Small Wars Journal

USAR Security Cooperation

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 7:09pm

USAR Security Cooperation

Benjamin Flosi


Far from the respite promised by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army continues its quest to influence global stability, albeit now through a number of methods falling under the rubric of Security Cooperation (SC). The Army is working energetically to create new concepts, institute regional alignments, and increase multilateral exercises, all designed to get soldiers out of the door and executing SC. While current SC efforts and strategies contribute to overall security, the centrality of fragile states, weak institutions, poor governance, and lack of economic opportunities to current problems, combined with demands on the Active Component (AC), necessitates SC solutions with the breadth of scope and malleability that can only be optimized by incorporating the US Army Reserve (USAR).

USAR Background and Uniqueness

The USAR consists of almost 200,000 uniformed personnel filling a number of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) serving in critical operational support and force sustainment positions, and in commands and units exclusive to or highly concentrated in the USAR. Many of these capabilities are structured to effect populations and private institutions, and enhance the effectiveness of government and military structures operating at the national and strategic levels, such as ministries. Additionally, USAR personnel possess civilian training, education, professions, and experience that provide distinctive knowledge relevant to SC. While not comprehensive, a number of these capabilities include medical and financial expertise, civil affairs and military information support operations, public administration and economic experts, logistics and quartermaster units, bridging and horizontal construction capabilities, police forces, and a high ratio of civilian attorneys and doctors. Taken together, the USAR provides a life saving and life sustaining force that allows SC planners the opportunity to enhance current strategies.

Partner Country Territorial Control

The primary utility of incorporating the USAR into long-term SC plans and strategies stems from the belief, articulated in the president’s National Security Strategy, that governments meeting the needs of their citizens, securing popular legitimacy, and maintaining stable institutions can provide security and stability within their borders.[i] And yet, US efforts instead have traditionally focused on building combat capability in the platoon, company, or brigade through training and equipping, bypassing larger government, political, and economic development. The Army cannot ignore the nexus between governance and stability in the future, especially as studies show that highly democratic states with robust government institutions actually derive greater results from traditional SC programs that build hard combat power through training and equipping.[ii] This is because weak states either can’t use or maintain the U.S. provided equipment and training correctly or do not have the widespread popular acceptance necessary to make such programs viable.[iii]

To solve this dilemma, the USAR can utilize its forces to address internal government ineptness and lack of popularity.  The USAR Legal Command, for example, is comprised of government and private sector attorneys. These officers, trained as a military and civilian lawyers, can improve rule of law and help guarantee rights in host countries in tandem with traditional efforts to deliver weapon platforms and train combat units. In fact, these professionals currently conduct independent similar smaller level training in several African countries. Incorporating these activities into broader SC strategies can promote responsible use of received equipment and demonstrate to the population that increases in a state’s ability to apply violence will be incorporated into a larger legal framework allowing for individual protection.  Additionally, the USAR possesses units that train and administer institutions larger than typical combat forces. The U.S. can again use these units to supplement the delivery of weapons systems and training of combat forces. Here, the USAR builds host country institutional capability to incorporate and manage the increase in combat capacity or equipment from a traditional SC program. Ideally, this increased administrative capacity will create more professional and less corrupt defense institutions garnering wider acceptance of U.S. train and equip programs and allow governments receiving aid to build the institutional ability to manage programs and equipment that increase in scope and complexity.

Internal stability also rests on popular acceptance of the government, which depends in part on a nation’s ability to deliver government services, reduce corruption, and create economic opportunities for its population.[iv] This principle applies whether fragility hinges on local insurgencies, state disintegration, or terrorism more global in nature since national strategies focus in part on alleviating the underlying conditions, motivators, and enablers of violent extremism.[v] Indeed, a number of findings show that nonmaterial aid, such as education and law enforcement, are more highly correlated with reducing state fragility with associated programs appearing to have better results than traditional train and equip efforts.[vi] Here again, the USAR is positioned to assist partner countries increase governance capacity and help in developing local economies.  The USAR’s distinctive strengths in areas such as engineering, medical, and civil affairs can work with countries’ miniseries to deliver these services directly to populations. The USAR can also develop, through training and equipping, similar capabilities in partner countries. In either scenario, these efforts will expand host nation governance while developing institutional capacity to provide these services.

Contributes to Total Army Readiness

While SC maintains a prominence throughout Army institutional guidance, threats to international order include challenges corresponding to the rise of China, a re-assertive Russia, containing Iran and North Korea, and possible pandemics. To adequately face these challenges, the Army must train for many diverse scenarios while maintaining the flexibility to react to unpredicted and rapidly emerging risks.

