In late 2011, the new Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, proclaimed that the U.S. Army’s roles are to prevent conflict, shape the international environment, and win the nation’s wars. Since then, various program managers and office directors within the Army have been scrambling to show how their efforts support the prevent-shape-win construct, some with more success than others. These moves are undoubtedly motivated by both a desire to show that managers and leaders are ‘on board’ with the new Chief’s guidance and the related hope that ties to General Odierno’s construct will form a kind of insurance policy should sequestration come to pass in 2013.
This is especially true in terms of security cooperation (SC) programs – the means by which the U.S. Government encourages and enables countries and organizations to work with the United States to achieve strategic objectives, including all Department of Defense interactions with foreign security forces. More specifically, such programs include military educational exchanges, training efforts, military exercises, senior leader visits, foreign military sales, and multinational research and development. The good news for security cooperation proponents is that the current Chief seems infinitely more receptive to the utility of such efforts than some of his recent predecessors, and there is evidence that security cooperation efforts are receiving increased attention and resources in Army budget battles.
Nonetheless, whether and how security cooperation supports the Chief’s objectives matters not merely because of bureaucratic politics and related struggles over responsibilities and scarce resources. It matters primarily because the requirement to conduct security cooperation activities can ultimately impact the size, shape, skills, capabilities, and composition of U.S. military forces.
When it comes to ‘preventing’ and ‘shaping,’ it’s fairly obvious to military planners, practitioners on the ground, as well as outside analysts and strategists that security cooperation programs and activities play fundamental roles. For example, a military exercise with South Korea may have a deterrent effect on North Korea by signaling both the South’s capabilities as well as Washington’s resolve to support its ally, thereby helping to prevent conflict. Or, educating Pakistani officers in American military schoolhouses may expose them to U.S. thought, practices, and traditions, thereby potentially shaping their own attitudes and approaches in South Asia, as well as providing American military ‘access’ of a sort through the development of personal relationships between individual U.S. and Pakistani officers.
What’s less intuitive, at least within U.S. Army circles but arguably the other services as well, is how security cooperation contributes to the ‘win’ concept. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest that the Army has intentionally worn blinders in this regard, purposefully erecting a kind of firewall between security cooperation and the ‘win’ concept. The precise reasons for this are unclear, but in any case it’s instructive to note that the Department of Defense definition for security cooperation rather conspicuously avoids any mention of what advantages U.S. forces – as distinct from U.S. national security more broadly – gain from engaging in SC activities.
Nonetheless, there’s a great deal of benefit for U.S. forces in conducting security cooperation, and not simply in the contexts of ‘preventing’ and ‘shaping.’ Indeed, security cooperation can play its most important role – especially through multinational training, exercises, and acquisition efforts all aimed at interoperability – in the context of ‘winning,’ ultimately strengthening the ability of American forces to prevail against enemies on the battlefield or in other zones of conflict. Security cooperation does this in three ways:
First, and most obviously, training, exercises, and multinational acquisition programs enable foreign forces to work more closely with U.S. forces in coalition operations. Certainly there’s a range of interoperability levels – from deconfliction, in order to avoid fratricide when military forces of different countries operate in close proximity, all the way up to actual integration, when a British brigade operates under an American division for example. At the lower end of that spectrum, crafting interoperability on the fly can often be successful, but usually barely so. During the NATO operation against Libya last year, French and British attack helicopter units – which had never operated in such a context before, and hence were incapable of conducting combined operations without great risk – agreed to fly at certain times of the day in order to avoid shooting each other. The French flew from noon to 2pm, the British flew from 3pm to 5pm, and nobody flew from 2pm to 3pm.
At the upper end of the interoperability spectrum – in the realm of high-intensity conflict or hybrid warfare – the ability of U.S. and foreign forces to operate side by side cannot be crafted from scratch, at least not without a steep learning curve and significant operational risk. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and its closest allies have had years to refine both the science and the art of intensive, integrated interoperability. Military officials on both sides of the Atlantic are greatly concerned over how to maintain the interoperability that’s been developed to date, which is quite perishable as troops enter and leave military service and as experienced commanders move to new assignments or get promoted.
