountability. Congressional abdication in enforcing its own rules is to blame.
The Department of Defense’s stated goal of its security cooperation budget display is to “enhance planning and oversight of security cooperation programs and activities across the DoD” in the effort of “more transparently demonstrating how the Department plans, programs, and budgets for programs and activities to align with the Department’s strategic objectives.” Effectively, this is about ensuring proper stewardship of public funds.
It’s difficult to accept the Department’s nod to transparency as genuine. Even though the Department of Defense gained the authority to fund and implement its own security cooperation programs in 2006, it didn’t bother providing a budget justification for these activities until Congress forced it to do so. Section 381(a) of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act established this requirement. Pursuant to 381(a), the Department of Defense is required to “set forth by budget function and as a separate item the amounts requested for the Department of Defense for such fiscal year for all security cooperation programs and activities of the Department of Defense, including the military departments, to be conducted in such fiscal year, including the specific country or region and the applicable authority, to the extent practicable”.
The Department of Defense states that this “display provides the breakdown the [sic] Department’s $9.19 billion Security Cooperation budget request from various perspectives, in order to meet congressional intent in 10 U.S.C. 381(a)”. Apparently, the Department of Defense believes that including country data is beyond what’s practicable. This disregard for Congress has been promoted and tolerated by Congress itself.
The whole purpose of Section 381(a) is transparency; a demonstration that the U.S. government is using taxpayer dollars efficiently. Country data would allow Congress (and the public) to compare programs “between agencies and on a per country basis”. Failing to mention specific recipients of U.S. taxpayer funds represents a longstanding congressional concern. While appropriators have in recent years sought to “require greater country-specific reporting on [security assistance] aid” from State Department programs, the Department of Defense has not documented security assistance on a country basis. The result has been that Congress has found that “comparisons between security assistance funding provided by both departments…[are] methodologically fraught”.
State Department administers security assistance too, but this transparency issue is exclusively a Department of Defense problem. Whereas the budget justification for “Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs” includes a performance report for the prior fiscal year, a performance plan for the upcoming fiscal year, and identifies specific countries that receive U.S. taxpayer dollars, the Department of Defense report includes none of this critical data.
Nonetheless, the Department of Defense claims its budget justification “is another step toward transparently demonstrating how the DoD plans, programs, and budgets for programs and activities to align with the Department’s strategic objectives”. This expectation that empty gestures toward transparency will bring it acclaim are part of a culture of unaccountability. The Department of Defense plays by a different set of rules, and Congress scarcely bats an eye.
A broader culture of unaccountability
After the agency failed its audit, Congress responded by obligating a record-setting level of taxpayer income to the military, while the Democratic leadership is poised to accept the Trump administration’s proposed increase for Fiscal Year 2020 despite protest from the Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Emblematic of this culture of unaccountability is the shameless response of Department of Defense leadership in response to the audit’s damning findings. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters, “we failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it.” Worse yet, Shanahan said the Department deserved praise for merely performing the investigation: “Everyone was betting against us that we wouldn’t even do the audit,” he remarked.
The Trump era seems to have emboldened government officials to plainly state how our institutions actually function, eschewing the PR-friendly conventions of previous administrations. Acting Secretary Shanahan’s flippant response indicates that Department leadership is acutely aware of its profound institutional dysfunction, but (rightly) knows Congress won’t hold it to account. Shanahan’s response to a reporter shows how a culture of unaccountability enables the political elite to be dismissive of the general public:
The failed audit is an expression of how “national security” is unaccountable to the citizens who fund it. Because the U.S. military actively undermines its transparency, security cooperation is expressive of this culture of unaccountability. And, as one of the primary means by which the U.S. interacts with the world, security cooperation also expresses this broken culture globally.
After a proposed budget deal was derailed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey said in defense of the proposed bill that if Democrats can’t pass a bill to establish spending limits, they shouldn’t be in the majority. Democratic leadership, including Representative Lowey and House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, must understand that responsible governance is not to be equated with reflexively maintaining the status quo. The proposed budgetary measure would have set spending caps at $664 billion for military spending compared to $631 billion for nondefense spending. By forcing the bill to be removed from consideration, the CPC prevented the Democrats, for the time being, from valuing unaccountable empire over the security of their constituents.
 Reveron, Derek S. 2014, 62-63, in Adams and Murray, Mission Creep, 2014
 The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act established the most recent definition of security cooperation. The remainder of definition provided above is as follows: “...to achieve a purpose as follows: to build and develop allied and friendly security capabilities for self-defense and multinational operations; to provide the armed forces with access to the foreign country during peacetime or a contingency operation; to build relationships that promote specific United States security interests.”
 This total is the sum of Category 4 and Category 8 security cooperation initiatives. The Department of Defense requested over $2.2 billion in Category 4 security cooperation programs (explicitly labeled as “Capacity Building”), but the $5.8 billion requested for Category 8 (“Partner Security Forces Funds for Counterterrorism Activities and Combating Insurgencies”) is described in the budget justification primarily as capacity-building exercises.
 The only occasion that the Department of Defense mentions any partner specifically is when the name of the program indicates the recipient (for example, “Afghanistan Security Forces Fund”).
 Found on p. 3 of the report.
 10 United States Code § 381(a) “Consolidated budget.” 2016. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017: United States Public Law 114-328. 23 December, p. 528. <https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-114publ328/pdf/PLAY-114publ328.pdf>.
 Page 7 of the Budget Justification.
 Epstein. Susan B. Rosen, Liana W. 2018. “U.S. Security Assistance and Security Cooperation Programs: Overview of Funding Trends (CRS R45091)” Congressional Research Service, 1 February, p. 17. <https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R45091.pdf>.
 Ibid, p. 16.
 Ibid, p. 16.
 Ibid, pp. 16-17.
 United States Department of State. 2018. “Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: Fiscal Year 2019,” 12 February. <https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1868/FY_2019_CBJ.pdf>
 Page 3 of the report.