News | Nov. 20, 2017

1. DIB in the Broader Security Architecture

By Querine Hanlon and Robert M. Perito Effective, Legitimate, Secure: Insights For Defense Institution Building

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Give us the tools,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in his famous Lend Lease radio address, to “finish the job.”1 The United States has been “giving tools” to strategic allies for the better part of a century. Historically, this assistance was used to buttress the defense sectors of key allies like Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt against state threats.2 Although the programs varied across countries, U.S. security assistance throughout the Cold War involved long-term efforts to build infrastructure, such as runways, and the provision of major weapons systems, such as tanks or fighter jets, to countries seen as essential in the fight against communism. With few exceptions, little attention was paid to how these countries’ security sectors functioned internally or how their security institutions were managed and led.

As the security environment evolved in the aftermath of the Cold War and again after September 11, 2001 (9/11), the U.S. approach to providing assistance to partner nations underwent a series of fundamental shifts to align U.S. security assistance tools with the requirements of a transformed security environment. These shifts were in part “pushed” by a reevaluation of the concept of security, first during the surge of intrastate conflict in the post-Cold War period, and again after 9/11 by the direct attack on the U.S. homeland by a nonstate armed group. Armed groups and the failed states that harbored them were elevated to tier-one security threats, and a broader concept of security replaced the narrower Cold War focus on defense against state threats.3 But these shifts were also “shaped” by events on the ground—the U.S. experience reforming security institutions in Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, where belated institution building efforts were conducted in the midst of war.4 The United States came to recognize that effective external defense and internal security sectors in fragile states mattered a great deal, and a host of new policies and programs were developed to build the capacity of key partners and allies to fight new threats, alongside and in support of U.S. interests.

Within the U.S. defense establishment, the growing recognition that institution building is the “missing piece” in the U.S. government’s security assistance toolkit has prompted a renewed focus on defense institution building (DIB). The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan—and in many other fragile places where the United States has sought to strengthen partner defense capacity—have shown that U.S. policymakers cannot bank on DIB being an organic outgrowth of security assistance and security cooperation efforts. Instead, Washington has to invest some time and effort in thinking about what institution building really means and how best to meet its requirements. This timely volume captures some of the key lessons from the U.S. experience building defense institutions, and in so doing, provides a meaningful contribution to the ongoing debate about how to enhance the impact and sustainability of U.S. assistance for partner states. This chapter provides the conceptual context for this endeavor, focusing on the changing security environment that pushed the new focus on institution building, and the post-Cold War and post-9/11 events that shaped the requirements for and development of a DIB focus for the U.S. government.

DIB and the Transformation of the Security Environment: The Push Factors

The decades immediately preceding and following the turn of the 21st century have been witness to a remarkable transformation of the international security environment. Throughout most of the Cold War, the concept of security was military and state-centered, and the United States developed a robust security architecture for supporting key allies across the globe to counter Soviet-led communist expansion. Not surprisingly, the programs and funding authorities for assisting countries like Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Korea were designed to buttress allied military defense establishments against external, state-led threats. Important training and advisory missions were also created to support countries throughout Latin America and elsewhere to engage in low intensity conflict against Soviet-sponsored subversion. With few exceptions, little attention was paid to how these defense sectors were managed or led.

The Korean case stands as one of the few successful examples of defense institution building during the Cold War.5 A small program providing military equipment and training for Korean soldiers in their use—a train and equip program—that began in 1946 was expanded rapidly with the outbreak of the war in 1950, turning into a large scale program that “transformed the military of the Republic of Korea (ROK) from a small, disorganized constabulary into the most dominant institution in South Korean society.”6 The effort involved not only providing vast military resources, but also “instructing officers in how to carry out complex technical and logistical operations” and “indoctrinat[ing] military officers with a sense of duty and patriotism.”7

Many of the challenges U.S. trainers and advisors faced in Korea echo those of the countries where DIB will likely be implemented in the future: an illiterate or poorly educated recruiting base, high desertion rates, and an officer corps more interested in material enrichment and self-promotion than success on the battlefield. Addressing these challenges required more than the mere transfer of equipment and accompanying training. Korea’s defense establishment needed institutions and processes to manage and sustain an effective defense sector. Nearly two decades after it began, U.S. assistance resulted in the doubling of the Korean armed forces and the professionalization of its military and defense establishment. It also created an ongoing partnership that reflects the objectives of the building partner capacity (BPC) approach launched by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

During the Cold War, the concepts of security and development came to be seen as separate spheres of activities for third parties, whether individual donor states or international actors like the United Nations (UN). To an important degree, this was due to the numerous interventions by the armed forces into politics in many developing countries, the inordinate amount of resources they subsequently accumulated, and the impact that this had on poverty alleviation efforts. Development came to be seen by those involved in the enterprise as largely concerned with “reducing poverty in the South through the promotion of economic growth based on investment and the application of science and technology. The implicit assumption was that economic development automatically enhanced peace and stability.”8 The opposite propositionthat without security, the conditions for development become problematicappears not to have been given serious consideration.9

U.S. Security Assistance in the Post-Cold War Era

The end of the Cold War appeared to provide a golden opportunity to shift resources and attention to the development needs of the Global South. Many believed the end of the Cold War would open the door to a new international security environment—one dominated not by opposing military alliances or narrow state interests but guided by the genuine security needs of the people. Conflict between states would become a vestige of the old order. Funds previously spent on defense could instead be repurposed toward development and the eradication of poverty.

Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War ushered in a new security environment marked by a growing number of intrastate conflicts fostered by ethnic and religious divisions.10 Largely unexpected, this escalation in instability was also characterized by a proliferation in the types of nonstate actors—ethnically-based militias, guerrilla or terrorist organizations, clans, tribes, warlords, organized communal groups, and criminal gangs—challenging weak states.11

In the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, and Middle East, and across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, ethnic and religious identity emerged as the principal source of organized violence.12 Wars in these regions were no longer limited to internal conflicts between substate actors. They challenged state sovereignty, prompted the disintegration and collapse of multiethnic states like Yugoslavia, and taxed the international community’s ability to respond. They also introduced new terms into the international relations lexicon. In places like Bosnia and Rwanda, “ethnic cleansing” became the new term of art for the atavistic practice of ethnic homogenization.13 These strategies were employed not against a nameless foe but against “enemies intimately known.”14 Rather than being a relic of the past, the power of local identity in places like Bosnia and Chechnya was changing the character of war.

Prescient theorists such as Mary Kaldor and Kalevi Holsti, and European military commanders like Sir General Rupert Smith, saw in Bosnia the harbinger of the future: with the demise of the Westphalian state, interstate conflict would be replaced by local conflagrations between adjacent ethnicities.15 They posited that these violent conflicts were not merely an anomaly of the post-Cold War era but a new form of warfare. “New wars involve a blurring of the distinctions between war . . . organized crime . . . and large-scale violations of human rights,” Mary Kaldor noted on the eve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999.16 At the other extreme, the global phenomenon of societal violence became the basis for a new paradigm of civilizational conflict proposed by Samuel Huntington, in which fundamentally dissimilar groups would clash along civilizational fault lines.17

The new form of warfare in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Kosovo, General Smith concluded, was “war amongst the people.”18 This new war diverged considerably from that 20th century standard of conventional war between states along recognized battlefronts conducted by uniformed soldiers. These experiences led him to conclude that “it is now time to recognize that a paradigm shift in war has undoubtedly occurred: from armies with comparable forces doing battle on a field to strategic confrontation between a range of combatants . . . using different types of weapons, often improvised.” And those conflicts, Smith noted, “can take place anywhere: in the presence of civilians, against civilians, in defense of civilians.” 19 Critical to making sense of this new state of affairs, Smith argued, was the realization that it was wars between nation-states that were becoming the anomaly.20

In the context of the upsurge of intrastate conflict, the United States discovered that its traditional military and security assistance tools, which had been developed to deal with interstate wars and to support formal military forces, were ill-equipped to manage the challenges that emerged out of the conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere. However, unlike the response to the events of 9/11, this realization did not fundamentally shift the U.S. security assistance architecture.

In 1996, the UN deployed a peace enforcement mission to Bosnia, followed by the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia and a second peace enforcement operation in Kosovo. By 2000, some 70,000 NATO forces had been deployed to the region to support these operations. In the Balkans, the United States expended $21 billion on military operations as well as a significant civilian presence to build democratic, multiethnic institutions.21 Yet this large commitment of resources failed to overcome ethnic hostilities and create national unity. American military capacity alone could not solve the breakup of Yugoslavia, what former Secretary of State Warren Christopher called the “problem from hell.”22 The struggle to resolve the violence in the Balkans and elsewhere presaged the difficulty the United States would face bringing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to a close in the decades following 9/11. Military force alone could not resolve the underlying institutional dysfunctions of weak and fragile states. Nor could it build effective institutions in states rent by violent conflict.

The limited utility of military force for creating stability and lasting peace in weak and fragile states was readily apparent on the ground following the signing of the Dayton Accords and the deployment of a NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII, the peace enforcement provisions of the UN Charter. The NATO force, led by the U.S. First Armored Division from Germany, accomplished its mission of stabilizing the ceasefire and the cantonment of troops and heavy weapons in the first ninety days after its deployment. The political provisions of the agreement, however, proved more problematic. International efforts to create meaningful national defense institutions largely failed. One critical hurdle was the country’s division into two ethnically defined entities, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska, each of which was granted considerable autonomy, including the authority to maintain its own armed forces deployed along an internal boundary that divided the country. Accordingly, the ethnic Bosniak-Croatian and Serbian armies maintained their separate identities and chains of command. Each force was administered, financed, trained, and equipped by its respective leadership.

