Countering Overseas Threats
Federal agencies could improve how they use diplomatic, development, and defense capabilities to counter overseas threats.
The United States has invested tens of billions of dollars to counter overseas threats during the past decade. These efforts, led by the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD), have included providing assistance to enhance the capability of foreign partners to combat terrorist networks, counter violent extremism, and confront transnational criminal organizations. In addition, the 2018 National Defense Strategy stated that inter-state strategic competition is now the U.S.’s primary national security concern—especially threats posed by China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. The United States also faces a number of long-range emerging threats, such as adversaries’ military advancements.
GAO's Four Broad Categories for Long-Range Emerging Threats Identified by Federal Agencies
- The United States uses security cooperation and security assistance to counter terrorist and other transnational threats, such as providing nearly $1.5 billion in weapons, training, and other assistance to Lebanese security forces between 2013 and 2018. However, both DOD and State could improve how they oversee and assess the effectiveness of this assistance.
- Since 2015, the United States has provided billions in equipment to Iraq's security forces to counter the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But DOD does not collect timely and accurate transportation information about the equipment purchased through the fund—so it can’t ensure that this equipment reached its intended destinations.
The Iraq Train and Equip Fund Equipping Process
- The United States includes human rights training when training foreign security forces—and DOD is required to evaluate this training. However, neither DOD nor State have evaluated the effectiveness of their human rights training
- The United States and 13 Caribbean countries launched the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative in 2010 to try to reduce drug trafficking, increase public safety, and promote social justice in the region. U.S. agencies allocated more than $560 million from 2010 through 2018 on this effort. However, the State Department hasn’t established a way to assess the overall progress of this initiative.
- The U.S. government has invested billions in counternarcotics and security efforts (such as destroying coca crops and supporting alternative livelihoods) in Colombia since 1999. However, cocaine production more than tripled during 2013-2017. The State Department should comprehensively review the U.S. counternarcotics approach in Colombia.
Ground teams manually destroying coca crops in Colombia
We have also issued restricted reports on a number of related subjects. Members of Congress, congressional staff, and federal government employees who have the appropriate clearances and an official need-to-know may request access to these reports at https://www.gao.gov/restricted/request-form.
- NATO Enlargement: President's Report on North Macedonia Addresses Senate Resolution Requirements. GAO-19-574RSU. Published June 11, 2019 GAO-16-277C. Published: March 31, 2016
- European Deterrence Initiative: DOD Should Define Program Objectives, Identify Logistics Requirements, and Assess Prepositioning Decisions. GAO-19-190C. Published February 22, 2019
- State Department: Replacing Host-Nation Staff with U.S. Citizens at Select Posts May Mitigate Some Intelligence Risks but Increase Costs. GAO-19-65C. Published November 14, 2018
- Afghanistan Security: Some Improvements Reported in Afghan Forces' Capabilities, but Actions Needed to Enhance DOD Oversight of U.S.-Purchased Equipment. GAO-18-662SU. Published September 20, 2018
- Iraq: Status of DOD Efforts to Train and Equip Iraq's Security Forces. GAO-17-32C. Published April 7, 2017.
GAO-20-607R: Published: Sep 22, 2020. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2020.
The U.S. and its allies face expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure grow increasingly dependent on cyberspace. In 2019, the State Department said it would establish a Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies to focus on the issue. State works with other federal agencies on international cyber issues. However, it has not inf...
GAO-20-393: Published: Jun 9, 2020. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 2020.
The principle of rule of law holds that all are subject to and equal before a nation’s laws. It serves as a foundation for democratic governance and economic growth, and helps combat crime and extremism. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development allocated more than $2.7 billion for rule of law assistance in FY 2014-2018. Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico got 40%. Mo...
GAO-20-309: Published: Mar 4, 2020. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 2020.
Weaknesses in the Department of Defense’s oversight of the support it has provided to foreign partners have resulted in thousands of overdue reimbursements. Through its Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements, DOD provides foreign partners with reimbursable support such as meals, aerial refueling, munitions (for example some used in Saudi-led Coalition activities in Yemen), and more. However...
GAO-20-176: Published: Dec 18, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2019.
The United States provided nearly $1.5 billion in weapons, training, and other assistance to Lebanese security forces between 2013 and 2018. We reviewed how State and DOD oversaw and assessed the effectiveness of this assistance in several areas. For example: State and DOD found Lebanese forces improved in key areas, such as border security, but gaps in performance information limited State's ab...
GAO-20-99: Published: Nov 18, 2019. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 2019.
The United States has been building Afghanistan’s security forces to help counter terrorist threats. Since 2005, Congress has appropriated more than $78.8 billion to build, equip, train, and sustain these forces. Concerns have been raised in Congress about the high cost of training contracts (about $4.3 billion so far). Officials told us that their original contracting approach made it harder f...
GAO-19-647: Published: Sep 10, 2019. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2019.
In 2007, Mexico and the United States created the Mérida Initiative, a partnership to address crime and violence and enhance the rule of law in Mexico. From fiscal year 2014 through 2018, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development allocated about $723 million for the initiative. State projects included training and assistance for Mexican justice sector, military, law...
GAO-19-554: Published: Aug 12, 2019. Publicly Released: Aug 12, 2019.
Promoting respect for human rights is a U.S. foreign policy goal. The United States includes human rights training when training foreign security forces. A 2017 law required DOD to evaluate its security cooperation programs, including its human rights training. DOD and State have not evaluated the effectiveness of their human rights training. We made 3 recommendations, including that the agencie...
GAO-19-204SP: Published: Dec 13, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2018.
Threats to U.S. national security continue to evolve with technological, economic, and social changes. Federal agencies identified 26 long-term threats within 4 categories: 1) Adversaries' Political and Military Advancements—e.g., China's increasing ability to match the U.S. military's strength. 2) Dual-Use Technologies—e.g., self-driving cars might be developed for private use, but militar...
GAO-19-106: Published: Dec 12, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2018.
The U.S. government has invested over $10 billion in counternarcotics and security efforts in Colombia since 1999. Security has improved but cocaine production has more than tripled from 2013 through 2017. The U.S. counternarcotics approach in Colombia includes disrupting drug trafficking, destroying coca crops, and supporting alternative livelihoods for coca farmers. We found the State Departmen...
GAO-18-695T: Published: Sep 6, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 2018.
Over 20 U.S. diplomats and family members in Cuba have suffered injuries—such as brain damage—believed to be connected to unexplained incidents. After incidents involving serious injury, the State Department is generally required to assess State's response and improve security. However, State’s office responsible for convening that review learned of the incidents in Cuba from media reports...
GAO-18-449: Published: May 30, 2018. Publicly Released: May 30, 2018.
Providing training and equipment to the nation's foreign partners is one of the Department of Defense's approaches to fighting terrorism. We reviewed the Global Train and Equip program and found that DOD allocated $4.1 billion for the program in fiscal years 2009 through 2017. In addition, we looked at how thoroughly proposals for Global Train and Equip projects addressed security assistance pla...
GAO-17-771T: Published: Jul 25, 2017. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2017.
The United States has provided over $2 billion in equipment to Iraq's security forces through the Iraq Train and Equip Fund to counter the expansion of ISIS. However, the Department of Defense does not collect timely and accurate transportation information about the equipment purchased through the fund. As a result, DOD can't demonstrate that this equipment reached its intended destinations in Ir...