Small Wars Journal

Building Partner Capability

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 8:08am

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Editor's Note: Jack Midgley considers how the Army should prepare itself to accomplish partner nation capability-building missions.  These missions are in increasing vogue today, both in full-fledged conflicts such as Afghanistan and in our day-to-day "Phase 0" operations.  A key issue commanders must consider are the statutory authorities, or lack thereof, to conduct these missions.  The growing appetite for security cooperation is not matched in all cases by Title 22 funds or Title 10 special authorities that permit true capacity building.  As the focus shifts to building partner capacity, will the military seek additional authorities to conduct this mission?


How should the US Army organize, equip and position itself to accomplish essential partner nation capability-building missions?  After ten years of continuous combat operations, no consensus has emerged on the best Army structures, policies or practices to accomplish a mission set that encompasses tasks as varied as building the Afghan Army and enabling alternatives to Taliban-based dispute resolution.  The purpose of this paper is to identify the conceptual challenges that must be addressed to define the Army’s approach to future capability-building missions.

Introduction: The Essential Army Role in Capability-Building

US national  interests demand an enduring ability to build the internal capability of partner nations, even as the resources available for national defense become increasingly constrained.  President Obama succinctly framed the requirement in his January announcement of  revised US national defense strategy:

“As a new generation across the Middle East and North Africa demands their universal rights, we are supporting political and economic reform and deepening partnerships to ensure regional security.  In contrast to the murderous vision of violent extremists, we are joining with allies and partners around the world to build their capacity to promote security, prosperity and human dignity.”[1] (Emphasis added)

While US Special Operations forces continue to make invaluable contributions to US security, and the emerging focus on China and the Pacific draws attention and resources toward naval and air forces, the essential role of Army general purpose forces in building partner capability cannot be overlooked.  In his “Marching Orders”, Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray Odierno identified “Shaping” operations – including efforts to build partner nation capability --  as one of three elements of the Army’s spectrum of operations, along with conflict prevention and warfighting. 

There is good reason for the Army to be positioned to conduct the nation’s critical capability-building operations. Only Army general-purpose forces can deliver a flexible combination of lethal and non-lethal combat power, massive logistical support and broad civil-military capabilities.  So there is no question that capacity-building missions will continue to demand an Army response. The issue is – how should the Army organize, equip and position itself to accomplish essential partner nation capability-building missions?

The answer will not be obvious or easy. After ten years of continuous combat operations, no consensus has emerged on the best Army structures, policies or practices to accomplish a mission set that encompasses tasks as varied as building the Afghan Army and enabling alternatives to Taliban-based dispute resolution.  The purpose of this paper is to identify the conceptual challenges that must be addressed to define the Army’s approach to future capability-building missions.

Four Conceptual Challenges

The “right answers” to Army requirements for capability-building mission sets will need to address four conceptual challenges that distinguish these missions from more traditional Army combat missions. These challenges are (1) The unique C2 environment inherent in capability-building missions; (2) The broad scope of potential capability-building missions; (3) The multiple types of operational environments in which these missions may occur; and (4) The need to define and plan toward end-states in which transition (rather than “victory”) is the objective.

Challenge 1:  Conduct “C2” With Neither Command Nor Control

Wherever and whenever future capability-building missions occur, two important command and control problems are likely to face senior Army commanders.  First, national and/or coalition guidance on the scope, course and outcome of the capability-building mission is likely to be vague. The reason for this is the inherent difficulty of defining operational-level objectives for these missions.  This problem has plagued every senior coalition military leader in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. While US policy guidance requires that military and civilian resources must develop an Afghan capability to govern the country, few authorities can agree on what ground-level conditions at national and subnational levels would  constitute an acceptable Afghan government capability. When resources were  basically unlimited, ambiguity about operational objectives for Afghan governance did not cause much concern. Commanders and international organizations simply “did what they could”, with the hope that an acceptable outcome would emerge. Of course, no such outcome has emerged, and as resource constraints begin to affect the scope and timing of capability-building operations, difficult questions are raised about required vs. desirable outcomes. National-level guidance does little to help operational commanders set priorities, make resource allocations, or (most important) decide when “enough is enough”.  There is little reason to believe that in future contingency or stability operations, greater clarity will be provided to military commanders charged with capability-building missions.  If this is true then the challenge for Army leaders will be to define, resource and execute capability-building operations that advance overall US policy interests without a clear top-down description of mission requirements.

The second command and control problem is also inherent in the nature of capability-building missions. The problem is that these missions will almost always be conducted in an environment characterized by loose and informal relationships among combined, joint and interagency organizations.

Capability-building missions – whether related to basic security assistance, partner-nation training, or more complex tasks – will generally involve host country participation. If these operations occur in a NATO or other alliance context, then resources from other troop-contributing nations will participate. There is no avoiding the “combined” nature of these missions, and the relatively loose C2 relationships that characterize combined headquarters. In Afghanistan, the reality that military and civil organizations were accountable to their national capitals was a constant factor in C2 arrangements.

The joint nature of capability-building operations seems likely to continue and deepen in the future.  General-purpose Army units may be called upon to support specialized Navy and Air Force resources as specific host-nation capabilities are enhanced, and other services may be required to provide a broad range of support (from fires to logistics or specialized technical capabilities) to Army units engaged in governance or rule of law operations.

Perhaps the most challenging C2 reality is the requirement to operate within an interagency framework. Capability-building operations in Afghanistan proved difficult to direct, or even coordinate, because a range of independent US and international organizations (from the US Justice Department to United Nations entities and NGO’s) asserted interests in contributing to Afghan capability building, and put people and resources into the theater to conduct nominally-independent operations.  There is no reason to believe that future operations will allow Army commanders to wield authority – or even influence – over these non-Army actors. Yet if these operations are uncoordinated, resources may be wasted and lives lost, so there is a common interest in creating an appropriate C2 environment to provide (at minimum) shared situational awareness and a basis for coordinated planning and performance measurement.

