Small Wars Journal

Building Partner Capacity in the 21st Century: How the U.S. Can Succeed

Wed, 08/07/2013 - 6:25am

Building Partner Capacity in the 21st Century: How the U.S. Can Succeed

Colonel Alan Shumate

In his 2010 National Security Strategy, President Barrack Obama stated that “our military will continue strengthening its capacity to partner with foreign counterparts, train and assist security forces, and pursue military-to-military ties with a broad range of governments.”[1] As our national leaders posture to increase cuts to the military budget in order to improve our economy and reduce our growing U.S. deficit, the Department of Defense (DOD) must be pragmatic on how its resources are invested to ensure security for our nation while defeating America’s emerging strategic threats.

Building partner capacity is a critical component of our future National Security Strategy. These three words appear twenty-five times in the January 2012 Department of Defense publication, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”[2]   If DOD and the U.S. Army want to maximize their resources to ensure success in building partner nation security capacity with our allies, the following recommendations will strengthen our ability to accomplish this strategic goal.

Designate the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) [3] as DOD’s priority command for Theater Security Cooperation Program (TSCP) mission resourcing.  Allowing USSOCOM to select which building partner nation capacity events Special Operations Forces (SOF) will resource in the future will greatly enhance Admiral McRaven’s vision of creating a Global SOF network.[4] Although USSOCOM cannot satisfy all of the Combatant Commanders (CCDR) TSCP requirements, they should be authorized to determine which TSCP missions their subordinate SOF commands will execute before any other DOD organization.[5]

America should put its most highly trained, best equipped and capable regionally oriented forces forward to build partner nation capacity. Special Operations Forces are DOD’s proven military assets in building partner nation security capacity in austere, high risk security environments (e.g. Plan Colombia, OEF-Philippines).[6] USSOCOM’s most capable asset to conduct Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and Security Force Assistance (SFA) is based in the United States Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) (USASFC(A) in the form of Green Berets and Special Forces Operational Detachment A-Teams (SFOD-A). Members of these 12-man A-Teams are trained in a minimum of one of the following military occupational specialties: Special Forces Operations (18A- Team Detachment Commander, 180A- Team Executive Officer, 18Z- Team Operations Sergeant: Unconventional Warfare focused), Intelligence operations (18F: Human Intelligence focused), Weapons and military tactics (18B), Engineer operations (18C: construction and explosives), Advanced Medical operations (18D), and Communications operations (18E). Having two 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E Special Forces Non-Commissioned Officers on a SFOD-A enables the detachment to operate in two independent 6-man teams when needed to support emerging mission requirements.

Enemies such as Al Qaida, the Taliban, Iranian Quods Forces and other hybrid threats currently employ Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaigns against the U.S. and our allies.  The United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) has been designated as the lead agency for DOD in the conduct of UW operations.[7] As experts in UW, Special Forces are uniquely prepared to counter the UW activities of our enemies while executing TSCP operations with our allies and host nation security forces around the world.[8]

Enabling SOF leadership to select the countries and host nation security forces will expand our Global SOF Network and build partner nation capacity, allowing USSOCOM and specifically USASOC to refocus resources to better support Special Warfare missions (primarily FID and UW). The increased focus on Special Warfare will also provide Green Berets the necessary access and cover for actions to facilitate Preparation of the Environment (PE) activities in support of future UW campaigns within their target theaters of operation. Despite the fact that many CCDRs have UW operations written into their contingency plans, the current level of PE activities fails to adequately support future UW operations. Special Forces need to increase their global PE activities to ensure success of future UW operations.[9]

Create a U.S. Army Advisory and Assistance Command to focus on the mission of building partner capacity. In late December 2012, Headquarters, Department of the Army officially announced its post Afghanistan focus of building partner nation capacity by approving the Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) plan and the RAF EXORD.[10] The RAF plan aligns select Army Corps, Divisions and Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) to specific CCDRs, thus fostering regional alignment and support for building partner capacity. Following traditional combat skill training, RAF BCTs will transition to advise and assistance task training to include language, regional culture, and other associated tasks. [11] RAF BCTs will then prepare to deploy Soldiers to serve in small advisory teams up to a company size force (~200 men).[12] An ad hoc approach (at the BCT level) to prepare and employ General Purpose Force (GPF) advisors in the complex mission of building partner capacity jeopardizes mission success.

RAF BCTs will struggle to maintain proficiency in decisive operations (e.g. combined arms training) while preparing personnel to become regionally oriented advisors that deploy select portions of their unit(s) to multiple foreign countries in support of SFA missions. The ARFORGEN model and regular reassignment and attrition of Soldiers within a BCT will make it difficult for RAF brigades to match the advisory capability of a regionally focused, specially trained and equipped force such as a United States Army Special Forces Group with its 72 x SFOD-As. A key to the past success of Military Training Teams and Embedded Training Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan was their ability to operate in mature theaters. Post Afghanistan (2014), RAFs and GPF advisory teams will not have a mature theater to support their logistical, medical, and security needs.