Meeting these perils requires that combat formations, concentrated in the AC or National Guard, remain ready to deploy and engage in direct combat.  Participating in SC activities could reduce a combat brigade’s ability to train their core mission of engaging in direct combat optimally.[vii] Since training requirements to get a unit into peak shape are sophisticated, robust, and require support primarily available in US training facilities, it is hard to meet them overseas or while training with partner forces.[viii] Hence, a combat unit leaving the country to engage in SC will complete a rotation at a Training Center, reach the peak of combat preparedness, and deploy soon after this event. The unit then can be placed in the position of conducting SC operations consisting of training below the level necessary to maintain optimal readiness.[ix] Increasing the utilization of the USAR in SC activities that pursue goals such as influencing partners and gaining access, which are achievable without using a combat unit, allows the AC to maintain readiness. If the policy goal of an SC plan is to develop relationships with Indonesia’s army or facilitate its political relationship with the U.S., for example, through bi-lateral training, information exchanges, or similar activities, then the USAR can readily accomplish this end. The USAR personnel system that keeps soldiers and officers in units over large parts of their careers also increases the potential to build relationships with partners since individuals remain in place to engage with counterparts over a number of years. This in turn reduces risks associated with over committing vital combat formations, allowing the AC to remain trained and ready to deal with the nation’s most pressing threats while strengthening international bonds over the long term.

Additionally, in an inverse situation, using USAR for SC operations increases USAR readiness. Unlike AC combat units, peak readiness for support units entails the exact training and skill set involved in conducting an SC mission overseas. If a USAR unit’s core mission consists of building a road, performing legal activity, or administering medical care, this can be accomplished as readily in a host country alongside an indigenous unit as in a U.S. training facility. Deploying the USAR for overseas SC operations also prepares it to perform its critical duty of supporting Governors in times of emergencies through the Defense Support to Civil Authority mission.[x] Hence, using the USAR in these cases will accomplish the intent of many SC plans while increasing total Army readiness by increasing USAR readiness.

Enables the Whole of Government

Coinciding with the necessity of using SC to enhance governance, the USAR enables a “whole of government” solution to security challenges.  SC documents ranging from the National Security Strategy to DA Pamphlet 11-31 stipulate that security cooperation activities and efforts align in some manner with “whole of government” approaches. This means the Army should incorporating a situational understanding of all government efforts in a given country and implement approaches to evaluating and solving problems that use multiple elements of national power. [xi]  Possessing professionals, federal and local government employees, and commands maintaining soft power, the USAR provides the Army with an ability to engage with, integrate, and leverage a large portion of government capabilities and mimic, on a reduced scale, a number of capacities that comprise the “whole of government” approach to security cooperation in addressing national problems.

Necessity of Developing Mirror Capabilities in Partners and Allies

The Army habitually tries to maintain a high number of direct combat units such as infantry, artillery, and armor.[xii] While this choice for combat over support troops makes sense in such an ambiguous security environment and corresponding U.S. global commitments, counterinsurgency and stability operations require a force heavy in non-combat capabilities. Operations in Iraq required the reassignment of many of the Army’s field artillery, air defense, engineer, and armor units into high demand responsibilities in transportation, civil affairs and psychological operations, intelligence, military police, chemical, and a number of miscellaneous support units.[xiii] If post Cold-War history endures and the world continues to see more intrastate than interstate warfare, then these non-combat capabilities will remain in high demand.

Since the U.S. cannot invest in both overwhelming combat power while keeping a cadre of units for broader based insurgencies, it can hedge against this by developing these niche capabilities in selected allied and partner countries. Here again, as these units fall heavily within the USAR, the component can create future coalition capabilities for possible stability and counter-insurgency contingencies.

Many countries are in the process of increasing the size or robustness of their Reserve forces, motivated by cost savings necessitated by decreasing defense budgets or the natural progression of state formation. In these cases, friendly countries solicit policy advice and enduring relationships from and with the USAR to inform such efforts as manning, recruiting, and building structure. Afghanistan, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Korea are a few examples of countries that the USAR assisted in these matters. The USAR can continue to play a vital role in helping countries continue to increase Reserve capacity as they grow and change.

Critiques and Conclusion

As much as the USAR can assist the military accomplish goals through its unique capabilities, the cost and availability of USAR units remain a critique of its usefulness. A standard belief exists, which maintains if there is an available active unit that can perform the task well enough, then why incur additional salary expenses by paying Reservists. While there is some truth to this, the Army can avoid additional costs by working closely with USAR training and financial planners to integrate USAR training objectives into SC operations. Thus, being able to use existing funding. Another common critique maintains it is difficult to use the USAR due to soldier availability, restrictive legal authorities, and difficulty mobilizing units. While this might have historically been accurate, recent developments changed the situation.  A new authority, 12304b, gives the Global Combatant Command (GCC) more leverage for calling up units and personnel.  To facilitate support, the USAR created teams of full-time Reservists embedded in the GCC and Army Service Combatant Commands (ASCC). These teams integrate the USAR into SC missions by contributing to planning, executing the administrative and budgetary requirements necessary to mobilize Reservists, and conducting Reception, Staging, Onward-movement & Integration (RSOI) of Reserve personnel and units. Finally, the USAR is committed to retaining the lessons of the past decade and remaining ready for all future challenges through maintaining an operational and expeditionary force. Changes in structure, culture, and command philosophies are all guided by the desire to make the USAR more compatible with and responsive to requirements from the active force. Just as the USAR repeatedly stood up to meet the Nation’s demands since 9/11, it would be unproductive not to incorporate it into the country’s current demands.

