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US Reduces Security Assistance to Asia

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The Debate

US Reduces Security Assistance to Asia

The Obama administration is quietly reducing security assistance to Asia, even as it pledges to increase it.

US Reduces Security Assistance to Asia
Credit: DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

The United States is quietly reducing security assistance to the Asia-Pacific even as it publicly pledges to increase it.

The U.S. has two major forms of security assistance to allied and partner nations funded through the State Department. International Military Education and Training (IMET) “provides training and education on a grant basis to [military] students from allied and friendly nations. In addition to improving defense capabilities, IMET facilitates the development of important professional and personal relationships” between U.S. and allied military officers. Foreign Military Financing, on the other hand, seeks to build up allied and partner capabilities by providing “grants for the acquisition of U.S. defense equipment, services and training.”

At the Shangri-La Dialogue last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared: “Across the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the rebalance, the United States is planning to increase Foreign Military Financing by 35 percent, and military education and training by 40 percent by 2016.”

In his testimony on the FY2015 budget request to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, Daniel Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, depicted a similar narrative.

“The FY 2015 budget request reflects our interests in the Asia-Pacific region, by sustaining key investments made throughout the President’s first and second terms in office and investing in new initiatives to expand and deepen our commitment across the region,” Russel said during his opening statement to the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

Russel went on to note that the State Department and USAID were requesting $1.2 billion for East Asia and the Pacific for FY2015, a 5 percent increase over FY2013. He also noted that the administration was requesting $12.5 million in IMET funding for FY2015, a $4 million or 40 percent increase from FY2013 levels. He also argued that “as we seek to build ties and influence in the Asia-Pacific, there is arguably no better program than IMET to ensure the United States is positioned for strong relationships with the next generation of military leaders.” While glossing over the sum total of FMF for the region, Russel noted that the administration wants to increase FMF for the “Philippines to $40 million, a $14.5 million (57 percent) increase over FY2013 levels.”

When testifying on the budget request for the following fiscal year, administration officials commonly compare the budget figures to the level of funding from last year’s fiscal year for the simple reason that exact amount spent in the current fiscal year has yet to be fully determined. However, in the case of the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific budget request in FY2015, the tactic helps conceal that administration is requesting zero growth overall and cutting spending on security assistance.

Specifically, last year the State Department also requested $1.2 billion in overall funding for East Asia and the Pacific for the FY2014 budget, which was a 7 percent increase over FY2012. To be fair, last year the State Department only requested $9.3 million in IMET funding, so the administration is asking for a $3.2 million increase for FY2015. Nonetheless, the $12.5 million in IMET funding for the Asia-Pacific is less than the IMET spending the administration requested for every other region in the world. Indeed, it is well under half the nearly $30 million the administration is requesting in IMET funding for European and Eurasian countries. The IMET request for East Asia is also just over a third of what the administration wants to spend on counternarcotic efforts in Asia.

FMF for the Asia-Pacific is also reduced in the administration’s FY2015 budget request. For FY2014, the administration requested $72.5 million in FMF for the Asia-Pacific. In the most recent budget request, the administration is only asking for $67.4 million, which is likely why Russel failed to mention the actual figure in his testimony last month. Even FMF for the Philippines, which Russel explicitly emphasized during his testimony, is being slashed considerably in the administration’s new budget. While, as noted above, the administration is requesting $40 million in FMF for the Philippines in FY2015, which is a $14.5 million increase from FY2013, it is also $10 million less than the $50 million the administration requested for the Philippines in the current fiscal year.

As IHS Jane’s notes, Hagel’s Shangri-La Dialogue pledge to increase IMET and FMF in the Asia-Pacific will have to be achieved by substantially raising funding for FY2016. On the other hand, it’s possible Hagel was using the FY2013 budget as his baseline numbers.

Whatever the case, the so-called rebalance to Asia continues to underwhelm.