In his article, “Institutionalizing Adaptation: It’s Time for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps”, LTC(R) John Nagl recommends the creation of a permanent 20,000-member Advisor Corps, responsible for creating advisory doctrine as well as overseeing the training and deployment of 750 advisory teams of 25-Soldiers each.[13] LTG(R) David Barno has a different concept for creating an organization focused on building partner nation capacity (FID and SFA operations). The former Commanding General of the Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan from 2003-2005 asserts the advantages of a Special Operations led Advisory and Assistance Command--a command that would oversee the training of GPF Soldiers assigned to it.[14] The Advisory and Assistance Command would integrate Special Forces personnel into the leadership of the command as well as on the Advisory Teams. 

The U.S. Army should reorganize a GPF unit and assign it to USASOC to become a hybrid SOF and Conventional Army organization focused on the mission of building partner capacity. This hybrid USASOC Advisory and Assistance Command would consist of experienced Special Forces, Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Operations and Conventional Force leaders (Sergeant First Class to Major).  The Advisory and Assistance Command would develop the doctrine and training required to prepare regionally oriented advisory teams for deployments into their AORs to build partner nation capacity. Soldiers would remain in the command for a minimum of three years before being eligible to return to their traditional assignments.

Expand the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) exercise program in 2013 and beyond with a focus of deploying U.S. Army regionally aligned Headquarters and BCTs in support of regional alignment and building partner capacity. Prior to 9-11, the GPF regularly deployed overseas to participate in CJCS directed exercises with allied nations. Unfortunately, the CJCS exercise program has taken dramatic funding cuts by Congress since 9-11, thus making it difficult for DOD to adequately develop our allies’ security forces. The former CJCS, Admiral Mike Mullen stated to the 112th Congress and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on defense, “balancing global strategic risk requires strong military-to-military engagement programs. These collaborative efforts engender mutual responsibility and include ongoing combined operations, multi-lateral training exercises, individual exchanges, and security assistance”.[15] U.S. Army Corps and Division Headquarters and BCTs can strengthen their regional alignment and build partner capacity by participating in more joint exercises such as: Operation Flintlock in the Trans-Sahara, Operation Cobra Gold in Southeast Asia, Operation Ulchi Freedom Guardian in Korea, Operation Bright Star in the Middle East, Operation Tradewinds in Latin America, and Operation Austere Challenge in Europe.

By granting USSOCOM the authority to take the lead role in building partner capacity in support of the creation of a Global SOF network, the Department of Defense will greatly increase its ability to defeat terrorist networks, extremism and other security threats to America. As the U.S. Army looks beyond Afghanistan and embraces the mission of building partner capacity, it should work closely with USASOC to create a focused hybrid command, comprised of 18-series and GPF experienced leaders who have the sole mission of deploying to a specific region to conduct FID and SFA missions.  Increased funding support for CJCS exercises that focus on deploying Army BCTs overseas to exercise CCDR ‘s combined joint contingency plans will enable   DOD to expand and strengthen its global security network.  With the proper authorities and adequate resources USSOCOM and the U.S. Army will achieve success in the critical U.S. National Security objective of building partner capacity.

End Notes

[1] President Barrack H.  Obama, National Security Strategy, (Washington D.C.:, The White House, May 2010),11, (accessed January 5, 2013).

[2] Leon E. Panneta, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership:  Priorities for 21st Century Defense (Washington D. C.: The Secretary of Defense, 5 January 2012), 5.

[3] William H. McRaven, Posture Statement of Admiral William H. McRaven, USN, Commander USSOCOM Before the 112th Congress, Senate Armed Service Committee, Posture Statement presented to the 112th Congress, 2nd sess. (Washington, DC: U.S. Special Operations Command, 2012). The United States Special Operations Command (with over 66,000 members as of 2012) is comprised of five-component commands: United States Army Special Operations Command, Naval Special Warfare Command, Air force Special Operations Command, Marine Corps Force Special Operations Command and the Joint Special Operations Command. SOF personnel operated in over 100 countries in 2012.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] COL Alan Shumate, author’s personal experience while assigned to USASOC, JSOC and USASFC (A) between 2006-2008 and 2010-12. Service components of USSOCOM have dedicated units that are language trained, regionally oriented and globally deployed to conduct FID and SFA (e.g. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Air Force 6th Special Operations Squadron, and Marine Special Operations Battalion members are examples of SOF advisors). 

[6] COL Alan Shumate, author’s personal experience as a Special Forces Officer conducting FID, SFA and COIN operations in Latin America and Afghanistan from 1998-2006 and as a BSTB CDR, in an Advise and Assistance BCT deployed to MND-S Iraq, 2009-2010.