Challenge 2:  Achieve Results Across a Broad Mission Space

Future capability-building missions may occur in environments where civil government is functioning (for example, Phillippines), or Army resources may be tasked to build capability where the civil order has collapsed (as in Afghanistan or Horn of Africa).  The security situation may require that commanders address both an ongoing security requirement (e.g. “Defeat the insurgency”) and a requirement to support the re-emergence of civil order. These difficult and complex missions will require Army commanders to work across a broad set of civil-military missions.  The “mission space” within which capability-building may occur might be characterized on two dimensions, as show in Table 1 below. The two dimensions reflect (1) the array of governance and development capabilities which the Army may be called upon to establish or develop; and (2) the level of government (national or subnational) at which these capabilities will be created.  (Entries in the table are illustrations of the types of programs the Army may be required to deliver.)  Army leaders and resources must be organized and prepared to operate anywhere in this option space.  When security conditions dictate, Army operations may be required to lead or support establishment of basic governance, rule of law and humanitarian conditions.

Table 1: Capability-Building Mission Space: Illustrative Examples

The illustrative tasks in Table 1 may be performed by Army organizations, by other military or government civilians, or by international organizations. In any case, the Army ground presence invites an Army capability to secure, coordinate, set objectives for, and measure progress toward, capability-building activities. Clearly, no single permanent military structure could own the range of knowledge, skills, capabilities and resources to deliver this range of outcomes. Yet the Army must be prepared to operate effectively within this mission space.   Perhaps most daunting, commanders must be equipped to analyze the costs and risks associated with multiple options, to be implemented by organizations over which commanders have little direct authority.

Challenge 3: Multiple Operational Environments

Civilian capability-building organizations (contractors, NGO’s, country teams and government agencies) require some level of security to work and move within the area of operations. However, their functions may need to be performed whether or not the environment is secure. For this reason, Army approaches  must include readiness to perform capability-building tasks in permissive environments (likely civilian led) as well as non-permissive environments (likely military-led, or even entirely military).

A recent example of this challenge is provided by programs to build secure prison capacity in Afghanistan  by equipping the Central Prisons Directorate with the skills and resources required to hold convicted insurgent prisoners.  Although this capability-building program was conducted largely by civilian contractors, the security situation in some areas did not permit contractors to travel to, or operate within, key prison facilities. After a well-publicized large-scale prison break by Taliban prisoners in 2011, this capability-building program was modified to add substantial military resources as both security and direct service-providing staff. The outcome was that prison capability was enhanced and contractor personnel were better able to conduct their assigned tasks.

The Army should expect to conduct capability-building operations under non-permissive conditions because these operations are essential for security objectives to be reached. In the Afghan prisons case, districts and provinces could not be considered secure unless the prisons could reliably hold convicted criminals. Yet the prison capability-building program, while civilian led, depended on military resources for transportation, on-site security, logistics and some service delivery. Unless this requirement was planned for and resourced, the overall capability-building task could not be carried out, even though the primary role was played by civilian contractors.

Future Army capability-building operations will need to account for the implications of a non-permissive environment on military and civilian resources.  Forces engaged in counter-insurgency or traditional offensive operations are unlikely to divert resources for capability-building, even if these resources are essential to set the conditions for the security mission to be accomplished.

Challenge 4: “Transition” as an End State

Traditional military operations by general purpose or special operations forces are oriented on achieving “victory” over enemy forces.  But commanders responsible for capability-building operations are likely to be focused on a different outcome. These operations will need to be oriented toward accomplishing two key transitions – the first, to civilian-led development operations, and the second, to host-nation control. The order of these transitions may be different, depending on the nature of the capabilities being built, and the overall security situation.

 Defining the conditions under which these transitions will occur is a difficult problem. The transition to civilian-led capability-building operations allows military resources to move away from this mission, so commanders have an interest in delivering this transition at the earliest possible opportunity.  However, civilian leaders engaged in operations must balance their interest in moving into full control against the advantages of continued logistical, transportation and security support by military assets. In Afghanistan, the operations of the Rule of Law Field Force (ROLFF) illustrated this tension.  ROLFF’s military structure allowed the rule of law professional assigned to this unit to move within the battlespace with relative security. This autonomy allowed ROLFF to establish, or block, program priorities simply by providing or denying transport, communications or other resources.  US Embassy Rule of Law staff viewed ROLFF resources as vital for their mission, and were reluctant to support a transition to fully civilian-led operations. More important, there was little agreement about the conditions under which this transition would ultimately occur, complicating efforts to program or budget the military resources assigned to rule of law operations.

The second capability-building transition --  from US-led to host-nation led operations – is difficult because it requires definition of an end state. This requirement presented planning challenges in Afghanistan which were never fully overcome.  As resources became constrained, planner sought to identify a set of “minimum essential conditions” for US capability-building efforts related to governance and rule of law.  The notion was that if these conditions were met in a specific area, then transition to Afghan leadership of the associated function could follow. On the other hand, if the conditions were not met, then continued US and coalition efforts would be required. 

But planners were unable to identify a set of “minimum essential” conditions under which transition could be effected. Afghan authorities resisted the idea of transitioning the key capability-building programs, because they perceived that resources would disappear. International partners worked hard to have their programs identified as “minimum essential” requirements, because of the perception that this identification would improve the programs’ prospects for continued funding.  In the end, no “minimum essential” conditions for transitioning key capability-building programs could be identified.

