News | Nov. 20, 2017

6. Strategy, Policy, and Defense Management Architecture

By Erik J. Leklem Effective, Legitimate, Secure: Insights for Defense Institution Building

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Defense institution building (DIB) activities help partner nations address gaps in how they manage their defense sectors. Ensuring that a nation’s defense management architecture includes a solid defense strategy and policy (DSP) framework is key to successful DIB initiatives. Effective strategy and policy are only achieved if a nation designates roles and missions for the defense sector and defense leaders, which can then be translated into defense guidance for planning and budgeting. Budgets not driven by strategy and defense guidance are at best, prone to status quo outcomes, and at worst, promote ineffective, inefficient, and corrupt flows of state resources. Good strategy and policy will also identify human resource and logistics needs. Strategy can then lead to analytically sound (ideally, “joint”) requirements for the defense sector to generate military units and operations—the ultimate test of DIB impact and partner-nation institutional capacity.

Successful DIB projects connect strategy and policy processes with highly contextualized options for a partner nation to adopt. Sustainable DIB DSP work should be truly strategic in that DSP projects are anchored to five- or ten-year milestones, accounting for a country’s long-term fiscal and development timelines, incentive structures, and needs. Determining how to better conduct such capacity building is an ongoing effort of practitioners and policymakers alike. There remains a need to better connect DSP capacity building and traditional educational security assistance, to refine DSP and defense resource management (DRM) doctrine; to improve the linkages between DSP work, Foreign Military Sales (FMS), and related grant aid; and to explore how joint concepts and DSP may be further harmonized for better institutional capacity building.

While this chapter references theory, cases, and best practices, the author includes observations from personal experience, as well as the experiences of colleagues, to provide examples of DSP work from a U.S. perspective. But history has also shown that there are limits to focusing exclusively on U.S. examples in capacity building. For this reason, practitioners should consider and incorporate principles and best practices from a variety of donor countries, such as those found in the chapters on the British and NATO experiences within this volume.

Strategy and Policy: Framing Defense Management

A nation’s defense institutions operate most effectively and efficiently when guided by a strategy. Ideally, a nation will implement plans and policies that translate the strategy into more tangible outcomes, such as force structures, policies for military engagement with other countries, and prioritized military capability requirements. Defense budgets should flow from strategic needs; human resource plans and policy should align to defense priorities; and defense posture planning should inform the creation of military sustainment and supply networks. If this entire management system is well designed and aligned, nations should be better able to generate military operations within available resources and at acceptable levels of risk. DSP capacity building influences how a nation resources its military, determines the size of its human resource needs (to include military end strength), structures its logistics system, develops the ways its military will operate jointly, and identifies the ways in which the military supports national objectives.

This section describes what DSP comprises and its terminology as it applies to the emerging DIB discipline. Defense strategy and policy describe a pillar of the defense management system that guides, frames, and restrains how a nation structures and resources its military. While strategy and policy are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not identical. Some practitioners include planning as an element of DSP. In this chapter, and in alignment with emerging DIB doctrine, defense guidance will be used to describe the strategic or policy direction that is provided to guide more detailed planning, as conducted by capability and budget planners.

Defense Strategy

Defense strategy is the government’s articulation of the major goals or ends that the defense and military must achieve for the nation, and how those ends will be achieved.1 Defense strategy is distilled from a higher-level national security strategy or national policy. As such, significant attention should be devoted to clearly prioritizing what those ends are, as well as important but less critical defense goals that help support other aspects of national policy (e.g., the military’s role in responding to national disasters).

Defense strategy should capture, clarify, and translate relevant national guidance for purposes of managing the defense sector. Some common, basic elements of defense strategy are: a description of the strategic environment (with a focus on military trends and threats); a delineation of the priority threats in that environment; a prioritized list of the ends or goals of the defense sector in responding to that environment and protecting the nation from those threats; a list of missions and postures (or ways) to achieve those objectives; and a description of the capabilities, force structure, and activities (or the means) that defense and military organizations will need to achieve those ends.2

Nations may also use defense strategy documents (especially when shared publicly) to describe defense policies, initiatives, or related issues. For example, these strategy documents will usually have a review of major bilateral and regional defense relationships and what they mean for the country (e.g., a defense diplomacy section or a defense analysis review of major regional and global powers).

Defense Policy

Defense policy clarifies how a country will approach specific defense or military topics, as guided by strategy.3 Ideally, policy will be published for dissemination and implementation. Policies can drive relations with other countries (sometimes referred to as a bilateral policy), with groups of countries or regions (e.g., multilateral or regional policy), or focus on functional or subject-driven topics (e.g., cyber policy, counter-narcotics policy, arms control policy). In all cases, good defense policy should determine what a defense establishment must do, could do, may do, or will not do in relation to the topic. For example, a regional defense policy might describe how a nation will use its military to promote peacekeeping or support a regional alliance.