A major threat to the peace settlement was the military imbalance between the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb forces at the end of the conflict. “To achieve a lasting peace in the Balkans,” U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry argued, “it will be essential to achieve stable and balanced force levels within Bosnia-Herzegovina and among the states of the former Yugoslavia.”23 But existing Cold War U.S. security assistance programs were not designed to supply the nonstate combatants for “war amongst the people.” In what was to become a much larger and more ambitious effort to reshape the U.S. security assistance architecture after 9/11, the United States was forced to create a new program to meet the training and equipment needs of ethnically allegiant military forces that emerged out of Yugoslavia’s collapse. This was not a task for which the existing security assistance architecture was designed. The result was “an unusually successful” interagency initiative using private contractors called the “Bosnian Train and Equip Program.”24

Implemented by a small interagency task force, this now forgotten program achieved all of its operational goals—creating a rough military parity among opposing forces, removing foreign fighters that had fought on the Bosniak side, and instilling “Western civil-military norms and NATO military standards.”25 Specific DIB components included training of the armed forces leadership and battle staffs, the ministry of defense, and the joint command.26 Many of the challenges of building the ethnic Bosniak-Croatian army’s capacity resonate with those faced by DIB efforts today: ethnic tensions among senior ministry staff and operational commanders, bureaucratic battles over both large and small issues (including the distribution of office furniture), perceptions among recipients that training and institution building were unnecessary, and challenges introducing NATO standards to forces indoctrinated in Soviet military tactics and operational principles.27

The goals of the peace agreement negotiated at Dayton were to end the fighting, establish a viable Bosnian state, and restore the pre-war, multiethnic character of Bosnian society. The international intervention largely succeeded in accomplishing the first two goals, but failed to politically unify the country. Subsequent NATO efforts to create an integrated national army and to reform war-time defense institutions were rebuffed by political elites who preyed upon popular fears and animosities to maintain their positions, a situation that largely continues to the present.

Despite its experiences on the ground in the former Yugoslavia (and with peace enforcement operations more generally), the United States did not seriously consider the changing security dynamics of the new post-Cold War order—and the implications for U.S. national security and its international posture—until after 9/11.28 Of course there were strategists and military commanders who recognized the need for change and warned that “this conventional mindset could lead to military misfortune.”29 However, asymmetrical, intrastate conflicts against irregular actors in fragile states were at best considered tertiary security matters while the United States remained focused on the ramifications of the Soviet collapse, German unification, the First Gulf War, and the European security community’s eastward expansion. The U.S. security assistance architecture developed during the Cold War to manage these tier-one security challenges remained largely intact—with one noteworthy innovation to meet the challenges of NATO’s eastward expansion. Created in 1994, the Department of Defense (DOD) Warsaw Initiative Fund (WIF) supported the participation of 34 former Warsaw pact countries and former Soviet republics in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.30 Renamed the Wales Initiative Fund, WIF is a central program in the DIB toolkit.

Although WIF was a new program created specifically to address the changing dynamics of the post-Cold War security environment, its approach did not differ greatly from existing security assistance programs. It funded military engagement seminars and exercises, and supported institution building efforts for the region’s military academies. It was only after the events of 9/11 that the United States undertook a concerted effort to reshape the country’s security assistance architecture and revisited the need for institution building.

U.S. Security Assistance after 9/11

The events of 9/11 prompted a dramatic shift as the threat of armed groups and the failed states that harbored them were elevated to tier-one security threats.31 New terms entered the national security lexicon with the focus on weak, failing, and failed states, and the threat of ungoverned spaces from which a host of new armed actors could directly threaten the U.S. homeland.

Within the U.S. defense establishment, the paradigm shift augured by 9/11 prompted a new focus on irregular warfare, which was elevated to a vital mission area in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Post-9/11 combat was depicted as “irregular in its nature.” Enemies in those fights were “not conventional military forces” belonging to nation-states. Rather, they included various armed nonstate actors who employed indirect and asymmetric means. A new directive on irregular warfare followed. It stated that irregular warfare “is as strategically important as traditional warfare” and recognized that the capabilities required for each would be different.32

In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States became enmeshed in large-footprint engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many small-footprint engagements along arcs of instability stretching from the African continent through the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the U.S.-Mexico border through South America. It adopted—and adapted—its approach to security assistance in order to provide better tools and training to fragile states that lacked effective capabilities to manage these 21st century security threats on their own. The vast majority of this assistance was train and equip programs to build the capabilities of weak military and internal security forces to counter nonstate threats and operate alongside and in support of U.S. interests. With some exceptions, there was little effort to build security sector institutions—such as ministries of interior and defense—even though many of these institutions were perceived to be weak, corrupt, or illegitimate.

There are numerous reasons why institution building was not a priority in the early years after 9/11. Among Washington policymakers, there was an aversion to nation-building activities that would likely stretch over many years, require significant human and materiel resources, and that could not address the near-term requirements of beleaguered forces on the ground. There was also no capacity to do so in any systematic way. Although the United States had robust capabilities for providing equipment and training, there was no program explicitly designed to build security sector institutions in fragile states. Also missing was guidance for planners to incorporate the institution building requirements into their pre-war planning, with tragic consequences in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, the urgent requirements of partner countries did not offer Washington policymakers—or the commanders on the ground—the luxury of time to delve into earlier institution building lessons. It is only now, with not quite a decade of experience implementing DIB programs, that concerted efforts are being made to learn from U.S. experiences in the 20th and early 21st centuries. This book is part of that important effort.

