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Research Questions

  1. Beyond those identified in previously studied historical cases, what additional factors contribute to the propensity for successful security cooperation?
  2. Which countries in the world have patterns of factors that correlate with successful security cooperation?
  3. How can decisionmakers easily identify whether security cooperation funding may be misaligned with priorities and prospects for success?
  4. How can users get the most from the diagnostic power of the RAND Security Cooperation Prioritization and Propensity Matching Tool, and what are the tool's limitations?
  5. How can users update the currency of the tool to ensure that the results are applicable to the widest possible set of security cooperation efforts and partnerships?
Security cooperation is the umbrella term used to describe a wide range of programs and activities with such goals as building relationships between the United States and partner countries, developing these countries' security capabilities, and facilitating contingency and peacetime access by U.S. forces. With increased pressure on defense spending, the scope and budget for these activities are likely to decrease. Therefore, it will be important for the U.S. Department of Defense to scrutinize and, perhaps, reevaluate current and proposed security cooperation efforts, ensuring that expected benefits align with costs and corresponding policy priorities. Recent RAND research identified practices and contextual factors associated with greater or lesser degrees of success in security cooperation, using 29 historical case studies of U.S. efforts to build partner capacity since the end of the Cold War. The RAND Security Cooperation Prioritization and Propensity Matching Tool applies these findings and results from other existing research to all current and potential security cooperation partners. This customizable diagnostic tool, built in Microsoft Excel®, will help planners preliminarily identify mismatches between the importance of a country to U.S. interests, funding for initiatives, and the propensity for successful U.S. security cooperation with a given country. For each of the world's 195 countries, the tool produces an overall security cooperation propensity score. Planners can then compare these scores with available funding and security cooperation priorities. The tool has the virtues of being systematic, being based on global data, and not relying on subjective assessments. Strategic thinking and nuanced understanding of individual countries remain important, but the tool is useful in helping to identify which countries to scrutinize.

Key Findings

U.S. Defense Planners Stand to Benefit from a Tool to Evaluate the Propensity for Security Cooperation Success with Specific Partners

  • Increasing pressure on defense spending after more than a decade of war, coupled with a rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region, provides a new imperative for the U.S. Department of Defense to get the most possible benefit out of security cooperation efforts with partner countries worldwide.
  • The data show that the strongest and most consistent correlations with security cooperation effectiveness relate to the alignment of interests, objectives, and partner nations' ability to absorb and retain the materiel and training provided.
  • There is value in a tool that applies the received wisdom on security cooperation to data from global public-use data sets and an ability to systematically make diagnostic assessments of the propensity for successful U.S. security cooperation under current (or planned) funding levels and priorities.

The RAND Security Cooperation Prioritization and Propensity Matching Tool Has Both Advantages and Limitations

  • The compilation of hypotheses related to security cooperation success from a review of the existing literature provided a solid foundation from which to generalize to a robust global data set.
  • The tool overcomes the limitations of subject-matter expert evaluation by standardizing the scoring process across all countries, avoiding partiality and variations in assessment quality and expertise. It can also be updated by users as new data become available.
  • The tool is intended as a starting point for examining the relationship between U.S. funding, priorities, and likelihood of success, but it does not produce definitive answers because the quantitative data underlying the tool lack nuance. For example, the tool can identify governance issues, but it cannot explain their source.


  • Tool users should carefully review the instructions for using and updating the tool and be aware of the tool's limitations. It should not be viewed as a substitute for strategic thought.
  • U.S. defense planners should explore options to refine the tool and further maximize its utility. Specifically, comparing propensity scores with actual security cooperation outcomes would provide valuable feedback and data. Additional research or calibration to focus on specific subsets of security cooperation goals would also improve the tool's level of detail. And additional experimentation and testing would reveal exactly how changes in data, data quality, or construct weights affect the model and propensity scores.

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.

This report is part of the RAND tool series. RAND tools may include models, databases, calculators, computer code, GIS mapping tools, practitioner guidelines, web applications, and various toolkits. All RAND tools undergo rigorous peer review to ensure both high data standards and appropriate methodology in keeping with RAND's commitment to quality and objectivity.

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