Policy should also promote strategic objectives. It may be a ministry of defense developing policy to pursue closer relations with a neighboring country, a policy to reduce tension through binational patrols of a border, or a policy to cooperate with other countries in countering a specific threat. Corresponding ways and means for achieving the objectives should be identified. For DIB practitioners, supporting defense policy development can be some of the most sensitive work done, as a partner may ask those practitioners to also get involved in the substance of those policies. The basic elements of policy development (how to conduct it and what needs to be in a policy), however, can be divorced from such issues. For example, DIB practitioners can use fictional countries or contexts as one method of “showing what right looks like” for explaining the processes for policy development, while steering clear of what needs to comprise the actual contents of such a policy.

Defense Guidance

Defense guidance flows from strategic processes. When issued by defense organizations, it is generally used to shape two major defense management efforts: planning for military force employment and planning for military force development. The former provides national guidance to the military for how forces might be used to defend a nation under certain circumstances (e.g., homeland defense), in particular areas, or in external environments (e.g., for border security, or a contingency plan against a specific threat or country). In defense management parlance, force employment planning connects defense strategy to how and where a nation may conduct military operations. Force development planning connects strategy to capability planning and resource management; and ideally, it identifies capabilities and forces required to conduct the major military missions identified in a strategy. In both cases, there is a role for joint concepts to play—as determined by the direction and objectives articulated by the strategy.4

Countries wanting to improve the effectiveness of their national defense or military forces should start by developing better defense strategy and policy. In many cases, national defense institutions and their leaders may also be required by law or regulation to issue strategies or specific policies. For practitioners of DIB, understanding whether and to what extent a country has a well-managed and structured defense strategy and policy system is essential. If the country does not have a strong DSP system, other forms of assistance may fail to take hold, be sustainable, or generate impact. For example, providing maritime capacity assistance to a country that advocates for maritime capabilities in its defense strategy, but that lacks a management process that translates that strategy into increased budgets for sustainment of those capabilities, may lead to frustration and wasted effort. When a country has good DSP systems, capacity building in any part of a defense system should be oriented toward a nation’s strategic objectives. For example, when the United States trains and equips foreign militaries, it is best to do so in high priority mission areas that the partner nation is committed to developing on its own, even without U.S. assistance.

Conditions for Successful DSP Development

Practitioners and security cooperation officers should look for indications of defense strategy and policy formulation by a partner country, as should leaders and analysts in those countries. Defense leaders seeking to improve the management of the military should be aware of these preconditions, and establish or continue to foster them. For DIB practitioners charged with strategy or policy it is essential to determine whether these preconditions exist and to what extent they do or do not shape existing defense guidance.

First, it is helpful for a country to have a national policy that articulates the roles of the defense sector and the nation’s military forces. Such policy should also clarify how the military relates to the rest of the government and its citizens. This guidance can specify what the nation expects of its military and it can delineate how military forces and law enforcement (including police forces) divide the responsibilities of ensuring a nation’s security. In many cases, such a policy will extend from existing law or a nation’s constitution.

Second, it is useful for the executive or legislative branches to require the defense ministry or its equivalent to develop a defense strategy. Such a requirement usually describes what must be included in a defense strategy and when these strategies should be published. A common time is at the start of an executive leadership cycle such as the beginning of a presidential term of office. Legal requirements for the U.S. defense strategy, for example, provide a long list of what the U.S. Congress wants to see in such strategy, to include identification of major threats, required military capabilities to face such threats, and how the U.S. military will manage risk.5

The Benefits of DSP Cooperation

Capacity building for DSP enables other pillars of defense management. It also has ramifications for policymakers and officials involved in defense matters. The author, in his work as both a practitioner and policymaker, observed that cooperation between countries on DSP capacity building provides common benefits in the following six ways:

Improving Mutual Understanding

DIB activities, by their very nature, emphasize broad and deep initial discussions, or scoping, of both U.S. and partner interests, objectives, and gaps. Scoping discussions will often reveal a good deal about each country’s systems and policies, more so than many bilateral dialogues.

For example, during initial DIB work with U.S. treaty ally Thailand, the U.S. DIB team asked Thai counterparts about their defense strategy in order to understand how the work (a human resource project) could be aligned to Thai objectives. Thai counterparts were open to sharing their defense strategy, which enabled the DIB team to learn about Thai strategic objectives and how the strategy addressed human resource topics. This helped improve both mutual understanding and U.S. appreciation for how changes to human resource systems might better support Thai objectives in the long run.

In many countries, initial DIB discussions on DSP provide U.S. stakeholders a unique opportunity to explain U.S. strategies and implications of major policy initiatives (e.g., “the Asia Pacific Rebalance”). Importantly, they foster exchanges on how U.S. defense and military organizations are structured, why, and with what authorities. DIB work is usually done in a host country, and often with counterparts that may not have benefited from traditional U.S. assistance such as International Military Education and Training (IMET). As such, DSP scoping can reach more stakeholders within the partner nation.

