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Research Questions

  1. What factors can interfere with the success of building partner capacity efforts?
  2. What can the United States do to address such challenges?

For both diplomatic and national security reasons, security cooperation continues to be important for the United States. The needs and existing capabilities of various nations differ, however, as will results. In previous research, RAND identified a series of factors that correlate with the success of building partner capacity (BPC) efforts. Some of these are under U.S. control, and some are inherent in the partner nation or under its control. Strategic imperatives sometimes compel the United States to work with PNs that lack favorable characteristics but with which the United States needs to conduct BPC anyway. This report explores what the United States can do, when conducting BPC in challenging contexts, to maximize prospects for success. The authors address this question using the logic model outlined in a companion report and examining a series of case studies, looking explicitly at the challenges that can interfere with BPC. Some of the challenges stemmed from U.S. shortcomings, such as policy or funding issues; others from the partner's side, including issues with practices, personalities, baseline capacity, and lack of willingness; still others from disagreements among various stakeholders over objectives and approaches. Among the factors correlated with success in overcoming these challenges were consistency of funding and implementation, shared security interests, and matching objectives with the partner nation's ability to absorb and sustain capabilities.

Key Findings

Many Challenges Stem from U.S. Policy or Practice

  • Such issues as changes in funding and other support and which specific entities may receive support or training can affect the overall success of building partner capacity (BPC) efforts.
  • While a robust partner can usually fill in any gaps in U.S. processes or support, a partner that already faces challenges may not be able to do so.

The Partner Nation (PN) Itself Must Be Willing to Engage Fully

  • The lack of willingness to support and participate in BPC of PN personnel at any level (head of state or ministry, service or command, or individual trainees) can disrupt BPC efforts.
  • Such willingness is often contingent on a shared understanding of and agreement on both the approach to and goals of BPC efforts.

PN Ministerial Capacity Can Be Extremely Important

  • The size, health, and capability of the PN's ministry of defense or equivalent play significant roles in both managing the BPC process from the PN side and in prospects for organizing for and funding the sustainment of built capacity.
  • When capacity built through U.S. BPC efforts has endured rather than atrophied rapidly, an effective PN ministry has played a role in that outcome.

Consistency Is Key

  • Not only funding but also objectives, agreements, and relationships need to be consistent.
  • Without sustainment and maintenance, however, any capacity built may atrophy.


  • BPC planners should engage senior leaders and resource managers in every stage of the planning cycle, from concept to evaluation, to ensure that aspects under U.S. control are well coordinated and conducted.
  • Objectives, funding, and plans should be consistent over time.
  • Existing mechanisms need to support a wider range of efforts over a longer period or need to be joined by (or replaced by) new authorities and programs able to resource sustainment in later years.
  • Managers and executors need to be agile in planning and execution and have the flexibility to respond to changes on the ground and to incentivize or disincentivize PN behaviors.
  • At the outset, planners need to assess potential challenges and develop workarounds for them.
  • Strive to reach shared BPC objectives with the PN.
  • Match any equipment to its utility to the PN and the PN's ability to maintain it.
  • Plan for sustainment, working with U.S. stakeholders and assessing what the PN's ministerial-level capacity.

This research was sponsored jointly by the Joint Staff J5, the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored 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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