PRISM | National Defense University

The premier Defense Institution Building Initiative of the National Defense University.


260 Fifth Ave., Bldg. 64
Fort Lesley J. McNair
Washington, DC 20319-5066



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About the Defense Institution Building Intiative

The global operating environment of the 21st century is diffuse and complex, and threats are often asymmetric and transnational. Such challenges stipulate that no single nation, regardless of its traditional military might, can completely address its security objectives alone. Developing a network of competent partners that can share the burdens and responsibilities of global security, embracing a strategy of coalition and cooperation, is therefore vital to U.S. national security. The challenge is how to best invest resources to help establish strong and capable defense partners. To this end, traditional security cooperation and assistance approaches have proven insufficient to instate sustained improvements to partners’ defense sectors. Defense Institution Building (DIB) fills this gap by supporting partner stakeholders as they develop the systemic capabilities and institutional foundations that a legitimate, effective, professional, and sustainable defense sector requires. Defense Institution Building promotes responsiveness to civilian control and contributes to the overall security and prosperity of the state—and in turn, to regional stability and global security. 

Over the past decade, Defense Institution Building programs have expanded and ascended in strategic importance, but there remains a glaring absence of doctrine, best practices, and implementation models to guide practitioners. 

Marshall Hall

In order to support ongoing U.S. efforts to mature and institutionalize DIB efforts, the Center for Complex Operations (CCO) is working with the Defense Institution Building community to analyze U.S. DIB activities; identify theoretical and doctrinal foundations to guide planners and practitioners toward effective outcomes; contribute to the development of best practices, implementation models, and metrics; examine case studies of where DIB has and has not worked; and consider how to overcome the major challenges facing DIB programs in practice.

In November 2017, CCO published the first ever book dedicated to Defense Institution Building, Effective, Legitimate, Secure: Insights for Defense Institution Building. The book offers an introduction to the concept and context of Defense Institution Building, and argues that establishing effective and legitimate defense institutions to bolster and under-gird a partner’s defense establishment is the only way to ensure sustainable security.


What is Defense Institution Building?

Defense Institution Building: Security cooperation activities that empower partner nation defense institutions to establish or re-orient their policies and structures to make their defense sector more transparent, accountable, effective, affordable, and responsive to civilian control. DIB improves defense governance, increases the sustainability of other DoD security cooperation programs, and is carried out in cooperation with partner nations pursuant to appropriate and available legal authority. It is typically conducted at the ministerial, general, joint staff, military service headquarters, and related defense agency level, and when appropriate, with other supporting defense entities.