Future Army planners are unlikely to have this luxury. In the relatively unconstrained resource environment of Afghanistan, funding was generally available for properly-sponsored capability-building programs. In future conflict environments,  tight budgets and short timelines may demand that Army commanders be able to explain to host nations and to US and allied funders the specific conditions under which transition to host nation ownership will be completed.


The Army must explain how it will conduct capability-building operations in future conflict environments which are likely to be characterized by  loose and complex command and control, multiple mission sets and operating environments, and “transition” rather than victory as an end state. While a full solution is beyond the scope of this paper, some obvious implications for DOTMLPF can be offered:

Doctrine: Army capability-building doctrine should articulate the types of operations and programs the Army will conduct within each of the broad domains of the mission space, including security assistance, governance, economic development, rule of law and infrastructure development at national and subnational levels.  Doctrine will need to embrace the combined, joint, interagency framework as the basic structure within which these operations and programs will be conducted.

Organization:  No single organization could possibly be structured to address the full spectrum of potential capability –building operations facing tomorrow’s Army.  Rather than focusing on special-ops vs. general purpose force debates, Army organizational approaches should seek to create highly flexible headquarters organizations able to deploy rapidly and sustainably with a tailored mix of combined forces and interagency partners. Flexible communications and planning structures will be essential.  Task-organized structures – perhaps on the model of the Rule of Law Field Force – Afghanistan (ROLFF-A) – that rapidly assemble Army skill sets ranging from infantry and military police to engineers, finance, civil affairs, medical service and others will best reflect the likely future requirements for capability-building operations.

Training: COCOM-specific exercises based on a requirement to rapidly deploy a capability-building force would be an effective approach for building skills and reflecting the unique needs of the combatant commanders.  These exercises could reflect different elements of the mission space (for example, an exercise might focus on planning and deploying a sustainable infrastructure-development capability, while another might focus on a mission to provide upgraded military skills to an indigenous Army.

Material:  Interoperable, simple and flexible voice and data communications equipment useable by host nation, coalition and US military and civilian government and NGO partners would make an essential contribution to building the required capability.  The ISAF “SAR” concept might provide a useful standard model for an operations center for Army capability-building operations.

Leadership: The Army could take the lead in creating mid-level and senior leaders from Army and other organizations who train together on a regular basis on interagency planning and execution of complex operations.  We might find useful models for this type of  leadership development in the civilian law enforcement and civil preparedness fields.

Personnel:  Deep language and cultural skills, linked to repeated assignments with a specific COCOM, would advance Army capabilities to conduct capability-building. Broad understanding of basic financial and operational analysis would also support these efforts.


Facilities:  Fixed facilities are not likely to be a requirement for Army capability-building operations.


  The future Army will be called upon to conduct capability-building operations – not just security assistance missions – in a wide range of operational environments, with limited direct authority and a vast array of potential mission requirements.   Current approaches will not do, and we can expect that resources will grow even more constrained over the next few years.  We should continue to think deeply and systematically about the approaches, people and equipment the Army will need to carry out these vital missions.

[1] “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” January 2012.  Washington: Department of Defense 



About the Author(s)


Jack Midgley served in Afghanistan in 2010 – 2011 as an Army civilian advisor.   A former Army officer, Jack was Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. He is a West Point graduate, and earned the MPP at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Ph.D. in political science at MIT. 


Bill M.

Tue, 02/28/2012 - 4:17pm

In reply to by bradford

should be ISAF's Search and Rescue organization and SOP.


Tue, 02/28/2012 - 8:47am

Jack or any,

What does SAR stand for? Also, can anyone elaborate on what the ISAF SAR concept is?


We been arounding the world "trying" to make things right for about the same amount of time. I am not opposed to engaging, but our differences seem to be over how we engage. Yes, I'm opposed to large scale deployments of GPF to "transform" societies because it leads to the entanglements that GW warned us about, and it doesn't work. I am all about supporting modernization trends that are taking place in a nation if they ask for help, that is different than imposing change. I agree that change is a constant, but we can't afford to force change on others unless it is clearly in our national interests to do so versus the CNN effect where we feel compelled to do so because we think we can and we believe we're obligated to do so. I'm for supporting peace enforcement operations after there is a terms of reference. I'm for killing AQ whereever they're at. I'm for helping nations professionalize their security forces. I'm opposed to our ill conceived approach in Afghanistan for a number of reasons, and being opposed to that doesn't mean I'm opposed to smart engagement. The fact that we're tied down there limits our ability to engage smartly elsewhere where we can make a real impact.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 2:17pm

In reply to by Bill M.

In support to Bill, US policy is not to drive change, but rather to prevent it.

While yes, there is a crazy notion that has worked its way into our high level foreign policy that we make ourselves safer when we make others more like us; that is more a "ways" to an "end" of holding the world in a static state of US dominance with all of the perqs and benefits we inherited upon the fall of our nearest peer competitor in the Soviet Union.

But the world is an ecoysystem, and in ecosystems everything is connected and change is constant. Even in relatively stable times, to hold an ecosystem static requires energy and effort. In dynamic, revolutionary periods such as the one that has been emerging in the past generation of technological breakthroughs??? The amount of energy required to create stasis is staggering, and we are staggering in the effort. In fact, we have now a military at war to sustain a nation at peace. That is an unsusainable situation. It will break us. Time to learn to accept change and work with it, rather than against it. Time to accept and work with others as they are as well.

Bill M.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 1:05pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C., the task should rarely, if ever, be train and equip another nation's security forces to oppose its own people to force undesirable change. Rather our task should be to enable security forces to protect and defend its people and their legitimate government. Building security forces to protect an illegitimate government has generally failed because we're going against the grain.