In the years following the 9/11 attacks, the United States began to explore how to reshape the purpose of U.S. security assistance. If fragile states were to be the recipients of the new programs being conceptualized in Washington, what should that assistance aim to do? Was the goal to be interoperability with U.S. forces? Engagement to secure U.S. access to critical regions, ports, or airspace? Or, drawing on the lessons of the former Yugoslavia, should that assistance aim to create internal stability? And if stability and broader regional security were to be the goals, how could security assistance be properly leveraged to achieve them?33

One answer emerged out of the development community in Europe. Clare Short, the first UK Secretary of State for International Development, had argued to her Ministry of Defense colleagues at the end of the 1990s that both the security and development communities had to “re-examine all the old assumptions and develop policy focused on helping end conflict and building competent state institutions that would encourage economic growth and human development in the poorest countries.”34 One of the principal obstacles to development, Short and other development specialists recognized in the aftermath of the Cold War, was “the existence of bloated, repressive, undemocratic, and poorly structured security services.” These bloated security sectors not only “soaked up resources,” but were often the major “source of insecurity and human rights abuses.”35 Short and others recognized that development was not possible without security and stability, and that security and stability were not possible without the development of competent and responsive security sector institutions and forces. Thus the answer to the twin challenges of security and development lay at the nexus of security assistance and foreign aid, captured in a new concept called security sector reform (SSR).

SSR is an approach to security assistance that prioritizes institution building to ensure that security sector forces—both internal law enforcement and military and defense forces—are appropriately managed and led in accordance with democratic principles and the rule of law. DIB is a key component of this approach, with its focus on the institutions that oversee, provision, manage, train, and lead the armed forces and hold them accountable. Thus, defense institution building owes its conceptual origins to the SSR concept.

It was through the shift to a counterterrorism strategy—and the concordant focus on failed and weak states—that SSR first attracted the interest of the Washington policy community as a potential tool for protecting U.S. allies and interests around the globe.36 Unlike their British, Canadian, and other Western counterparts, SSR was not a part of the post-Cold War security assistance discourse in the U.S. military or in the broader U.S. government. What took place was security assistance programming within the context of “military operations other than war,” complex contingencies, and peace operations. These missions covered a range of activities, from traditional humanitarian assistance to more complex peace enforcement operations.37 Although these missions included activities that addressed aspects of a country’s security sector, they were not explicitly designed to rebuild and reform those institutions within an SSR framework.38 While enforcing the peace exposed serious security, poverty, governance, and infrastructure problems, solutions exceeded the scope of most of these missions, with Bosnia and Kosovo being the exceptions.

However, in the final 18 months of the George W. Bush Administration, an interagency working group led by mid-level officials from DOD, Department of State (DOS), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) developed a common statement on SSR that attempted to translate the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) Guidelines and Handbook on SSR into a U.S. context. The statement provided the three lead agencies with a common vocabulary for understanding SSR. It also informed DOD’s Guidance for Employment of the Force, the U.S. military’s primary planning document; the SSR chapter in the Army’s Field Manual 3-07; and the 2010 QDR. Although the statement was published, it was not endorsed by five of the eight agencies in the working group and did not rise to the level of government policy. Leading members of the working group hoped the incoming Barack Obama Administration would build on their work, but this did not happen.39

Instead, the Obama Administration developed a Presidential Policy Directive on Security Sector Assistance (SSA). Its focus on SSA rather than SSR is clearly reflected in its statement of purpose: “this directive is aimed at strengthening the ability of the United States to help allies and partner nations build their own security capacity.”40 Rather than emphasizing support for comprehensive security sector reform, the emphasis is on building capabilities of allies and partners to meet a range of challenges, including fighting alongside U.S. forces, countering terrorist and international criminal networks, participating in international peacekeeping operations, and building security and justice institutions.41 The selection of SSA as the U.S. government’s preferred policy was significant.42 Whereas SSA focuses on the supply side of U.S. assistance and on improving the way in which assistance is delivered, SSR is a much broader concept that involves capacity building to enhance the effectiveness of security sector forces and institutions, and efforts to strengthen the accountability, oversight, and governance of those institutions in accordance with democratic principles and the rule of law.

As defined in the directive, SSA is closely aligned with the concept of BPC outlined by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. According to Gates:

Strategic reality demands that the U.S. government get better at what is called “building partner capacity”: helping other countries defend themselves or, if necessary, fight alongside U.S. forces by providing them with equipment, training, or other forms of security assistance. . . . Helping other countries better provide for their own security will be a key and enduring test of U.S. global leadership and a critical part of protecting U.S. security, as well.43

BPC helped reframe the purpose of defense sector train and equip programs to meet the requirements of the changed strategic security environment. To assist fragile states and achieve the objectives of BPC, and SSA more broadly, the United States needed a new security assistance toolkit. New authorities and programs were added under the DOD, and funded through the DOD budget. Many of these new security assistance programs were focused on BPC in host nations where the United States was operating, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in partner nations, such as Poland, that were supporting the U.S.-led coalition. In an important shift, the post-9/11 security assistance programs altered their focus from assisting allied national defense sectors to addressing broader security sector challenges, including counterterrorism, counternarcotics, democracy promotion, nuclear nonproliferation, and strengthening the broader security sector.44

The result was to create an even more complex security assistance architecture. There are essentially four models for how U.S. security assistance is resourced and executed, most of which pre-date 9/11. The first model includes activities conducted by other U.S. government agencies using DOS resources. This category includes the Cold War-era Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs appropriated to DOS for DOD implementation. In this model, DOS retains oversight of the funds.45 The DOD-implemented programs in this category are considered part of DOD security cooperation.

