Minimalist International Interventions

For Building Partner Capacity, Choose Partners Wisely

By Christopher Paul

Christopher Paul is a social scientist at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

Stabilization missions entail a full range of activities to stabilize a partner country: establishing security, restoring essential services, supporting governance, and supporting economic and infrastructure development. One activity that often overlaps the security component of stabilization missions is "building partner capacity" (BPC), which refers to developing the security organs of partner states. These security organs could include defense ministries, armed services, maritime forces, peacekeeping forces, national police agencies, or local defense forces.

Changing economic realities and the ongoing reductions in U.S. defense spending will reduce the funding available for such security cooperation efforts. Therefore, the United States will need to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of such efforts. What can history tell us about which approaches to BPC are likely to be more or less effective under different circumstances?

Twenty years of data on 29 cases of U.S. involvement in BPC show that it works well when (a) the capacity being built meets the interests of both the partner country and the United States and (b) the activities are a good match for the partner's baseline capability and its capacity to absorb new materiel and training. BPC is also more likely to be effective when partner nations invest their own funds to support or sustain their capacity, have highly functioning governments, have strong economies, and share broader security interests with the United States.

Strategic imperatives can compel a partnership with a country that lacks some of the desired attributes.

In other words, if BPC is consistently funded and delivered, supported and sustained, well matched to partner capabilities and interests, and shared with a partner that supports the effort and is healthy economically and in terms of governance, prospects for success are very good. BPC can still be effective when only some of these conditions are met. For instance, BPC done well, done consistently, and matched to partner absorptive capacities and interests can be effective even when the partner is not particularly strong in any dimension at the outset.

All things being equal, preference should be given to those partner nations that exhibit economic and governmental strengths. Strategic imperatives can compel a partnership with a country that lacks some of the desired attributes. Regardless of the partner or context, BPC goals and activities should correspond with what the partner wants or needs and what it is capable of absorbing. Whether working with ideal or suboptimal partners, the prospects for effective BPC increase dramatically when the goals of both parties align and when the activities fit the partner's potential for growth, which can be determined by assessing such factors as the equipment, organization, readiness, training, technological sophistication, education, language abilities, and doctrine of a nation's security forces. square