Training, exercises, and common acquisition programs are the ticket to maintaining some minimal level of integrative interoperability with and among America’s most capable allies. Such tools expose foreign forces to U.S. tactics, techniques, and procedures necessary to fight side by side with American troops, while also improving U.S. capabilities by exposing American forces to the best practices of their foreign partners.
The second way in which security cooperation promotes the ability of U.S. forces to ‘win’ is by instructing American forces on how to operate with multinational partners and in coaltions. Both American history and U.S. national security strategies tell us that the United States prefers to wield international force in a coalition or multinational context. For example, the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review report stated, “Whenever possible, the United States will use force in an internationally sanctioned coalition with allies, international and regional organizations, and like-minded nations…. We have an enduring need to build future coalitions.” Indeed, it’s difficult to recall when, over the last 20 years or more, the United States has committed combat forces to any military operation unilaterally, without a single international partner.
If coalition warfare is how the United States will prefer to fight in the future, it can only help U.S. troops to train as they would fight – that is, to provide them with exercises and training events that include as a matter of course multinational, coalition partners. American troops role-playing – or paying for U.S. contractors to play the part of coalition partners – do an injustice to U.S. forces, unnecessarily handicapping them when they’re actually called upon to conduct an operation in a coalition context. Given the experience of the last decade, in which coalition partners played critical roles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya, and elsewhere, it’s downright perplexing as to why the participation of multinational forces in every U.S. mission rehearsal exercise and every U.S. full spectrum collective training event isn’t given higher priority, at least in American military doctrine and defense policy guidance. Inexplicably, the word ‘multinational’ and the word ‘coalition’ each appear just once in the U.S. Army’s field manual on ‘Training Units and Developing Leaders for Full Spectrum Operations’ – in the context of describing operational environments.
Finally, security cooperation – especially training, exercises, and multinational acquisition programs – with America’s most capable allies strengthens the ability of U.S. forces to ‘win’ by paving the way for allied participation in coalition operations. Having a coalition of countries face down an aggressor isn’t merely a matter of diplomatic window-dressing, designed to provide a patina of legitimacy. Coalition partners typically provide critical, necessary boots on the ground, allowing a coalition to collectively achieve a mass of force that might not otherwise be possible. Although the operational necessity of Tonga’s contribution – four dozen troops – to the coalition supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom might have been questionable, the more recent ‘surge’ effort in Afghanistan – where non-U.S. coalition forces made up a substantial portion of the necessary troops deployed in 2009 – proves there may be instances where the United States needs the mass provided by a broad, collective, coalition endeavor. Security cooperation, particularly that focused on interoperability with America’s most capable allies, provides senior foreign military and political leaders with confidence in the ability of their forces to participate and prevail in a coalition with the United States. No one can say with absolute certainty where the next military conflict will unfold and under what conditions, and it’s equally impossible to discern which of America’s allies will have the political will to join in a coalition. However, if the leaders of those allies know that their national forces are capable of successfully operating side-by-side with U.S. forces while incurring minimal casualities, evidence suggests they will be more likely to accept both the operational and political risks and therefore join the coalition. From the Army’s perspective, increased coalition participation should mean fewer, less frequent rotations of U.S. Soldiers into combat zones, thereby increasing time at home station and spreading risk more broadly in a particular operation.
Security cooperation is clearly a vital tool in ‘preventing’ conflict and ‘shaping’ the international environment, and it’s obvious the U.S. Army understands this. What’s less clear is whether the Army sees security cooperation as a means of ‘winning’ – indeed there’s evidence that the Army believes otherwise. Nonetheless, there are important reasons for viewing security cooperation efforts – especially exercises, training events, and multinational acquisition programs – as critical to building and maintaining multinational interoperability and hence as a key tool necessary for the Army to ‘win.’ Hence, the U.S. Army and the other military services ought to strengthen their embrace – through doctrinal changes, budgetary reprioritization, and refined policy guidance, among other methods – of the interoperability benefits that stem from security cooperation. It is stated policy that the United States will wield force in a coalition context whenever possible. By acknowledging and leveraging the role that SC can play in providing the Army and the Defense Department with the ability to operate more effectively and more efficiently in a coalition, U.S. military leaders will be best prepared to provide any future commander in chief with a variety of military options to deal with tomorrow’s contingencies.