End Notes

[i] Barack Obama, National Security Strategy, (Washington, DC: The White House, February 2015), 10-11.

[ii] Michael J. McNerney, Angela O’Mahony, Thomas S. Szayna, Derek Eaton, Caroline Baxter, Colin P. Clarke, Emma Cutrufello, Michael McGee, Heather Peterson, Leslie Adrienne Payne, Calin Trenkov-Wermuth, “Assessing Security Cooperation as a Preventive Tool,” RAND Corporation, Arroyo Center, (Washington D.C.: RAND, 2014). 50-68.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Barack Obama, National Security Strategy, (Washington, DC: The White House, February 2015),

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Michael J. McNerney, Angela O’Mahony, Thomas S. Szayna, Derek Eaton, Caroline Baxter, Colin P. Clarke, Emma Cutrufello, Michael McGee, Heather Peterson, Leslie Adrienne Payne, Calin Trenkov-Wermuth, “Assessing Security Cooperation as a Preventive Tool,” RAND Corporation, Arroyo Center, (Washington D.C.: RAND, 2014). 50-68.

[vii] Alexis Rivera, Chris Manglicmot, and Koennecke, Joseph “Regional Alignment of a Brigade Combat Team to U.S. Northern Command” eArmor, (Fort Bennning, GA: U.S. Army Armor School, Winter Issue, January, 2013).

Dorr, Kirk C. Michael, “Dagger on Point: Assessing the Regionally-Aligned Brigade” U.S. Army War College, (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, April, 2013).

[viii]  Robert A. Dawson, Coon, Robert C. “RAF and ARFORGEN,” U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, The Carlisle Compendia,  (Carlisle PA: U.S. Army War College, March 2014) 113-114.

[ix] Alexis Rivera, Chris Manglicmot, and Koennecke, Joseph “Regional Alignment of a Brigade Combat Team to U.S. Northern Command” eArmor, (Fort Bennning, GA: U.S. Army Armor School, Winter Issue, January, 2013).

Dorr, Kirk C. Michael, “Dagger on Point: Assessing the Regionally-Aligned Brigade” U.S. Army War College, (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, April, 2013).

[x] National Commission on the Future of the Army. Jun. 09, 2015. (statement of  Lieutenant General Jeffrey Talley, 32nd Chief of Army Reserve and 7th Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command).

[xi] Headquarters, Department of the Army, Department of the Army Pamphlet 11-31 Army Security Cooperation Handbook, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, February 2015), 7-9 and 19.

[xii] O’Hanlon, Michael, “Rebuilding Iraq and Rebuilding the U.S. Army,” The Brookings Institute, (June 4, 2014).

[xiii] Ibid.


About the Author(s)

Benjamin Flosi is a Strategist on the Department of Army Staff currently serving in the Office of the Chief Army Reserve. Prior to this position, he worked for the Department of Defense, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and North American Treaty Organization-Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels.  As a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, the Second Infantry Division, and U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Major Flosi served in the Republic of Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Benjamin graduated from Marquette University, holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University, and was a Foreign Language and Area Studies scholar in Yemen and a Manfred Worner Fellow in Germany and Belgium. Beyond professional endeavors, Benjamin enjoys tutoring, global odysseys, and filmmaking and writing.


Mr Flosi brings up many good points. But because effective security cooperation (SC), or even the implied security force assistance (SFA), requires lengthy deployments overseas in order to be effective, I'm concerned that using reserve component (RC) troops may hurt their morale because (1) RC troopers don't expect to be used for long-duration missions (hence the term "reserve"), (2) employers many not take kindly to their RC employees being deployed often and/or for long periods because of the impact on the employers organization/ bottom line, and (3) routinely using RC troops in such a manner could cause undue hardship if the RC soldier is a business owner with limited resources to sustain his/her business while away for long periods of time (during GWOT, I dealt with many RC troops who lost their business due to mobilizations and lengthy deployments).

I don't want to sound like I'm knocking RC Soldiers. I used to, but after several years serving with them in Afghanistan and Iraq, I'm very familiar with how capable, effective, professional, and adaptable they are (in some cases, more so than AC forces)....even those from Lubbock, Texas (yeah, I went there, Felipe'!). But they are in the RESERVES for a reason, and I think that reason translates to "break glass in case of war". If we're not at war, let's limit their use, perhaps asking only for volunteers for the SC missions. But let's not make that an integral part of any SC plan.