[7] U. S. Special Operations Command, USSOCOM Directive 10-1 (Washington, DC: U.S. Special Operations Command, 2009).  Appendix A (Terms of Reference—Roles, Missions, and Functions of Component Commands)  lists USASOC as the Lead Component for UW and Ground FID among many other mission sets (e.g. CAO, MISO, ASO, PE, SO Urban Combat, CQB, Airborne Operations (Static & MFF), RW/Tilt Rotor Infil/Exfil Techniques, UAR & NAR, SOF SSE, and JSOMTC).  See also the ARSOF Core Activities paragraph at

[8] COL(R) David Maxwell,  Georgetown University Faculty, interviewed by author regarding the employment of Special Forces to defeat America’s emerging threats, Georgetown University, Washington DC, December 12, 2012.

[9] COL Alan Shumate, author’s personal experience as the Deputy Chief of Staff, G8 (Force Management) for the United States Army Special Forces Command (Airborne), 2010-2012.

[10]  LTG John F. Campbell, U.S. Army G3/5/7, “Execution Order for Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF),” Washington, DC, Headquarters, Department of the Army, December 20, 2012.

[11] Associated Press, “Teams from a US Army brigade heading to 35 African nations to beef up anti-terror training,” December 24, 2012,

(accessed December 26, 2012).

[12] Ibid.

[13] LTC(R) John A. Nagl, Institutionalizing Adaptation: It’s Time for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps, (Washington DC: Center for a New American Security, June 2007), 5.

[14] LTG(R) Barno, David, Center for a New American Strategy, former Commanding General of Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan from 2003-5,  interview by author regarding the creation of a future Advisory Command and the role of SOF and the GPF in FID and SFA missions, Washington DC, December 13, 2012.

[15] Michael G. Mullen, Posture Statement of Admiral Michael G. Mullen, USN, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Before the 112th Congress,Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Posture Statement presented to the 112th Congress, 1st sess. (Washington DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2011), 19.


About the Author(s)

COL Alan Shumate has 23-years in the U.S. Army and is a Distinguished Military Graduate of East Carolina University where he received his Bachelor’s degree and commission in 1989.  He has a Master’s degree from Webster University and has served as an Infantry Officer in the 82nd ABN DV, 75th RGR RGMT, and 2nd ID (ROK).  After completing the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1997, he served  in the 7th SFG(A) between 1998-2006, Aide-de-Camp to the CG, USASOC, J3 DCHOPs JSOC, CDR BSTB 4/1 AD, and as the G8 USASFC(A).  He has multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.


While I realize that this article is DoD centric, or perhaps because of it,
I wanted to call attention to TRADOC Pam 825-8-4, U.S. Army Concept for
Building Partner Capacity. The BPC Concept was approved and published in
Nov 2011 and was followed up with a Capabilities Based Assessment. The
concept provides historical context, strategic guidance, definitions, a good reference listing and a general discussion of how the US Army is approaching BPC. For those who may not be familiar with it, it can be viewed at

Justin C

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 3:51pm

The Officers in my office read your 07 AUG 13 article, “Building Partner Capacity in the 21st Century: How the U.S. Can Succeed” and in the tenth paragraph you discuss a GPF Unit assigned to USASOC. I am currently a Team Leader in US Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization’s (USASATMO) Engagement Branch at Ft. Bragg that prior to 2011 was assigned to USASOC. Our Unit executes time sensitive Army OCONUS Security Assistance (SA) Joint Combined Exercise Trainings (JCET) in support of U.S. Foreign Policy and Defense objectives. In addition, we plan, staff, and execute Security Assistance Team Training Orientation Course (SATTOC) courses (ATTRS Course# 3A-F41/011-F24) and certify personnel scheduled for OCONUS USASATMO missions. The course is designed to prepare security-assistance team members to serve overseas as official representatives of the U.S. Government and U.S. Army as dictated by AR 12-7 Security Assistance. We are a hybrid unit of SOF and Conventional Soldiers from the rank of E-7 to my OIC who is a MAJ. Our positions are nominative and three years in length. We would like to get your opinion on if our unit mets your concept of the Hybrid GPF. I thank you for your time and look forward to hearing from you.

LT J Wright

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 12:38pm

Sir, it has been my experience that in military operations other than war the doctrine and strategies guiding non-traditional (CA, HTT, PRT, ...)units does not effectively translate into tangible mission objectives that can be straightforwardly assessed by the commanders. The battle space owner has partial charge of these units, yet does not fully understand their capabilities or predispositions. Many of these units offer products that are not easily augmented into military operations and they tend to spend a majority of their time selling their services to military units. The products that do get utilized are often open ended and designed to be self-perpetuating, due to the team members’ short term employment contracts that require approval for extension. To fully utilize the SOF structure with the many support and specialties units a robust methodology with determined metrics must be incorporated to ensure that the many non-traditional units are effectively assisting the war effort.