Using military force (to include trying to use others to do our bidding) to impose social change, or speed up cultural changes that we desire to see happen is the wrong approach, and one that always results in a backlash that slows progress. With this approach we create to opposing views and forces, and the dialogue is over. We should promote change through soft power that convinces the people to gradually take on of these ideas in their own way, or better yet make present ideas in a way that makes them their ideas. This can create its own momentum over time that facilitates real change that is culturally acceptable and lasting.

I disagree with your assumption that our national policy (despite public comments from some State Department representatives) is to force change. Our policy is to encourage change. It was the misguided policies of the previous administration that got us into nation building with the idealistic goal of creating shiny nations on the hill that other nations in the region would want to copy. I agree it is stubborn idea that hasn't died completely yet, but it is dying. We all know that not too many nations want to look like Iraq or Afghanistan. This is not dig on our intentions, our intentions were honorable, but our approach was wrong. While we were focused on our quagmires lots of countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and SE Asia in recent years have adapted reforms on their own because "they" convinced themselves that some aspects of modernization and globalization were beneficial, and now they are the shining nations on the hill that will promote the spread of globalization and modernization. We helped facilitate this with diplomacy and low level aid, and in this case less really is more when it comes to facilitating change.

Our approach of using the armed forces to force change doesn't work, and this is why many of us are opposed to GPF focusing a significant portion of their forces on SFA. It distracts from they need to be doing. That doesn't mean they won't continue to have a role in SFA, they have and always will, but to build organizations based on the failed models of Iraq and Afghanistan is not a good choice in my opinion.

Bill C.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 11:18pm

In reply to by Bill M.

"You're presenting modernization through the optic of a few corrupt corporations ... "

If you look more closely, I think you will find that I am simply presenting modernization through the lens of history; which, when reviewed, notes that conflict -- as one might expect -- often occurs when internal (and/or external) governments attempt to substantially and fundamentally change the political, economic and social systems (the way of life) of various states and societies. As one might expect, some people are going to be harmed by this process (or, as COL Jones might put it: "they will have their rice bowls broken").

In this light, consider, for example, the history of the modernization of Japan and the conflicts which occur when certain samurai groups become alienated and fight back accordingly. Likewise, one might consider the Iranian Revolution somewhat from this "opposed to modernization and prepared to fight back to preclude it" point-of-view.

In your comment above, you note that the American North failed in its attempt to modernize the American Southern States. But this only confirms what I have stated, to wit: (1) that the North actually did make a great attempt to impose unwanted change on its fellow citizens, (2) that this attempt ultimately required the significant use of military forces by the North and (3) that the South was prepared to risk everything -- and to fight back with everything it had -- in an attempt to retain its status quo way of life.

So this attempting to impose unwanted change on one's own (or someone else's) population -- and the fact that there will be various population groups that will be harmed by and therefore will oppose and fight back against these changes -- this is simply part and parcel to, and Standard Operating Procedure for, the modernization process.

So, as I have stated above: We either (1) spend the time (50 years) and money needed to train someone else to do the necessary fighting for us (BPC), (2) spend the time ("long war"/"era of persistent conflict") and money necessary to do the required fighting for ourselves or (3) come to understand that options (1) and (2) may be impractical/impossible and, accordingly, shift gears, reverse course and try to put the breaks on this modernization/globalization monster before it can come to do us more harm than good.

Bill M.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 1:58pm

In reply to by Bill C.

That apparently is the same faulty assumption the Army is making with its claim that were will be a huge demand for GPF Army SFA forces. You're presenting modernization through the optic of a few corrupt corporations that have abused their power in the U.S. and globally that subsequently prompted the 99% movement, but those companies don't represent the whole picture. Modernization does NOT have to compromise, threaten, or damage cultures to the extent that it will require armed forces to force this change. Modernization can be integrated in ways that is appropriate for those transforming. You're describing exploitation, and most Americans do not support that.

Since you brought up the Civil War as an example, the Carpet Baggers from the north failed to impose the changes they hoped to on the Southern States after the Civil War. It took close to a hundred years before the South finally became modernized in a sustainable way after the Civil War. Armed force achieved the limited, but needed objectives of keeping the U.S. united and emancipation, but anything changes beyond that was beyond the ability of the military to impose. Hard power has its limitations, and we don't need a military force structure that is designed to pursue such a foolish goal in the 21st Century. We're starting to sound like the Europeans during the Colonial Era with their self righteous claims of the "white man's burden."


Mon, 02/27/2012 - 10:05am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M,
I don’t think that referencing authors such as Barnett, Friedman (Thomas or George), Fukuyama, or Huntington to be a bad idea, particularly given the background of people like Barnett who served as a strategic analyst in the Naval War College or George Friedman and his reputation for providing respectable analysis regarding global events. I’m not saying that these guys ought to be the primary (or even secondary) sources of information for policy formulation, only that I tend to read them because they strike me as having an understanding of global affairs that others far smarter than me seem interested in & make use of. Given that, perhaps I could learn something from them.

Additionally, my perspective is shaped by experiences I’ve had during my deployments, what I read in the news, and what I recall of the last 30 to 40 years regarding US activity around the world. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, my host-nation counterparts (not all but many) have made clear that they follow events in the US, such as our political process. I believe that they do this because, as some of the above authors have noted, what happens in the US affects them in some way, shape, or form.

US news programs might hit the “highlights” regarding world events (Syria and possible US intervention, US citizens hurt in Egypt, etc) but don’t go much beyond that. But foreign news organizations, whether it be BBC, Xinhua, or the English version of Arab News, always pay attention to US affairs. We in the US might pay attention to a couple of areas of the globe, but the entire globe pays attention to us.