A second model includes activities conducted by the State Department using State Department resources. Because DOS capacity for direct implementation is limited, in this model DOS contracts the activities or transfers the funds to another government agency or entity for execution. DOS retains oversight of the funds in this second model.46

The third model involves activities conducted and resourced by other agencies. In the case of DOD, these programs are also classified as security cooperation and are implemented by a variety of DOD actors, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, combatant commands and their military components, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Included in this category are multinational military exercises and assistance provided to partner-nation security forces during U.S. combat operations. Because these activities are designed and executed with the host nation, DOS oversight takes place later in the process through the U.S. Embassy’s country team.47

Most of the post-9/11 programs belong to the final category: hybrid models to address a range of new security assistance and capacity-building needs arising from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global counterterrorism campaign. Although specific mechanisms vary, the hybrid models require the “joint concurrence” of DOS and DOD.48 Examples of this hybrid model include Section 1206 Global Train and Equip, Section 1207 Reconstruction and Stabilization, Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISFF), Pakistan Counterterrorism Capabilities Fund, and the Global Security Contingency Fund. Many of these hybrid models were created to address post-9/11 needs and to fast track assistance to partner countries. Whereas the pre-9/11 funds for military assistance were generally focused on long-term defense sector assistance and sustainment, the new programs sought to meet short-term security sector capacity gaps. The recipient countries are also markedly different. For example, in the first seven years of the 1206 program, $1.8 billion of training and equipment was provided to 41 countries.49 The largest recipients during the first seven years included Yemen, Pakistan, Lebanon, and the Philippines. In later years, Mauritania, Uganda, Burundi, Romania, Tunisia, Georgia, and Yemen received over $25 million each.50 Before 2010, almost all Section 1206 funding was used to purchase counterterrorism training and equipment, including radios and communications systems, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, trucks, ambulances, boats and other vehicles, small arms and rifles, night vision goggles and sights, and clothing. After 2010, funding was also used to train and equip foreign military forces for stability operations, particularly in Afghanistan.51

The U.S. experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan also shaped the new post-9/11 security assistance architecture. One important and costly lesson was the belated attention to institution building during the Iraq war. For example, Lieutenant General James Dubik, the commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command–Iraq, has argued that U.S. train and equip efforts were not even able to meet the tactical requirements, much less “enterprise-wide imperatives” such as know-how regarding sustainability, force management, or logistics and acquisition.52 Some of these shortcomings informed the creation of two new programs explicitly designed to build the institutional capacity of ministries of defense and interior.53 These two initiatives—the Ministry of Defense Advisors (MODA) program and the Defense Institution Reform Initiative (DIRI)—became the flagship programs of DIB. Together these efforts propelled a new approach to security assistance that expanded the purpose of these programs, from merely providing tools, to a much broader and more ambitious agenda: building the institutional capacity of key partners and allies to fight new threats alongside and in support of U.S. interests.

What became quickly apparent during the early efforts to implement DIB is that the defense building needs of fragile states differ markedly from the places where such efforts had been initiated during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. For example, in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics there was a baseline institutional capacity upon which to build defense sector reform efforts. In many of the fragile states where DIB is likely to be a priority today, that baseline capacity is missing; defense sector institutions may be weak or nonexistent. There are also significant human capacity challenges, including low levels of literacy and even numeracy.

Defense institution building is a tall order. It is much more difficult to build institutions than to provide training and equipment, because the results are less immediate and the risks involved for the recipient country are higher. DIB may require reforming existing institutions by putting new systems and processes in place for procurement, or human resources that directly threaten the power base of key actors who may emerge as critical spoilers. It may also require building institutions from scratch, often in environments that are not permissive for the long-term embedding of advisors to guide and support the effort. There may be little host-nation capacity—in terms of human capital or financial resources—to build or reform these institutions and sustain them in the long term. DIB also competes with immediate and more urgent priorities, such as direct or even existential threats to recipient forces or regimes.

There is also the enduring challenge of political buy-in for highly intrusive reforms that require these countries to reveal information about budgets, force numbers, operations, intelligence, or procurement processes that are classified and could be damaging to senior political or military leaders if they were publically released. The entire effort is further compounded by the sheer time required to affect institution building. It is difficult to secure the buy-in and commitment of key leaders and stakeholders if the purported benefits of DIB are realized a decade hence, well beyond the next election or promotion cycle.

Nonetheless, DIB is an essential addition to the post-9/11 U.S. security assistance toolkit. Resolving the enduring challenge of how to build effective and sustainable defense institutions in fragile states has become a new priority for the United States. Fragile state governments are losing the battle to counter security threats because they lack institutional capacity. Train and equip programs can address operational force capacity gaps, but these programs are not designed to strengthen, reform, or build institutional capacity. And without that institutional capacity, there is nowhere to embed that assistance and to ensure that U.S. efforts can be sustained by the recipient country after U.S. assistance ends. By “building” these countries’ defense institutions, DIB promises to make U.S. assistance for foreign defense sectors more effective and sustainable.

