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Research Questions

  1. How can the U.S. Department of Defense increase the effectiveness of its efforts to build partner-nation capacity?
  2. What does the history of U.S. efforts to build partner capacity indicate about which approaches are likely to be more or less effective under different circumstances?
  3. What is the best research approach to quantitatively assessing historical case studies of these efforts?
  4. How well do the hypotheses collected for this study (many of which are rooted in "common knowledge") stand up to real-world case examples of partner capacity building?

Abstract

The United States has a long history of helping other nations develop and improve their military and other security forces. However, changing economic realities and the ongoing reductions in overall defense spending related to the end of more than a decade of war will affect the funding available for these initiatives. How can the U.S. Department of Defense increase the effectiveness of its efforts to build partner capacity while also increasing the efficiency of those efforts? And what can the history of U.S. efforts to build partner capacity reveal about which approaches are likely to be more or less effective under different circumstances? To tackle these complex questions and form a base of evidence to inform policy discussions and investment decisions, a RAND study collected and compared 20 years of data on 29 historical case studies of U.S. involvement in building partner capacity. In the process, it tested a series of validating factors and hypotheses (many of which are rooted in "common knowledge") to determine how they stand up to real-world case examples of partner capacity building. The results reveal nuances in outcomes and context, pointing to solutions and recommendations to increase the effectiveness of current and future U.S. initiatives to forge better relationships, improve the security and stability of partner countries, and meet U.S. policy and security objectives worldwide.

Key Findings

The Effectiveness of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Capacity Is Largely a Product of Inputs (Funding and Activities)

  • More spending correlates with greater effectiveness. The evidence demonstrates that this is generally true when it comes to building partner capacity, but there are notable exceptions. When resources are used to "buy friends," the correlation between expenditure and capacity built is weaker.
  • Relationship building has a significant role in capacity-building efforts, and sometimes it is the actual goal of such efforts. It is important not to view an initiative as ineffective based solely on its impact in the area of capacity building if that was not the only goal.
  • Consistent funding and delivery, as well as ensuring that all efforts include a sustainment component, will help prevent U.S. investments in a partner's security or military capabilities from being wasted.

The Effectiveness of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Capacity Is Equally a Product of Context (Partner Characteristics and the General Security Environment)

  • The characteristics and regional context of the partner nation are critical to the effectiveness of capacity-building efforts. Regional neighbors can encourage or hinder U.S. efforts; they can even implement competing capacity-building initiatives in partner countries.
  • A broad alignment between the interests of the United States and the interests of the partner is a powerful contextual predictor of effectiveness.
  • Capacity-building efforts since September 11, 2001, have been far more effective than those of the preceding era. Changes in both the global context and U.S. approaches to partnerships for security have changed the landscape for partner capacity-building efforts in a way that can inform current and future programs.

Recommendations

  • Where possible, the United States should choose partners that have or can adopt the attributes, characteristics, or behaviors that are associated with effective efforts to build partner capacity.
  • Regardless of the partner or context, the United States should choose goals and activities that correspond to what the partner wants or needs and what it is capable of absorbing.
  • To maximize effectiveness, U.S. efforts to build partner capacity should focus on planning activities that match U.S. and partner needs and objectives, coincide with the level of assistance that the partner can realistically absorb, build ministerial capacity, and can be sustained by the partner without assistance from the United States.
  • Future research should pursue a more in-depth examination of specific cases, specific objectives, the question of efficiency and cost savings, and lessons learned from other countries. This report lays the foundation for such efforts, but future work could serve as a valuable supplement for U.S. planning.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction: Find the Right Ladder, Find the Right Rung

  • Chapter Two

    U.S. Department of Defense Efforts to Build Partner Capacity

  • Chapter Three

    Hypotheses and Factors: What Works Best for Building Partner Capacity, and Under What Circumstances?

  • Chapter Four

    Historical Cases and Case Selection

  • Chapter Five

    Analyses and Results

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix

    Subordinate Factors for the Modified DSART BPC Objectives

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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