Cover: Prioritizing Security Cooperation with Highly Capable U.S. Allies

Prioritizing Security Cooperation with Highly Capable U.S. Allies

Framing Army-to-Army Partnerships

Published Mar 1, 2022

by Angela O'Mahony, David E. Thaler, Beth Grill, Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Jason H. Campbell, Rachel Tecott, Mary Kate Adgie


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Research Questions

  1. What security cooperation activities should the Army prioritize with highly capable allies?
  2. How have these priorities been addressed in recent contexts?
  3. What challenges and opportunities exist to enhance cooperation with allies?
  4. What mechanisms might the Army use to systematize these enhancements?

The U.S. strategic security environment has undergone a shift during the past decade: The regional focus on countering violent extremist organizations has given way to long-term global competition against near-peer adversaries Russia and China. Security cooperation, especially with our closest, most-capable (highly capable) allies, is emphasized as a high-priority tool for pursuing an extensive array of overlapping national interests. The United States and its allies recognize that, in a time of increasing requirements and limited resources, they must work in coalitions and engage regional stakeholders by bringing different strengths and perspectives to combined efforts. However, recent operations and efforts suggest that more can be done to create and sustain the mechanisms that increase the effectiveness of joint activities.

In this report, researchers present recommendations for enabling the U.S. Army to better prioritize and coordinate its security cooperation activities with its allies for coalition operations and engagements in third countries, allowing it to meet its assigned objectives and strengthen combined capabilities to compete strategically and counter common threats around the world. Researchers adopted a mixed-method approach focused on Australia and the United Kingdom that combined a literature review of findings on security cooperation uses and effectiveness; a database analysis of recent U.S. security cooperation; a historical analysis of secondary sources documenting recent overseas contingency operations; and interviews with key stakeholders.

Key Findings

Strong U.S. Army security foundations with allies can still be expanded

  • Decades of habitual U.S. relationships and activities with allies have created a strong foundation for operating together in coalitions. However, U.S., British, and Australian experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest that these efforts are not without challenges.
  • More-systematic mechanisms for combined contingency planning, predeployment training, incorporation of lessons learned into exercises, and tighter links between major army-to-army capstone events could improve multinational operations.
  • Multiple opportunities exist for combined planning, coordination, and implementation of security cooperation efforts in third countries.


  • Establish a standing U.S.-allied land-force cell to conceptualize, exercise, and execute contingency planning for second- and third-tier threats.
  • Consider more-formal mechanisms for predeployment training for future contingencies against second- and third-tier threats.
  • Identify and incorporate lessons regarding operational partnering and workarounds into exercise planning with highly capable allies.
  • Seek review of classification requirements to enable more inclusive planning and concept and system development with select allies.
  • Identify and evaluate additional co-development opportunities with selected allies.
  • Systematically link General Officer Roundtables to army-to-army staff talks.
  • Engage highly capable allies systematically on security cooperation first principles.
  • Develop global security cooperation engagement plans with globally engaged highly capable allies.
  • Conduct a pilot initiative to systematically plan, coordinate, and execute third-country engagements with one or two highly capable allies.
  • Provide guidance on security cooperation for engagement partnering in the Army security cooperation strategy and implementation plan.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within RAND Arroyo Center.

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