DIB on the Ground: The Shaping Factors

The recognition that defense institution building was the missing piece in the U.S. security architecture was largely pushed by the transformation of the international security environment and the effort to reshape that architecture to meet the capacity needs of fragile states. The actual development of the DIB concept, however, was shaped by experiences on the ground—most notably in Afghanistan where DIB was first implemented in 2010—and also by the successful post-Cold War military downsizing in Europe, and NATO expansion efforts through the PfP program.

Although these lessons are explored in more detail in subsequent chapters of this volume, one key lesson from experiences in Eastern Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan was the recognition that defense institution building is not just about force generation or interoperability with U.S. and allied forces. It requires building the ministerial capacity to manage, sustain, and lead these operational forces, and to operate alongside and in support of U.S. interests. But how should this ministerial capacity be built, and by whom? And for what purpose?

The U.S. involvement in the eastward expansion of the European security community helped influence the overall purpose of the DIB program. The 10 PfP objectives for defense sector reform identify the broader purpose of defense institution building, including “effective and transparent arrangements for democratic control of defence activities,” “civilian participation,” “legislative and judicial oversight of the defense sector,” and “effective and transparent” defense sector procedures.54 The 2016 DOD Directive 5205.82 Defense Institution Building echoes many of these principles. It calls for creating defense institutions that are “transparent, accountable, effective, affordable and responsive to civilian control.”55

The 10 PfP principles also provide some guidance on how to implement DIB to achieve these objectives.56 For example, “effective and transparent personnel structures and practices” (PfP Objective 7) requires the creation of “sound personnel policies” that are essential for an “efficient fighting force,” and “effective and transparent financial, planning, and resource allocation procedures” (PfP Objective 8) requires modern and efficient planning, programming, and budgeting procedures, as well as procedures for auditing, oversight of budgeted funds, and awarding contracts for equipment or services. Many of these principles are reflected in the types of expertise MODA advisors need to support their ministerial counterparts and in the assessment tools employed by the DIRI program to assist partner-country defense institutions improve their functions.

However, the lessons from the PfP program were not fully applicable to the DIB needs of fragile states because the environments for each differed significantly. Whereas the defense institution building challenges in Eastern Europe were mostly about reforming existing institutions and processes, in Afghanistan they were much more basic. Often, institutional mechanisms were simply missing and had to be built from the ground up. This required a highly specialized form of expertise, as well as the skills to share this expertise in productive ways, a lesson that quickly became apparent when MODA was first launched in Afghanistan.

In 2009, deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan, coupled with the growing awareness that U.S. security assistance had failed to produce a viable Afghan army or police force, prompted a renewed focus on defense institution building. This was reflected in the 2010 QDR, which specifically called for the strengthening of the U.S. military’s capability for ministerial-level training of partner nations, and in the creation of two new programs within the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy discussed above—MODA and DIRI—to meet the new requirement.

The MODA program, which deploys senior civilian management and administration personnel from their positions in the DOD to serve for up to two years as advisors in Afghanistan, was designed to improve upon the earlier reliance on U.S. military officers who had been assigned from front line positions to serve as ministerial advisors. Other positions had been filled by contractors who were often retired military officers. Many lacked the expertise or experience for the specific and often highly technical ministerial functions, such as recruiting, procurement, human resources, logistics, and information management, that are the purview of DOD civilians in the United States.57 To be able to deploy these civilians overseas, the MODA program recruited senior DOD civilians through a new program, the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce (CEW). This important innovation enabled MODA to recruit the right types of expertise required for DIB in Afghanistan.

A second important lesson from the experience in Afghanistan that shaped the requirements for DIB was the need to define institution building more broadly. DOD had the mission to build the whole of Afghanistan’s national security forces—not just the army, but also the Afghan National Police and the Ministry of Interior (MOI). The Afghan MOI suffered from even more serious institutional capacity gaps than the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and therefore MODA advisors were assigned to both organizations.58 Thus in its implementation, the MODA program reflected the SSR focus on the broader security sector institution building needs of Afghanistan. A similar SSR focus is evident in the newest DIB-related program created by DOS, the Security Governance Initiative (SGI), which focuses not only on building ministerial capacity throughout the security sector, but goes even further by promoting effective and transparent security sector governance.

Yet another lesson that shaped the development of DIB was the recognition that advising requires a specific skill set. In addition to recruiting advisors with the right technical expertise to support their counterparts, these advisors also need the skills to “transfer knowledge” in a way that local officials find helpful.59 This requires more than knowing how these systems work in their own countries. It requires understanding how that expertise could be useful in a different context and culture, and how to transfer this knowledge given that different context and culture. Doing so requires a host of soft skills alongside the technical expertise required to support capacity building of specific ministry functions. To meet these requirements, MODA implemented a pre-deployment training program that attempted to replicate the context and difficult conditions MODA advisors would face to better prepare them to meet the new institution building requirements in Afghanistan.60

In 2014, Congress expanded the program beyond Afghanistan, authorizing the assignment of ministerial advisors to partner countries worldwide. The new “Global MODA” and a similar expansion of DIRI indicated that DIB would remain an important part of the U.S. security assistance toolkit moving forward. As DIB expands in scope and reach, there are important lessons that can be drawn from past U.S. experience building defense institutions. This book provides one opportunity to delve into the institution building requirements drawn from lessons on the ground that can in turn shape the future evolution and implementation of DIB.