Bill C.

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 12:54pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M:

Let us look again at this statement from the National Security Strategy:

"To advance our common security, we must address the underlying political and economic deficits that foster instability, enable radicalization and extremism, and ultimately undermine the ability of governments to manage threats within their borders and to be our partners in addressing common challenges."

Herein, we see nations which lack modern democratic governments -- and lack modern market economies -- as threatening the stability required for, not only themselves, but also the developed and developing world (operating, as these latter nations significantly do, through the global economy).

Thus, if we wish to have viable partners who can help us address these and other such common challenges today and in the future (China?), we believe that we must -- first and foremost -- deal with and overcome the political and economic deficits found within these deficient countries.

I see Building Partner Capacity from this perspective. It is focused primarily on addressing the political and economic deficits found in certain other countries; this, so as to provide for our collective security and prosperity. This, we believe, requires a whole-of-government effort.

Our military's job, in this whole-of-government effort, would seem to be to train-up and equip the military, police and intelligence forces of these deficient countries -- so that the indigenous forces therein might be able to stand, primarily by themselves, against those individuals and groups (those residing within their country and those coming from outside their country) who actively oppose the necessary political and economic reforms that we and our partner governments require.

As to integration:

Given that the primary purpose of BPC is to address the political and economic deficits found within these countries (lack of modern democratic government; lack of a modern market economy), then working to correct these deficiencies -- largely through integration with the more modern world -- this would seem to be a necessary requirement of and the key ingredient for success.

My problem with all of this that I believe we may need to decide whether we wish to fish or cut bait:

a. Fish: Develop and maintain good relationships with outlier states and societies; this, so that we might be able to rely on these states and their populations for various purposes. In this scenario, radical political and economic reform may need to take a back seat to relationship-building/maintaining.

b. Cut Bait: If we believe that transforming states and societies along modern western political and economic lines is more important, then we must understand that we are likely to make as many enemies as friends. Thus, developing and maintaining good relationships, with this choice, becomes more difficult/less likely.

Bill M.

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 3:17am

In reply to by Bill C.

Read this carefully, it is from our "current" national security strategy:

"In keeping with the focus on the foundation of our strength and influence, we are promoting universal values abroad by living them at home, and WILL NOT SEEK TO IMPOSE THESE VALUES THROUGH FORCE. Instead, we are working to strengthen international norms on behalf of human rights, while welcoming all peaceful democratic movements. We are supporting the development of institutions within fragile democracies, integrating human rights as a part of our dialogue with repressive governments, and supporting the spread of technologies that facilitate the freedom to access information. And we recognize economic opportunity as a human right, and are promoting the dignity of all men and women through our support for global health, food security, and cooperatives responses to humanitarian crises."

As to your point about page 26, I have re-read it again probably for the 5th time. NO WHERE DOES IT STATE WE'RE TRYING TO INTEGRATE THESE COUNTRIES INTO THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM. We're trying to induce a level of stability so it doesn't threaten our interests. This is a big difference from your claim that we should redesign our military along the likes of what Thomas Barnett proposes with his unfeasible "bureau of Everything of Else."

This may have been Bush Junior's approach, but it certainly isn't now. We're back where we should be, which is assist and encourage countries to transition to democracies. We'll aid countries that desire to make the transition, such as they did in Eastern Europe when they rejected the shackles of communism. We're not going to impose it by force.

Bill C.

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 12:55am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M:

You may wish to review my two earlier comments below again. I do not confuse statements made by those who write about foreign policy with our actual foreign policy. Look at the provided 1999 Bacevich piece for the direct quotes that he (Bacevich) provides (1) from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, (2) from National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and (3) from the Clinton National Security Strategy document itself. Difficult to suggest a conspiracy theory if the nation wears its heart on its sleeve.

Also of interest is this in our current (2010) National Security Strategy document:…

On Page 26 under the section entitled: "Invest in the Capacity of Strong and Capable Partners:"

"Where governments are incapable of meeting their citizens’ basic needs and fulfilling their responsibilities to provide security within their borders, the consequences are often global and may directly threaten the American people. To advance our common security, we must address the underlying political and economic deficits that foster instability, enable radicalization and extremism, and ultimately undermine the ability of governments to manage threats within their borders and to be our partners in addressing common challenges."

From Page 32 and in the paragraph entitled: "Open Foreign Markets to Our Products and Services:"

"In this new era, opening markets around the globe will promote global competition and innovation and will be crucial to our prosperity."

Thus, again, nothing conspiratorial, I would suggest, about what we believe we must do and why.

Thus, BPC to be seen as part of the project to "open up" markets around the globe and to "address the underlying political and economic deficits" of other countries; this, so as to provide for America's national security needs.