Since the 1970s, I’ve watched as we’ve gone from one of two superpowers to the predominant hyperpower on the planet. Very little happens in the world without it holding some kind of interest for us,and most everyone in the world is aware of that as noted above. As a result of ongoing globalization and modernization, more and more people will become more aware of what we are doing and how it impacts them and will be able to provide real-time feedback, some of it violent feedback.

Nothing that I know of can stop this, nor can we disconnect from it. We disconnected from Afghanistan in the 90s and look where that got us. We have no choice but to deal with our global connectivity. Everyone looks to us, whether they like it or not. I do not like the idea of the US as an “empire” but in many ways, we are courtesy of globalization and the increased connectivity that it brings.

I’m certain there are many geopolitical thinkers (like you) who disagree with our continued heavy involvement in global affairs. But the ones I referenced coincide with my observations: we are an integral part of the globalization phenomenon and cannot avoid it. I believe the way to manage this (vs trying to stop it) is through building partner capacity (BPC) and ensuring that others can do the “heavy lifting” instead of having our forces, whether military or civilian, do it for them. I am also in favor of more diplomatic efforts and “soft power” approaches as these seem less likely to piss off people.

Bill M.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 8:29pm

In reply to by Morgan

Let me get this straight, because an author pens an opinion in a book we're obligated to make it our national security strategy? This is the core problem with our foreign policy, the media (to include non thinking think tanks) has too much influence on our policy makers. Of course all opinions should be considered, but referencing an author, whether Friedman, Clausewitz, or Barnett, is apex of intellectual laziness and why we have so many ill conceived policies and doctrines to begin with.

Another George, much wiser than Friedman, George Washington warned us to avoid attachments and entanglements in foreign affairs. He further argued that we pursue a policy of good faith and justice towards all nations, and to avoid long-term friendly relations or rivalries with any nation because these attachments and animosity toward nations will only cloud our judgment when it comes to foreign policy. He realized all nations would try to influence America's foreign policy, but America's real patriots would ignore popular opinion and resist the influence of other nations, and instead seek out what is best for America.

Yes it is a different world now, but that sage advice is still wise, and most, if not all, of our foreign policy missteps happen when we ignore it. George Friedman's arguements (and Thomas Friedman makes similiar ones, as does Thomas Barnett) are little more than propaganda to support agendas, not guiding wisdom for what is best for our nation.


Sun, 02/26/2012 - 1:55pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

I feel that we do not have the capacity to take on the management of global affairs in support of ongoing globalization/ modernization efforts. Despite this, if George Friedman is to to believed, we are a global empire and must acccept the responsibilities that go with that, which include management of global affairs.

If we cannot field enough forces to manage the ongoing globalization efforts, then the fall-back position would appear to be relying on host-nation forces and assisting them thorough the use of embedded advisor teams or (much as I hate to admit) regionaly aligned forces/brigades. We need to remain connected to various parts of the globe in order to influence events in our favor.

Bill C.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 1:54pm

In reply to by Morgan

Morgan and Bill M.

If slowing down modernization/globalization is not an option -- in that far too many people in the West and elsewhere are making far too much off it and enjoying the connectivity it brings -- then the "management" task re: modernization/globalization that Morgan describes above certainly must include sufficiently capable and sufficiently numerous military, police and intelligence forces; this, so as to adequately be able to deal with those whose way-of-life will be compromised, threatened, damaged and/or destroyed via these processes and who will fight back accordingly.

Herein, we must realize that -- as with the American Indians of our Western Frontier -- and as with our fellow citizens in the Civil War era South -- "to oppose one's own people to force undesired change;" this is THE common "management" task associated with these endeavors and, thus, MUST include significant military, police and intelligence capabilities and commitments needed to get the job done.

So: We either (1) find a way of getting others to do this job for us (BPC), (2) fund and provide these military, police and intelligence services ourselves or (3) re-consider the "no option" theory noted by Morgan above.


Sun, 02/26/2012 - 4:02am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

I am of the opinion that slowing down modernization/ globalization is not an option. There are far too many people in the West who are making too much off of it and too many people elsewhere (like here in the lovely Persian Gulf region) that enjoy the connectivity it brings.

Perhaps the task becomes: How to manage modernization/ globalization given that it will remain a constant in our lives.

Bill C.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 12:59am

If the general purpose force -- and/or other capabilities of the United States armed forces and its allies -- cannot reasonably be expected (for various reasons) to be able to prepare the military and police forces of other countries to [1] stand against those members of their own state and society who adamantly oppose modernization/globalization and [2] stand against those members of other states and societies who adamantly oppose modernization/globalization,

Then these critical tasks (see [1] and [2] above) will have to be performed by the armed forces of the United States and its allies alone.

Given how very few and very far between such missions one might reasonably expect the armed forces of the United States and its allies to actually be able to do, then should we not consider this option (the US and its allies alone will perform these missions) also to be impractical?

Thus, if we cannot reasonably be expected to adequately build partner capacity -- and cannot reasonably be expected to do these missions alone -- then does not the new task logically become: Determine how we might be able to reverse course and slow down/put the brakes on modernization/globalization, rather than, as we do today, try to speed these things up?

It appears Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails is proving strikingly appropriate for this continued belief in nation building by the West.

Mr Midgley says “There is good reason for the Army to be positioned to conduct the nation’s critical capability-building operations. Only Army general-purpose forces can deliver a flexible combination of lethal and non-lethal combat power, massive logistical support and broad civil-military capabilities. So there is no question that capacity-building missions will continue to demand an Army response.”