What Lies Ahead

Most of our early learning about defense institution building comes from a very different security environment. Both during the Cold War and in its aftermath, the focus was on building defense sectors in relatively stable states where there was a significant degree of institutional capacity already in place. After the Cold War, the emphasis was mostly on reforming these institutions to establish or strengthen civilian control of the armed forces and enhancing transparency, accountability, leadership, and management of the defense sector. These conditions are unlikely to be replicated in the future.

The places where DIB will likely be a priority in the future will be remarkably difficult environments for affecting institutional change. For example, Mali is one of the priority countries of the 2015 Security Governance Initiative. When a U.S. government assessment team visited Mali to document how assistance was being utilized, they found that much of the equipment that had been supplied to Mali’s security forces was still sitting in boxes, unopened, in scattered locations around Bamako. None had been deployed to frontlines in the north. Still worse, none of the training offered to Mali’s forces was being utilized in various pre-deployment programs.61 Although corruption and bureaucratic rivalries certainly played a role, the broader problem was simply one of institutional capacity. Mali’s security institutions lack the capacity to manage and deploy equipment, track its use, and standardize training across its forces.62

Given the instability of the post-Iraq and Afghanistan security environment, the exponential growth of irregular security threats, and the enormous gaps that exist in the operational capacity of fragile states where U.S. interests are at stake, the environments where DIB will be a priority are more likely to resemble Mali than Montenegro. And although some of the institution building challenges of these places will mirror those of Afghanistan, the DIB effort will likely be further complicated by the fact that there will not be a large U.S. presence on the ground to support DIB implementation.

One solution may be to focus future DIB implementation on states where there is a modicum of institutional—and absorptive—capacity. For the more fragile states like Mali, building ministerial-level capacity may seem like a luxury when local commanders do not know how many forces they have or where they are. There will always be a tension between immediate gaps in equipment or training and the longer term institutional capacity gaps, and beleaguered governments will likely opt for U.S. assistance for the former over the latter.

The political will to undertake institutional reform will also likely remain a challenge, regardless of the level of existing capacity. By its very nature, DIB is an intrusive process—advisors and expert teams need access to information about the inner workings of defense bureaucracies and their budgets, information that may not even be available to these countries’ own populations. Finally, there is the enduring challenge of time. DIB is by definition a slow process, and measurable results may take a decade or more to appear. Short-term U.S. government funding cycles will make it difficult to show the near-term results often necessary to sustain long-term funding.

Finally, one important lesson from Afghanistan is that the institution building challenges of fragile states are unlikely to reside only in the defense sector. The internal security sector—the police and ministries of interior that oversee them—are likely suffering from equally challenging institutional capacity gaps. It will be hard to ignore these capacity gaps if the goal of DIB is to promote security and stability in these fragile states.

Nonetheless, DIB remains a key program in the U.S. security assistance toolkit. Without it, U.S. security assistance will remain largely focused on building the capacity of operational forces. These operational gaps are real, and they require urgent attention. But to make that assistance more impactful and sustainable, the United States will need to incorporate institution building into how it helps partner states build security sector capacity. By building both operational and institutional capacity, the United States can better meet the security needs of key partner states where U.S. interests are at stake and increase the likelihood of return on investment for U.S. security assistance.


1 Winston Churchill, “Give Us the Tools and We Will Finish the Job” (Speech, London, February 3, 1941), available at <>.

2 United States General Accounting Office, Security Assistance: Observations on Post-cold War Program Changes: Report to Congressional Requesters (Washington, DC: September 30, 1992), 2.

3 In 2002, the U.S. National Security Strategy elevated the threat of fragile states, recognizing that “America is now threatened less by conquering states than…by failing ones.” The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, 2002), 1; The 2010 National Security Strategy echoed this caution: “Failing states breed conflict and endanger regional and global security.” The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, 2010), 8.

4 James M. Dubik, Building Security Forces and Ministerial Capacity: Iraq as a Primer (Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of War, August 2009); Andrew Rathmell, Fixing Iraq’s Internal Security Forces: Why is Reform of the Ministry of Interior so Hard? (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 2007); United States Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and Stuart W. Bowen, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience (Washington, DC: Special Inspector General, Iraq Reconstruction, 2009).

5 Robert M. Hathaway, “Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy (review),” Journal of Cold War Studies 12, No. 1 (2010), 168.

6 Gregg A. Brazinsky, Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 71.

7 Ibid.

8 Jane Chanaa, Adelphi Paper 344: Security Sector Reform: Issues, Challenges and Prospects (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 21.

9 Querine Hanlon and Richard H. Shultz, Jr., eds., Prioritizing Security Sector Reform: A New U.S. Approach (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2016), 17.

10 The International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), in association with the University of Uppsala Data Conflict Program in Sweden, records global armed conflicts annually, dividing them into four categories: interstate, intrastate, extra-state, and internationalized internal conflict. Their database also illustrates the rise in the number of conflicts fought between states and armed groups. According to PRIO, in the 1950s they represented between a third and half of all conflicts, whereas by the 1990s they accounted for nearly all armed conflict. Uppsala Conflict Data Program charts are available at < and at>.

