Security Cooperation Amidst Political Uncertainty

An Agenda for Future Research

by Larry Hanauer, Stephanie Pezard

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Security cooperation, through which the United States provides a wide range of military training and assistance to partner states, is a central element of U.S. foreign policy. This working paper examines the challenges that may arise when the United States seeks to intervene in uncertain political environment, such as instances in which the United States’ partner — which may be a besieged government or a non-state actor — is actively engaged in military conflict. A fair amount of literature exists that can help assess whether and to what extent security cooperation may be a useful tool for shaping such environments. This literature identifies five key issues that the U.S. government should consider before deciding whether or not to offer military training and equipment to potential partners operating amidst uncertainty: (1) Identifying the parameters that guide security cooperation decisions, including statutory requirements that may prevent the provision of certain types of assistance to certain types of recipients; (2) Identifying the criteria according to which the United States will decide which party to a conflict it should support; (3) Assessing potential partners; (4) Evaluating the potential usefulness of security cooperation tools in different scenarios; and finally, (5) Examining the potentially adverse implications of offering security assistance in the midst of political uncertainty, including the dangers of choosing the “wrong” partner, choosing the “wrong” timing for intervention, or remaining uninvolved in circumstances in which the United States would have benefited from direct intervention. Based on a careful review of these five challenges, the working paper suggests avenues for future research.

This paper was prepared by the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center.

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