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Research Questions

  1. What is the overall impact of the five U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Regional Centers for Security Studies on U.S. policy objectives?
  2. How effective are the centers at advancing DoD policy priorities?
  3. How do the centers and their stakeholders assess their programs and the resulting outcomes?
  4. What steps can the centers and their stakeholders take to collect more relevant data for evaluation, improve their evaluations of center initiatives, better assess the centers' impacts on strategic objectives, and improve their impact and efficiency?

The five U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Regional Centers for Security Studies have been helping partner nations build strategic capacity for almost 20 years. However, recent DoD budget constraints have put pressure on the regional centers (RCs) to increase efficiency. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) asked RAND to conduct a study on the overall impact of the RCs, their effectiveness in advancing DoD policy priorities, the ways in which they assess their programs, and ways in which they could improve their impact and efficiency and the resulting outcomes.

The RAND study team found that centers have had great success at the missions they have undertaken. They are high-impact components of U.S. security cooperation and engagement efforts, despite their relatively small budgets. The team identified 24 ways in which the centers advance U.S. interests, including building partner capacity, building relationships, fostering pro-U.S. outlooks, offering unique opportunities for engagement, and promoting regional dialogue that reduces tensions. However, RCs should improve impact-oriented data collection and analysis for improved assessment, methodically collecting such data over time. OSD and the combatant commands should improve their oversight and management of the RCs to ensure alignment with department- and theater-level objectives. In addition, OSD should maintain the RCs' focus on regional security challenges rather than refashioning them to address specific threats. Options to consider for greater impact include evaluating the balance between core residential courses and in-region workshops and determining whether and to what extent the centers should develop customized programs for DoD components so as to secure funds beyond the core budget they receive from OSD.

Key Findings

Regional Centers (RCs) Build Partner Capacity

  • RCs impart fundamental national security analysis skills.
  • RCs help build partner nation institutions.
  • RCs develop future partner nation leaders.
  • RCs promote whole-of-government solutions to security issues.

RCs Build Relationships and Foster Pro-U.S. Outlooks

  • RCs shape partners' long-term strategic thinking on security issues.
  • RCs build relationships that facilitate U.S. engagement.
  • RCs promote policies consistent with U.S. priorities.
  • RCs expose partner nations' current and future leaders to U.S. government, values, and policies.

RCs Offer Unique Opportunities for Engagement

  • RCs have "convening authority."
  • RCs "show the U.S. flag" and demonstrate U.S. commitment.
  • RCs can engage audiences that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the combatant commands cannot.
  • RCs are a critical engagement tool in "economy of force" regions.
  • RCs offer unique openings to countries under U.S. sanctions.
  • RCs engage military establishments even when broader bilateral relationships are strained.
  • RCs can be used as "baby steps" for engaging security establishments when no military-to-military relations exist.
  • RCs can overcome diplomatic barriers and bureaucratic boundaries.
  • RCs can nimbly shift to cover new issues.
  • RCs help U.S. officials understand partner nations' views.

RCs Promote Regional Dialogue that Reduces Tensions

  • RCs promote regional dialogue and cooperation.
  • RCs facilitate U.S. multilateral engagement.
  • As neutral venues, RCs can host or contribute to regional confidence-building measures.

RCs Serve as Repositories of Regional Expertise

  • RCs provide valuable expertise to stakeholders.
  • Academic research adds value for stakeholders and partners.
  • RCs fill gaps in education for U.S. government personnel.

RCs Collect Insufficient Data to Assess Program Effectiveness Adequately

  • RCs collect limited data on the impact of their programs on U.S. policy objectives.

OSD Has Several Options for Increasing Impact and Cost-Effectiveness

  • Options to consider for greater future impact include deciding whether to rebalance the RC enterprise toward Asia to support the "pivot" or toward other regions to complement it, evaluating the balance between core residential courses and in-region workshops, determining whether and to what extent the centers should pursue outside funding, and assessing the benefit of expanding participation of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations in RC programs.
  • Options to consider for cost savings include cutting overhead, cutting core programs, scaling back core programs, seeking further operating efficiencies, reorganizing the RC enterprise, and pursuing burden-sharing.


  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) should support the regional centers' (RCs') continued efforts to build partner capacity, develop bilateral relationships, and promote regional dialogue and security cooperation.
  • The RCs should improve their collection and analysis of data regarding program effectiveness, particularly regarding the impact of RC programs on specific policy objectives. The RCs should consider new tools for collecting data on program effectiveness.
  • OSD and the combatant commands can improve their oversight and management by issuing written guidance in a timely fashion so that centers can adjust their programs, assessing the RCs' responses to stakeholder taskings on an ongoing basis, identifying and applying best practices, and focusing academic research on stakeholder priorities.
  • OSD should keep the RCs focused on regional security challenges rather than refashion them to address specific transnational threats.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Regional Center Missions and Histories

  • Chapter Three

    Regional Center Management and Guidance

  • Chapter Four

    Regional Center Activities

  • Chapter Five

    Regional Center Business Practices and Management

  • Chapter Six

    Regional Centers' Impacts

  • Chapter Seven

    Improving Measurement of Impact

  • Chapter Eight

    Maximizing Future Impact

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.

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