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Research Questions

  1. What is a security cooperation mechanism?
  2. Do the combatant commands have the right mechanisms to achieve their theater campaign objectives?
  3. Are the commands limited to the point of precluding the advancement of key objectives?
  4. What changes need to occur to enable greater success, both in terms of effectiveness and efficiency?

Security cooperation has long been an important instrument of the U.S. government and the Department of Defense for advancing national security objectives vis-à-vis allies and partner countries, including building critical relationships, securing peacetime and contingency access, and building partner capacity (BPC). One of the key challenges for policymakers and combatant commands is gaining a more complete understanding of the real value of BPC activities. Assessments of prior and ongoing BPC activities, in particular, have become increasingly important given the current fiscal climate and budgetary limitations. But it is no easy task to assess the value of what are essentially qualitative activities, and data limitations severely hinder assessments. The tools available — such as resources, authorities, programs, processes, and organizational relationships — may or may not be the optimal ones for the delivery of BPC activities to partner countries. This report characterizes security cooperation mechanisms used by combatant commands for BPC, produces a detailed database of the mechanism elements, develops and applies a preliminary means of evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of select mechanisms, and draws on the analysis from the case studies to recommend ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of those mechanisms in the future.

Key Findings

Efficiency and Effectiveness Are the Same Across Commands for Some Mechanisms

  • Lack of flexible, multiyear authorities hinders effective planning and efficient execution.
  • Foreign military financing is slow, not prioritized against objectives, inflexible, and difficult to control once disbursed.
  • Constraints on certain funding availability, sustainment potential, and working with non-ministry-of-defense partners limit its effectiveness, while associated equipping efforts can be onerous on staffs.
  • Education programs generally score as highly effective; however, some processes are onerous on staffs.
  • Military-to-military authorities are effective as foundations of building partner capacity but cannot be used to support training and equipping; those controlled centrally are not efficient; some authorities are left to interpretation.
  • Mechanisms for cooperation with regional organizations are limited.

For Other Mechanisms, Experiences Differ

  • The European Command has been able to effectively utilize some funding programs with coalition partners that other commands find less effective.
  • Lack of training/equipping authorities in the Southern and Pacific Commands force reliance on indirect mechanisms for building partner capacity in counterterrorism.
  • Dedicated training/equipping mechanisms provide Africa Command with flexible means of building partner capacity in counterterrorism.


  • Establish a working group to explore existing authorities for missile defense activities executed by the commands with allies and partners to determine if additional, specific authorities are needed to accomplish objectives.
  • Seek to establish a new global authority for rapid, inexpensive equipping to meet the demand, particularly to support current operations.
  • Take maximum advantage of existing training programs to demonstrate the need for expanding authorities to build partner capacity with armed forces under the authority of ministries other than ministries of defense.
  • Explore ways to enable greater partner capability sustainment and institutional reform.
  • Seek additional, global authorities to broaden dedicated counterterrorism training.
  • Provide the commands with clear, current interpretations of all relevant spending authorities on an annual basis to enable effective leveraging of available mechanisms.
  • Consider simplifying requirements for annual justification of ongoing programs to improve efficiency.
  • Explore options for developing and managing the growing number of Foreign Military Sales pseudo cases to improve efficiency.
  • Consider seeking approval to lengthen time for select spending authorities and funding sources beyond two years (to a minimum of three years) to enable effective institutionalization of capabilties.

This research was sponsored by the Joint Staff J5 and the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center spon-sored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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