How many really believe the US and its closest allies will embark on nation building as the prerogative of the military in the foreseeable future?

We do not need to commit our military to nation building campaigns in order to maintain stability or to hedge against threats to the US and its closest allies. There are many well equipped and well-meaning organisations who have been implementing the tenants or COIN well before this doctrine was re-cast from the romance of previous wars. Even if we agreed there should be a “nation building” Corp, haven’t we learnt that it is only welcome by the elite few who can capitalise on the funds and does not mean those nations we are trying to build will be our partners. We may chase the illusion that if only we build more of their nation at our expense, eventually they will love us, believe in the same principles and theories of justice as we do.

There is a poignant line in Ibn Warraq’s book Why Im Not A Muslim, “Americans tend to think that deep down we all have the same values. Americans believe that all these terrorists, if you scratch beneath the surface, are looking for religious equality and justice. That's complete and utter nonsense. Americans can't face the reality that different people have different values.”

Does our military need to be engaged at this level; if so should this happen at the next invasion, pre-emptive strike, and why aren’t we doing this military nation building in places like Yemen and Somalia?
While not ever having been a soldier, I hesitate to make a comment on how the military should be trained. No doubt having military personnel with language skills and cultural awareness skills is helpful but they are only helpful if they are trained in fulfilling their most important responsibility and that is the defence of our national security at home and abroad and in the defeat of our enemies.

A good example is South Sudan. A new nation out of 30 years of bitter civil war and despite its independence it remains fragile, with large areas of newly formed insurgent activity in the North. The US and many other partners such as the Six Nation Joint Donor Team and other countries are there capacity building. It is nation building but it is being done without Mr Midgley’s determination that this be carried out by the military. Yes, there are some great US military personnel who I met there training the South Sudanese forces, but there is no expectation that this intervention goes any further.

In fact, many who have worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, then jumped into a place like South Sudan find the transition quite difficult because as a military advisor, capacity builder etc there is no one really against you or for you, the Government is a legitimate sovereign entity in its own right, there are no IEDs, although rebels are now using mines like an IED, and expecting to win hearts and minds is naive.

Ken White

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 10:34pm

Shorter version:

The GPF Rice Bowl is being attacked. Battle Stations!

This comment to the above Article is provided by one who spent well over 20 years in the GPF in several 'security assistance' operations on three Continents.

It. Does. Not. Work. Well.

There is a place for the GPF in some such operations but they should be the exception rather than the rule as the GPF will NEVER do them well -- nor should they...

We provide entirely too much 'security assistance' around the world, most of it does not serve us well and there are far better ways to handle most such requirements. Bill C. may have a point when he states: "<i>So, as in the recent past, the mission seems to be the same:"</i> To me, that raise a large question:

Overall and on a cost benefit basis how have those rather flaky missions worked out for us?

Bill M.

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 9:50pm

In reply to by Bill C.

First there are few in North Africa and the Middle East that share our values, even if they oppose their current tolatarian regimes. That doesn't mean they're freedom fighters in the sense that those in the West would use the term.

Second, the U.S. should where appropriate should "assist" them in developing good governance, and security forces are a part of that equation, but ideally the "assist" response should be regional, and largely funded by those in the region. We simply can't afford to spend billions in "hope" of liberating the world. We have to pick and choose and invest wisely. The vision of the U.S. doing SFA around the world on a large scale probably won't fly with the American taxpayers no matter how much we spin it (invest now, save later).

Burden sharing needs to become a line of operation that we to more aggressively pursue.

Build partner capacity in (1) what principal region of the world and (2) to what end?

Herein, I look to the quote offered by the author at his introduction:

"As a new generation across the Middle East and North Africa demand their universal rights, we are supporting political and economic reform ..."

So, as in the recent past, the mission seems to be the same:

a. Help our Middle East/North African "partners" (those who think like us) modernize their states and societies along western lines (install market-democracies; integrate/incorporate into the global economy) and

b. Help them stand against those members of their own states and societies -- and/or against those members of other states and societies -- who would tend to resist these necessary "reform" efforts and agenda.

It is clear that many in the Army, and its advisors like Jack, are projecting the Army's future based on its recent past. This is opposed to the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) published in January 2012 that describes how DOD should evolve for projected missions in 2020 to retain U.S. Global leadership based on economic realities. It clearly states we will endeavor to avoid large scale nation building efforts, but maintain our knowledge to do so should it be necessary. That doesn’t imply we should align force structure towards this mission. SFA outside the realm of large nation building efforts like we saw in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan don’t require a large numbers of active duty advisors compared to the scale that the Army is currently habituated to. One of the missions in the DPG was to sustain, and in some cases develop, the ability to defeat any adversary. The Army (and Marines) are losing force structure, to include reducing the number of brigades (the type of organization that actually defeats adversaries in combat), and they are further choosing on their own to reduce their numbers further for form SFA BDEs that will reduce available combat forces even further. SFA demand can probably be generated, but it is not a natural condition, we will have to create the market. We won’t be selling the product, instead we’ll be paying for it and giving it away, and in so doing if we artificially generate excessive demand we’ll be undermining our economy and subsequently our national security.

