Key Issues > Countering Overseas Threats
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Countering Overseas Threats

Federal agencies could improve how they use diplomatic, development, and defense capabilities to counter overseas threats.

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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

GAO's Four Broad Categories for Long-Range Emerging Threats Identified by Federal Agencies

For instance:

  • 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 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

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

  • 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.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.


Example of Saudi Government Sponsored TV Advertisement Countering Terrorism
GAO Visit to a Saudi Government Operated Rehabilitation Center
Smuggling of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Materials from Pakistan to Afghanistan


  • portrait of Jason Bair
    • Jason Bair
    • Director, International Affairs and Trade
    • (202) 512-4128
  • portrait of Chelsa Kenney
    • Chelsa Kenney
    • Director, International Affairs and Trade
    • (202) 512-7215
  • portrait of Brian M. Mazanec
    • Brian M. Mazanec
    • Director, Defense Capabilities and Management
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