The American military's role in these whole-of-government efforts being to train up the indigenous military, police and intelligence forces of these other countries so that they might be able to effectively stand against those local and/or foreign peoples who would resist the political, economic (and social?) changes the United States requires?

Our BPC is not a strategy, though many, to include some SOCOM, confuse it with a strategy. It is one of the multiple ways to pursue our ends. In my opinion we overly state the case for it, because in most cases the underlying issues involve much more than shortfalls in security force capacity. Special Forces developed world class Iraqi Special Operations Units capable of conducting counterterrorism, and this is true in many parts of the world. Yet, the problems in many of these nations continue to worsen. We need to take a step back as Bob Jones implies below and relook our strategy entirely. If we really did assessments where the results influenced plans, we would have changed course a long time ago, instead continue we ask for more cow bell. Many of the capabilities we need to assist partners build based on we think our future security challenges are in my opinion are not resident in the military (intelligence, policing, judicial, governance, etc.).

As we look to the future we need to look beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, and focus on FID instead of occupation operations where we’re attempting to build a force that replicates us so we can pull out (an example of where we confused BPC as a strategy, so even if we could BPC effectively I suspect it would have failed in these situations). BPC is an important concept, one we don’t do well above the tactical level, so I support our efforts to transform our process for a lot of reasons; however, it is not the silver bullet solution to our collective security challenges. That has actually been demonstrated repeatedly if we would just step back and look.

Bill C. you continue to confuse statements by those who write about foreign policy with our actual foreign policy. Worse you populate every blog and journal post with your theory, and yet offer no supporting evidence that this is our actual policy. Do you actually think we're spending billions in Afghanistan to integrate this “wealthy” country into the global economy so we can practice mercantilism or sale our products there? I’m sure Ford Motors and GE can’t wait to open a factory there.

Our policy is clearly written, and if one looks without prejudice it is pretty clear we’re following it (even if its execution may be completely inept). It has little to do with your conspiracy theory. Yes we desire a world order where nations abide by a commonly set of rules (Iraq and the Taliban failed to do this). Many countries are not fully integrated with the global economy, and we’re not invading them to force them to do so. We may provide economic assistance to gradually move them in this direction, but that is entirely different than your theory where we’re conducting military operations to “force” them to integrate.


Is this of any help?

Goes back to 2006.

And maybe this from RAND as to earlier:

Building Partner Capacity
Building partner capacity is a new name for a diverse set of governmental
activities that have recently lacked strategic coherence. During the
Cold War era, the rationale for U.S. foreign assistance programs was
clear: to bolster the defenses of pro-Western regimes confronted either
by an external military threat from the Soviet Union and other communist
powers or an internal threat from communist-supported insurgents.
In line with the containment doctrine, successive U.S. administrations
were more or less successful in their efforts to integrate the
diplomatic, military, economic, and informational aspects of power for
the purpose of increasing the capabilities of U.S. allies and partners as
part of the Cold War ...
(See "Introduction;" this part starting on page 4.)

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 08/10/2013 - 1:37pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Educational comment, thanks so much.

<blockquote>However there was a PowerPoint slide in a presentation to Secretary Gates that explained it as a combination of shaping and enabling all our partners (foreign, interagency, etc.)</blockquote>

Shaping them for what? What is the shaping supposed to accomplish? They can handle internal disorder so it doesn't come after us?

But our attempts at engagement can help or hinder internal disorder, we can become an outside enabler if clientitis sets in.

I know I'm a dork about this stuff but for some reason I have a difficult toddler-like attitude toward the world. Why, why, why, why?

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 08/09/2013 - 4:31pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill is exactly right. BPC is not a doctrinal term but the concept is used extensively in doctrine. As an example from JP 3-22 (the Joint FID Manual) there is this on page III-3:

(3) The GEF describes SecDef’s priorities for creating new partnerships and
building the capacity of existing partnerships. The joint force conducts FID in
compliance with this guidance.
(4) Ordinarily, when the decision limits FID support to minor levels of SA or
CMO, there is no requirement to establish a special management program to facilitate
interagency coordination. In these cases, standard interagency coordination should be
adequate. The major FID efforts (i.e., those in support of nations important to US
national interests) demand levels of management and coordination beyond what is
normally found at the interagency, combatant command, and country team levels.

Later on Page IV-4 it actually uses building partner (ship) capacity:

(1) The JSCP provides general taskings to the GCCs that may mandate military
support to a FID operation or provide the strategic guidance and direction from which
GCCs may deduce military missions to support FID.
(2) The JSCP supplemental instruction provides additional planning guidance,
capabilities, and amplification of tasking for planning in specified functional areas.
The supplemental instruction impacts the military planning and execution to support FID;
however, four functional areas are directly tied to FID, as described in Figure IV-1.
d. Guidance for Employment of the Force. The GEF provides the foundation for
all DOD interactions with foreign defense establishments, and supports the President’s
NSS. With respect to SC, this guidance provides direction with respect to IW, building
partnership capacity, and stability, security, transition, and reconstruction.