There have been several problems with the way we have waged warfare since 9/11, one of them was SOCOM's mantra of “through, by and with”, which effectively dumbed downed the collective thinking about security that resulted in a view that the world was our surrogates and would do our bidding. After 10 years of training the ANA and spending billions to produce a force that is 1% combat effective should be an indicator that “through, by and with” has its limits, and throwing more money and forces at it won't change the fact that many in the world do not desire to be our surrogates or share our objectives. When we have mutual objectives or common interests then SFA can be a credible force multiplier. It is a tool in the toolbox, and it is a tool that needs to function well when we need it. The current SFA methodology and bureaucracy is clearly broken. If creating SFA Bdes are the only means to retain force structure for the inevitable future wars we will have to fight, then reluctantly I can understand the logic behind this. Special Forces had to focus on Direct Action and Special Reconnaissance during the 80s (prior to USSOCOM forming) to maintain force structure, although it wasn’t an appropriate mission for the force, and ultimately seriously degraded SF capabilities over time. Hopefully the proposed SFA Bdes won’t do that to the Army, and I guess ultimately they can’t hurt the force any more than making its men where false breasts and pretend to carry a baby to they can emphasize with female soldiers.

SF is generally better at training foreign security organizations at the tactical level in infantry, security and CT tactics, but that form of capacity building generally has a short shelf life, hence SF in the long run generally doesn't really build capacity either in most cases if we're talking long shelf life HN capacity. For example, how many infantry Bns has SF trained in the Philippines since the early 1980s to present day? What is the shelf life of that training? Generally less than 6 months, so if they can accomplish whatever we want them to accomplish (assuming it is mutually agreed upon) within that time, then it is worthwhile investment. If not it was little more than another engagement exercise. Why does this happen? That is because don’t have holistic system approach, and fail to engage at the appropriate levels where to advise and assist the HN develop appropriate policies, instead of trying to get them to replicate U.S. policies. We need to help them more at the institutional level (something the Army may be uniquely suited to do) to help them develop self-sustaining schools, professional development programs, and assist them in developing a financial system (whole of government effort) to sustain and self-perpetuate any gains made. Keeping the end in mind that means we don’t encourage them to build security forces larger than their budget can sustain as we insanely did in Afghanistan. Finally, and probably too late we started the VSO program, which may be a sustainable security force, but the issue remains that they don’t generally support U.S. objectives or the Karzai government.

Whatever role can the Army plays in SFA in the future shouldn’t be based on the failures of working with the ANA, those are not lessons learned, or even lessons observed, despite the propaganda to the contrary. They need to go back further in history and examine a wide range of situations where the Army used SFA methodology to support accomplishing the mission in war and peace. The Army has done a decent job supporting the development of foreign peace keeping forces, developing niche capabilities, and in some locations helping the host nation stand up NCO academies, and of course they deploy on exercises as Dave mentioned where they demonstrate how our Army operates to the HN (seeing is believing). What they need now to help foreign partners develop niche capabilities and in some cases more capacity is the authority to conduct the training outside of war, without that any concept to get the Army to provide more support to SFA is dead before it starts.

The reality is the natural demand (HN pull) for BPC is largely niche capabilities to assist the HN in dealing with "their" perceived threats (mostly irregular), and it normally doesn't require the development of huge land forces that the HN can't afford to sustain. Additionally, if the Army sends small numbers of advisors and trainers it will force them to work within the HN’s cultural norms instead of creating a large machine that attempts to force the HN to become mini-American armies. SF is often effective, because we deploy small forces that prevent us from becoming ineffective. We couldn’t force them to be like us if we wanted to, so we accept what they do and present training that improves their current condition.

The GPF is not the only force misapplying the wrong lessons from OEF-A, in my neck of the woods we have seen some unfortunate side effects of SF combat experience in Afghanistan. Instead of adapting their tactics and prisoner handling procedures to the geographical terrain and culture they're in (outside of Afghanistan), they're encouraging HNs in a different part of the world to operate the same way, which is not only tactically inappropriate based on the terrain in most cases, but if these tactics will further isolate security forces from the populace they’re serving. No one is expert at this, some organizations are generally better than others, but they still need to improve their skills and methods as it relates to SFA. We need to think this through more thoroughly. We don't have a solution when we don't even understand the problem. When that is the approach we simply have an agenda.

Despite above criticism the I agree the article is well written and makes good points that should be debated, the one question I have for the author (like others below) is where is the demand signal for the conventional Army to support BPC in large numbers outside of Afghanistan? Or perhaps he doesn’t see the requirement for large numbers, but small distributed training teams throughout the globe?

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 11:12am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


How much "capacity" do we actually build? And of that capacity, how much of that is the most important aspects of such mil to mil exchanges? This is a bit of a misnomer when we call this "capacity building" and we in the SOF community need to take responsiblity for misleading our conventional brothers as to what is most important about these exchanges you list in your post.

What is important? Building relationships, increasing understanding of each other as people and as militaries, laying foundations for trust and potential future interaction on matters of shared national interests. Also the deterrent effect of indirectly communicating our own capabilities in a first hand way that helps avoid the miscalulations that come when one assumes their opponent's prowess is a manufactured exaggeration.

The Army today believes that SFA and FID are simply exercises in training foreign forces. If that is indeed the primary prupose, then why not validate multible BCTs against each GCC AOR, and simply apply the existing ARFORGEN process to rotate BCTs in and out of the mix on their appointed turn? As you and I both well appreciate, such a perspective is overly simplistic, and such an approach is disasterously inappropriate. FID and SFA are not simply "training," and definitely are not training couched in terms of assessing some foreign military against US doctrinal standards, and then attempting to train them to the same. One of the very best aspects of the VSO/ALP program in Afghanistan, for example, is that the focus is on making Afghans more effective at Afghan-style security; rather than, as we do with the massive failure that is the ANA, attempt to mold Afghans into a "mini-me" version of the United States Army.

Currently the Army believes, wisely, that conventional forces will be much more effective at FID/SFA if trained prior to deploying by SMEs from the Special Forces community; and then fused with Special Forces in execution. What I find curious, is that senior conventional leaders can recognize that the forces beneath them do not understand this mission or know how to best execute it; but fail to apply that same insight to their own understanding of such operations. They assume they "get it" and they most certainly do not.

