Downsizing Defense in Development: Unpacking DOD’s Development Assistance

The US Department of Defense (DOD) is not a development agency, but it does manage millions of dollars of development assistance. In the early 2000s, DOD took on a significantly expanded development role, prompting a number of concerns and creating a lingering perception of intensive US military involvement in development activities. In fact, lessons learned from this era drove a reconceptualization of the Pentagon’s role in development. Today, the military controls only a tiny portion of US development funds, most of which go toward health (mainly PEPFAR) and disaster relief activities. This paper provides a brief landscape analysis of DOD’s recent development aid-funded efforts, breaking down its engagement into six key thematic areas. It concludes with five considerations related to DOD’s role in development assistance: (1) DOD has comparative advantages that make it an important actor in US development policy; (2) civilian-military coordination is hard but critical for development policy coherence; (3) adequate resourcing of civilian agencies is critical for effective civilian-military division of labor; (4) increasing the flexibility of civilian agencies’ staffing, programming, and funding could complement the military’s rapid response capabilities; and (5) incomplete transparency and limited focus on results reduces accountability around DOD’s aid investments.

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