Then in the same FID manual on page VI-30 is says this about building capacity in Security Force Assistance (SFA):

(a) Security sector reform supports unity of effort in FID by enabling allies,
coalition members, and other nations to improve the way they provide safety, security,
and justice.

(b) Within the context of security sector reform, the USG, including DOD,
has long engaged in a range of activities to enhance the capacity and capability of partner
nations by organizing, training, equipping, rebuilding and building, and advising and
assisting FSF. See Figure VI-6. This is known as SFA.

(2) SFA encompasses joint force activities conducted within unified action to
organize, train, equip, rebuild and build, and advise and assist FSF in support of an HN’s
efforts to plan and resource, generate, employ, transition, and sustain local, HN, or
regional security forces and their supporting institutions. This includes activities from
the ministry level to the tactical units, and the national security sector.

Bill M.

Fri, 08/09/2013 - 3:20pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


I think Build Partner Capacity (BPC) can best be defined as a concept versus a doctrinal term. It isn't in the Department of Defense dictionary, and when I researching the origin of this phrase the only place I could find it was in the last Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which identifies future concepts/capabilities. I participated in these work groups, and I recall one of our General Officers asking the group leading the BPC effort exactly what BPC meant, and the response was that the definition was not that important, you know what we're talking about. After that we just blew them off, it was too stupid to waste time on. However there was a PowerPoint slide in a presentation to Secretary Gates that explained it as a combination of shaping and enabling all our partners (foreign, interagency, etc.). As Dave pointed out we have been security force capacity partners for well over a 100 years, and these emergent concepts do confuse the situation. In my opinion what DOD is attempting to address is the ridiculously complicated and ineffective bureaucracy that has grown over the years that makes our BPC efforts inefficient and many times ineffective. Supposedly one of the incidents that resulted in excessively burdensome bureaucracy was Ollie North's role in manipulated security assistance money in the Iran-Contra scandal, and then there were some concerns with the School of Americas. Our answer to every misstep to pass additional legislation and burden those doing good work with a thousand pages of non-sense and unworkable regulations. That is really the issue. I'm very interested in exploring the history of this, so if anyone has any documents on the impact of Iran-Contra and the School of America and other issues that concerned Congress on our ability to effectively develop foreign security forces.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 9:07pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C:

Thank you but I am looking at this a bit differently than you. I like intellectual and institutional histories and I like to understand the origins of terminology (likely due to my background as a pathologist).

I don't see a grand project, I see a messy American foreign policy apparatus that views global stability as important to the global economic order and to growing markets. But we are not alone in this. That would be pretty much everyone else, too. Others have agency. Nations and cultures are not static. So, I tend to agree with Bill M. on this.

However, you do bring up a good point. Military-to-military engagements are tricky when the regime is an illiberal one and if we are attempting to shape the environment, others are too, they would like to leverage a relationship with the Americans to their advantage. So, you have to be very honest about the good and bad in the relationship but given the nature of bureaucracies sometimes a good relationship starts becoming more about constituencies developed in either nation to leverage aid or foreign military assistance.

What I meant about Bacevich is more that we ought to be honest about these real world effects instead of looking at everything through a pristine lens of theory and doctrine, or whatever.


Sun, 08/11/2013 - 11:57am

In reply to by Morgan

That depends on who it is under. The reason the military has to perform these functions is because no civilian agency has the type of structure to go into hostile areas and accomplish missions that involve serious threat. Civil servants have unions, Soldier do not. Now, the CIA can do some of these things as can State, but I don't know if you could recreate the total capability needed under the umbrella of either of those organizations.


Sun, 08/11/2013 - 11:08am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

"Maybe we need to understand more than just how to train a military to fight more like us."

With that in mind, would you advocate for something like the Office of Contingency Operations, an organization that brings together the capabilities of various agencies to plan, coordinate, resource, and manage contingency operations (I'd like to see some SFA/ FID thrown in there as well)? This is currently being put forth by Rep. Steve Stockman of TX....not sure if he is gaining any traction with it.


Sun, 08/11/2013 - 9:35am

In reply to by Bill C.

That is pretty scary: "But there is more at stake here than mere economic considerations. Market expansion is not an opportunity; it is a necessity." So, in essence, our plan to create open markets is a pyramid scheme - we have to keep bringing in new clients or our economic system collapses under its own weight.

I always viewed building partner capacity as having two purposes. One was to create a state able to defend itself from internal and external threat without our help and the other was to build a foreign military who would be able to assist us in coalitions against others.