Recently I read where LTG Scaparrotti, in defense of the ANA program, conceded that after 10 years only some 1% of the ANA could operate independently. Wow. With successes like that God save us from setbacks. Besides the surface metric of incompetence (of both force development and force performance), is the even more damning underlying metric that the segment of the populace that supports GIRoA does not believe in the mission the West and ISAF has cast for them. We are pushing a wet noodle up a very steep and sticky surface there. Capacity building is a false savior, and the sooner we recognize that reality the better.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 10:35am

I concur with Gian that this is a well written and useful article.

I would again ask, what is the real demand signal (and not the one we create ourselves) for large scale Regular Forces to do this?

On the other hand this "capability" is not new. We have been building partner capability (and better yet trying to improve interoperability) with militaries around the world – look first at the traditional Joint Chiefs of Staff and Service exercise programs and all the traditional exercises from Cobra Gold to Team Spirit (which perhaps should be reprised), Foal Eagle to Flintlock and Bright Star and Balikatan and Cabanas and RIMPAC and Cope Thunder and the many, many more we conduct with friends, partners, and allies around the world. What is new is the idea that we think we have to provide a large number of advisors to countries to conduct a range of capability building functions from the tactical to the strategic. We do need to ask if that is really desired by all these countries. What countries are desiring these types of operations? (what are US country teams submitting as requirements for Regular Forces to do this?) As I look at the chart in the article, other than Iraq and Afghanistan what sovereign country is going to want Regular US Forces to come in and perform most of these national and sub-national level functions? (caveat: the author does make the important point that more than the military is required to perform many of these tasks)

But I do worry that what is going to get cut in the budget will be funding of the JCS and Service exercise programs.

If conducted based on a coherent theater and national strategy, these programs are among some of the important things we can do during the so-called "phase zero." We can build partner capacity as required (or desired) and help develop effective interoperability among ours and the military forces of friends, partners, and allies as well as maintain our combat effectiveness through good training.

Mark Holten

Tue, 02/21/2012 - 12:08pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave, you make a very good point on the lack of a large demand signal for conventional forces to do these kinds of activities. There simply isn't one. I also agree with Bob Jones' points about the nature of these activities being more than just training and equipping partner countries to become "mini-mes."

I can guarantee you that Chiefs of Mission, MILGP Commanders and host nation government officials in politically sensitive countries (which is probably more the rule than the exception) are not going to want to use conventional forces to conduct these activities. They choose SOF time and again because they are mature, culturally attuned, and specifically selected, assessed and trained to operate in their regions of specialty. Put simply "they don't like problems."

I remember when the Army pitched this concept a few years ago and thought they were going to be deploying BCT-sized elements to countries in order to conduct these activities. In 99% of the countries on earth, a BCT deployment is called an invasion -- never going to happen.

The author makes his case back at West Point from the perspective of his experience in Afghanistan. Well, Afghanistan is a combat zone and of little use for a conversation about global SFA. In the real world, the Chief of Mission in each country is in charge and the term "battle space owner" is pejorative, insensitive and infuriating. It supposes that there is a "battle space" and that host nation governments are not sovereign governments in charge of their sovereign territories.

In addition, the amount of training, education and experience required to get general purpose forces up to a level required to match that of SOF would be prohibitively expensive. It sort of reminds of someone who purchases a tractor trailer deciding they want to use it to race NASCAR. Could it be done? Probably... But why would you want to?

I understand the Army's quest to find relevancy as they withdraw from Afghanistan. But trying to argue that we can use a hammer to plant tomatoes, while technically possible, is simply silly and not the best use of the nation's resources.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 11:27am

In reply to by gian gentile

Roger, Bob. You are preaching to the choir as I think I might have some understanding that FID is more than just training having participated in such operations once in awhile. But show me the demand signal for this type of work for a large number of Regular Forces. And for all the emphasis on language and culture and advising and assisting, I think we forget that the bona fides of our Regular Forces with host nation forces is based on their incredible war fighting skills and capabilities. I also think it is the height of hubris that we think we are going to go around the world and reform elections, prisons, infrastructure and the like during the so called 'Phase Zero."

Our Regular Forces are well suited for conducting exercises and training with host nation forces and host nation forces want to benefit from exposure to Regular forces TTPs. In the time of constrained resources we need to be focused on our military having the capabilities it will need to accomplish its missions in times of crisis, conflict, and war. We should not be chasing missions but instead making sure we can do what we need to do. Conducting exercises with host nation forces can be an effective tool for training of both and helping to develop some level of interoperability. We should not be trekking off on romantic notions that we can shape the governments and military forces.

gian gentile

Mon, 02/20/2012 - 9:07am

This article is articulate and clearly argued.

Yet it is trapped in the past and wont let go of the last 10 years of Iraq and Afghanistan. It assumes or at least by implication that our 10 years-plus of capacity building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has achieved an appreciable strategic and political goal. I say it has not. Yet the article assumes that it has, and then takes this assumption and thrusts it into a future of more capacity building adventures. Sorry but i dont see it likely at all that the national command authority is going to thrust a couple of combat brigades into the horn of africa or in the midle of Sudan to do capacity building along with fighting in the middle of a civil war.

What is most worrisome about this article is at the end when it comes to making hard choices about how the army should train and organize itself for these kinds of missions. Suggestions like more cultural and language training, sending senior officers to schools where they can learn how to do these kinds of missions seems to me to be taking the army away from what its core function is toward something that is based more on the past than a realistic view of the future.