11 Theodor H. Winkler, “The Shifting Face of Violence,” DCAF Policy Paper 18 (Geneva: Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2007), 18.

12 Querine Hanlon, The Three Images of Ethnic War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009), 2.

13 Ibid.

14 Stanley J. Tambiah, “Ethnic Conflict in the World Today,” American Ethnologist 16 (May 1989), 338.

15 Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (California: Stanford University Press, 1999); Kalevi J. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern Age (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2007).

16 Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley & Sons, 2013), 1.

17 Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72, No. 3 (Summer 1993), 22-49.

18 Smith, op. cit., 5.

19 Ibid.

20 Richard Shultz, Roy Godson, Querine Hanlon, and Samantha Ravich, “The Sources of Instability in the 21st Century,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 5, No. 2 (June 2011).

21 Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Balkans Security: Current and Projected Factors Affecting Regional Stability, GAO/NSIAD-00-125BR (April 2000), 4-6.

22 Quoted in Ivo H. Daalder, Getting to Dayton: The Making of America’s Bosnia Policy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2000), 36.

23 Quoted in Christopher Lamb, with Sarah Arkin and Sally Scudder, “The Bosnian Train and Equip Program: A Lesson in Interagency Integration of Hard and Soft Power,” Institute for National Strategic Studies Strategic Perspectives 15 (Washington DC: National Defense University Press, March 2014), 13.

24 Lamb et al., op. cit., 2.

25 Ibid., 15.

26 Ibid., 34.

27 Ibid., 36.

28 Shultz et. al., op. cit., 73-75.

29 Ibid., 74.

30 Daniel Resnick, “Partnership for Peace and the Warsaw Initiative Funds Celebrate their 20th Anniversaries,” Security Assistance Monitor, January 30, 2014, available at <>.

31 In 2002, the U.S. National Security Strategy elevated the threat of fragile states, recognizing that “America is now threatened less by conquering states than…by failing ones.” The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, 2002), 1; The 2010 National Security Strategy echoed this caution: “Failing states breed conflict and endanger regional and global security.” The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, 2010), 8.

32 Department of Defense, DOD Directive 3000.07: Irregular Warfare (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, December 2008), 2.

33 For a good overview of security assistance goals, see Kathleen J. McInnis and Nathan J. Lucas, “What is ‘Building Partner Capacity’: Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service Report No. 7-5700 (December 18, 2015).

34 Clare Short, “Foreword,” in The Future of Security Sector Reform, Mark Sedra, ed., (Ontario: The Centre for International Governance Innovation, 2010), 10.

35 Ibid.

36 Hanlon and Schultz, Jr., op. cit., 188.

37 The White House, Presidential Decision Directive 56: Clinton Administration’s Policy on Managing Complex Contingency Operations (Washington, DC: The White House, May 1997), available at <>.

38 Victoria K. Holt and Michael G. McKinnon, “The Origins and Evolution of U.S. Policy Towards Peace Operations,” International Peacekeeping 15, No. 1 (February 2008), 18-34.

39 Gregory A. Hermsmeyer, “Institutionalizing Security Sector Reform: Options for the U.S. Government,” USIP Special Report No. 255 (October 2010), 3.

40 The White House, Presidential Policy Directive 23: Security Sector Assistance (Washington, DC: The White House, April 5, 2013), 1.

41 Ibid.

42 Hermsmeyer, op. cit., 4.

43 Robert M. Gates, “Helping Others Defend Themselves: The Future of U.S. Security Assistance,” Foreign Affairs 89, No. 3 (May-June 2010), 2.

44 Gordon Adams and Rebecca Williams, A New Way Forward: Rebalancing Security Assistance Programs and Authorities (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, March 2011), 11.

45 International Security Advisory Board, Report on Security Capacity Building (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, January 7, 2013), 11.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid., 13.

49 Ibid., 5.

50 Ibid., 6.

51 Ibid., 5.

52 Dubik, op. cit., 8.

53 Department of Defense, “MoDA: Ministry of Defense Advisor Program,”, available at <>.

54 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building (Istanbul: NATO, June 07, 2004).

55 Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, DOD Directive 5205.82 Defense Institution Building (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, January 27, 2016), 13.

56 Philipp Furi and Eden Cole, eds., Defence Institution Building - 2005 Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building - Regional Conference (Vienna and Geneva: Landesverteidigungsakademie, 2005); For guidance on how to implement these objectives, see Hari Bucur-Marcu, ed., Essentials of Defence Institution Building (Vienna and Geneva: National Defence Academy, May 22, 2009).

57 Victoria Stattel and Robert Perito, Innovative Transformation: An Evaluation of the Ministry of Defense Advisors Program in Afghanistan (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, April 2, 2012), available at <>.

58 Ibid., 2.

59 Nadia Gerspacher, Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance: A Practical Guide (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2016), 1.

60 Stattel and Perito, op. cit., 9-10.

61 State Department officials, interview by authors, November 2015.

62 Querine Hanlon and Matthew Herbert, An Assessment of Mali’s Border Security Capacity and Capabilities (Washington, DC: Strategic Capacity Group, April, 2016).