One other point. I am not a fan of giving TSCP over to SOF. TSCP needs to consist of more than JUST military assistance. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it is not. We do not make the world any more secure by building a state's military capability without considering other aspects of the society. North Korea has a relatively robust military capability but its people are (allegedly) starving. I am not sure that combination makes our world any more secure.

In fact, if you really want to build our own stabilization and post-hostility reconstruction capacity have some leaders go out to these countries and try to understand the problems of the whole government. What are the issues - how do you solve them? What causes instability or insurgency? Here are real states with real issues coming up with real solutions (or ones that don't work). Maybe we need to understand more than just how to train a military to fight more like us.

Bill C.

Sun, 08/11/2013 - 8:49am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


I think you are on the right track in looking at Bacevich and Clinton.

Consider this 1999 Bacevich offering wherein he (Bacevich) discusses Clinton's strategy:

BPC, one might suggest, is a logical extension of this thinking. Thus, BPC to be seen as part of:

"The drive to sustain domestic prosperity by creating a world that, in Madeleine Albright's words, is 'open to our exports, investments, and ideas ..."

Herein, Albright goes on to clarify that this goal is "by no means unique to this administration. Enhancing openness has long been a central aim of American statecraft."

Likewise the following from this 1999 Bacevich piece offers a clear understanding of why we pursue "openess" (now via BPC):

"Neither the Asian flu nor Russia’s economic collapse nor narrowly averted financial disaster in Latin America can shake the administration’s faith in the prospect of continuous market expansion. With good reason: the administration has convinced itself that expanding markets abroad is essential to sustaining American prosperity. The President himself has bluntly declared that 'growth at home depends upon growth abroad.' But there is more at stake here than mere economic considerations. Market expansion is not an opportunity; it is a necessity. Thus, for example, the administration’s blueprint for national security—A National Security Strategy for a New Century, released in 1998—states categorically that 'we must expand our international trade to sustain economic growth at home.'"

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 08/10/2013 - 1:31pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Thanks, everyone. The point about it being a panacea was sort of my question.

Well, one question.

Is there something NEW in the concept, are people taking military-to-military engagement and making it an intellectual template or proxy for something else?

The idea of fragile states as a threat to the US is very much tied to the post-Cold War and War on Terror periods, at least, as the prime threat after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Andrew Bacevich in The New American Militarism (in one of the less polemical sections, I understand the polemical can be problematic) traces some of these ideas to the 90's hyperpolar "indespensable nation" moment.

Nils Gilman also looks at the 2000's and our War on Terror through the lens of the 90's Clintonian moment in his book, Mandarins of the Future.

What do people expect of capacity building and how is it tied to larger ideas about stability as a threat, about this moment in time, and what the military expects out of such engagement? I'm thinking Celeste Ward Gventer's writing here at SWJ (or was it a link to a WaPo article?)

Are there ways to view military-to-military engagement that has nothing to do with this larger and more expansive conception?

@Bill - that is interesting. I'd like to know more about that topic. And, funnily enough, some of the hearings taking place around the time of Iran-Contra have something to do with the issues we are facing in South Asia today, IMO, but Iran-Contra took all the oxygen out of the room on the other hearings.

I think Bob Jones gets at this in some of his comments, the idea of capacity building as a good solid concept versus the buzzword as a magic bullet catch-all.

Engagement is one thing, the idea that building capacity will fundamentally alter a society or allow it to develop toward a form of government deemed better for our interests (democratization) is the more expansive idea that I wonder about and why I thought it might be a doctrinal term.

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 08/09/2013 - 2:56pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

But Madhu just to be clear: Building capability and capacity has always been inherent activities in FID. They are nothing new in concept.. I think it is only since 9-11 that we have tried to codify some of the terminology. And since 9-11 people have been paying more attention to the need to build capability and capacity in our friends, partners, and allies. While I believe this is a very important activity for the US military I think we also have to realize that it is not a panacea.

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 08/09/2013 - 2:29pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I think it is a post-9-11 term along with Irregular Warfare, Security Force Assistance, OTERA (Organize, Train, Equip, Rebuild, and Advise), TAA (Train Advice and Assist); SSTRO (Stability, Security, Transition, Reconstruction Operations) Provincial Reconstruction Teams and many more. Since 9-11 there has been a proliferation of new terminology and concepts.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 08/09/2013 - 2:19pm

I've asked this question before on various SWC threads and I'll ask here again: when did capacity building show up as a doctrinal term and how was this viewed prior to the usage of that 90's era language?

Is it 90's era?


These are some pretty bold proposals, and only a limited aspect of Army security cooperation, much less the joint force. From an Army centric role I think there is some merit in some of the recommendations. However, as I'm sure the author knows his article only addressed a small spectrum security cooperation that involves al the services and number of niche capabilities related to cyber, intelligence, defense threat reduction agency, etc. Security cooperation involves much more than building tactical level CT units, which in many cases, if not most, will have the least impact strategically over time.

I can't think of any TSOC that desires USSOCOM with its large staff (only 20% of which are SOF qualified) employing a thousand mile long screw driver directing what foreign units SOF will work with from Tampa. They don't have the expertise, they don't understand the theaters, and too many in that command think one size fits all, which clearly indicates they have no SOF experience. We have TSOCs for a reason, and that is to employ SOF appropriately based on a rich understanding of the theater and GCC's strategy which we support. SOCOM is not task organized to support security cooperation like the GCCs and services, so this proposal would quickly prove to be unworkable (confusing enthusiasm with capability). There is more of role for security cooperation that SOCOM should play, but it is a support role much like the military service departments do. We don't need them attempting to develop strategy for planning it.

USASOC due to the greater percentage of SOF officers and NCOs is much more component than SOCOM in this regard, and the TSOCs would value their planning assistance expertise, but they're not going to hand over the reigns that again isn't task organized to understand each theater. What they can do well is man, train, and equip, and the idea of resurrecting something along the idea of IMA that will train and prepare both SOF and GPF Army to conduct FID/SFA could be powerful. It would be interested to understand the history of why we got out of that business to begin with?

This still needs to be in perspective, SOF is hardly the right force to train and equip a large GPF unit like the South Korean Army. Not all threats now or in the future will be AQ and Taliban, so it is well past time that these adversary groups become part of our collective security strategy, not what our security strategy is centered on. After 10 plus years of conflict we have a force that has generated many mid level leaders that no nothing else. They apply that view globally, which is little different than looking at the world through a soda straw. The real dragons that threaten our national security aren't where those soda straws are looking, and pretending 2020 will be like 2007 is grave mistake when planning the future force.

Most importantly as Bob pointed out below, what does capacity building really buy us? The decisive factor isn't a sharp commando or infantry unit, but a professional force that respects its citizens and an effective government. Building capacity is at best a supporting effort to the main effort. If we actually conduct non-bias assessments (we don't) and accept that the last 10 years of conflict and its associated strategy hasn't made us safer, then is a continuation of that strategy through capacity building so someone else can implement the same poor strategy really the right answer? Maybe we need go back to the drawing board and determine the appropriate strategy first so we know what capacity we need to build.

" is much more a vehicle for engagement than an end unto itself. We profit far more from the understanding, influence and relationships we build through persistent interaction than we do from any particular capacity or piece of kit we might share. This is why Special Forces are so effective in this role. SF is far less likely to seek to convert some partner into a lesser version of ourself, but more to seek to understand the partner and their challenges while helping them to become a better version of theirself."

Robert, normally I would agree but I suspect you would be a bit disappointed if you could see what we're doing with our Afghan counterparts at my current location, and I'm only a contractor advisor, not one of the SF bubbas. I get the feeling that political considerations are affecting conventional and SOF leaders alike. Not what I expected to see on this side of the fence.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 08/07/2013 - 4:49pm

"Building Partner Capacity" has indeed become a bit of a battle cry in recent years - but I think we need to be careful to not buy too much of the current spin as we sort out how to employ this line of operatoin in the future environment.

The jury is certainly still out as to what effects the massive partner capacity building operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately yield in terms of advancing US interests in their respective regions. (Why, in a region where the threat has stymied the Russian, British and US armies so severely in recent years we would convince ourselves that a far less capable Afghan version of that same type of Army would be the key to success is beyond me.) We need to do a better job of determining what type of capacity is actually necessary and sustainable in the context of the partner we are helping.

In the Philippines and in Colombia, examples often wheeled out as examples of BPC success, it was probably far less any capacity we built, but more the professionalism in how those forces approached and dealt with their own populaces that made the measurable difference. Often security forces are the face of national governance in the regions conflicts and instability reside, and by helping security forces evolve in how they represent their government is far more durable than simply helping them to become more effective at suppressing discontent.

For me, training is much more a vehicle for engagement than an end unto itself. We profit far more from the understanding, influence and relationships we build through persistent interaction than we do from any particular capacity or piece of kit we might share. This is why Special Forces are so effective in this role. SF is far less likely to seek to convert some partner into a lesser version of ourself, but more to seek to understand the partner and their challenges while helping them to become a better version of theirself. Training for training sake is probably as counter-productive to our ends as it is productive.

The other reason why SF tends to do well at this mission is because we are more apt to not set off perceptions that our presence and activities are somehow an affront to the sovereignty of the partner or allied state, or to undermine the perceived legitimacy of security force we are working with.

Respecting sovereignty and legitimacy; focusing on developing understanding, influence and relationships over time; and emphasizing the value of professionally engaging ones own populace. These to me are the true keys to success. I fear that gets lost in much of the current rhetoric over "BPC."