Confidence Building Measures

DIB activities can be useful confidence building measures between defense organizations—especially when geographic distance, a lack of combined military operations, or foreign policy differences complicate such confidence building. A common theme of DIB cooperation with Indonesia, for example, is how DIB exchanges help demystify the bilateral defense relationship and provide opportunities for extended dialogue on defense issues. Given Indonesia’s non-aligned foreign policy tradition, advanced forms of confidence building (such as combined military operations or habitual exchanges due to basing access) are not feasible. Along with military staff talks and exercises, DIB activities and exchanges have become important ways for both nations’ defense establishments to build confidence in one another, as recognized recently in the U.S.-Indonesia Joint Statement on Comprehensive Defense Cooperation of 2015.6

Common Goal Identification

DIB engagements on DSP are particularly useful for exploring and identifying where countries share common interests, threat perceptions, or defense objectives. When performing workshops for DSP, sessions might include horizon scanning, regional security challenges, or discussing processes for threat analysis. These illustrative processes of DSP capacity building allow partners to discuss common views, objectives, and goals—all of which can help identify richer ground for future cooperative activity.

This outcome can also manifest itself during discussions on functional capacity building with strategy or policy aspects. A U.S. capacity-building team that was supporting Saudi Arabia’s early steps to bolster its cyber defense capacity observed this effect. Workshop sessions included cyber strategy development, which allowed both nations to better understand common goals in the cyber domain and where shared mutual vulnerabilities require cooperative approaches.

Diplomatic Agenda Identification

The flipside of common goal identification is that DSP capacity building is also a way for countries to clarify where there are divergences of goals, ways of operating, and how nations will defend themselves. Just as a workshop on defining strategic interests can illuminate where two countries share a common interest, such a dialogue can also bring differences of view into sharper relief. One nation’s military focus on illicit trafficking or poaching, for example, can be at odds with U.S. views of appropriate use of military forces. This allows both countries the opportunity—through diplomatic channels—to discuss how cooperation might proceed using either different capacity-building approaches (e.g., law enforcement capacity building), or where concerted diplomatic activity may be required to find compromises in dealing with a particular security or foreign policy issue.

Enabling Other DIB Activity or Changes to DIB Methods In-country

DSP capacity building will often identify institutional capacity gaps and shortfalls. For example, an exchange of best practices for linking strategy and budget planning might reveal faulty aspects of a budgetary system. If budget categories, codes, or records are not well designed, these budget management approaches may actively prevent defense leaders from aligning budgets to national objectives. Likewise, an advisor supporting a partner with defense policy for counternarcotics may also help that nation identify insufficient force structure, inadequate personnel training, or outdated interministerial coordination policies.

Some DSP work can reveal flaws in U.S. assistance methods and alternatives. During advisory DSP efforts in Afghanistan, it became apparent that the U.S. team of advisors had been using traditional U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) planning, programming, budgeting and execution modules to train the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Afghan military. Unfortunately, this was at odds with the modalities of the Afghan government’s Ministry of Finance, which operated on World Bank financial timelines and processes. The United States spent years, millions of dollars, and untold man-hours training Afghan officials on defense budget systems and terminology that were not appropriate for their national budgeting system.

Transparency, Accountability, and Oversight (TAO) and Democratic Civilian Control

DIB activities can help nations improve civilian oversight of the military, increase transparency and accountability regarding defense and military spending, or help parliaments and civil society conduct oversight of military forces and defense institutions. Nations can achieve these objectives by improving how they formulate and publish strategies and policies related to defense and military affairs. As such, DIB DSP projects can take on formal or informal—direct or indirect—roles in improving democratic civilian control and TAO. What is sometimes lost in such work is that defense strategies (and to a certain extent, policies) of a country are usually made public in some form. They become one of the mechanisms for the public, parliaments, and civilian elected leaders to understand what the military is for, what it is trying to achieve, and what it may be seeking in terms of budget, weapons systems, or end-strength.

Additionally, the civil-military discussion regarding which defense strategy and policy ends need to be achieved (usually led by civilians) and in what “joint” ways (usually led, or proposed, by the military) is a critical process that can reinforce and foster civilian control. Ultimately, civilian control should be about leading and driving that discussion on how defense strategy and policy is achieved, to include implementation.7

Unlike other technical aspects of DIB—such as human resource management, resource management, and logistics—DSP is the major DIB context within which debates and discussion between the public, civil society, civilian leaders, and the military happen. Public explanations of the defense sector which stem from DSP efforts can be important to stabilization efforts in fragile or transitioning states, or for countries seeking to advance economically and politically. DSP in these contexts can become essential to fostering civilian-military dialogue, improved understanding, and more resilient governance—key elements of security sector reform.8 For U.S. foreign policy goals, which often include the promotion of democratic processes or objective civilian control of the military, the importance of DSP as a DIB tool in the U.S. security cooperation and assistance kit bag cannot be overstated.

Issues and Methods for Conducting DSP DIB

The doctrine for practitioners attempting DSP capacity building must be context specific and account for partners with specific requests and a desire to cooperate (i.e. demonstrating “will”), as well as reticent partners. It should also describe how to help fragile or conflicted countries, where host-nation leaders may be suffering from institutional and personal shock affiliated with weak governance or violent conflict. DSP doctrine and methods must anticipate these environments. Like other forms of doctrine, it must be adaptable to circumstance, political tides, and the emergence or departure of key personalities, leaders, and spoilers. Such work is inherently context driven, yet it must also be outcomes focused, or in defense terms, “strategic.”

For those involved in designing, conducting, or evaluating DSP capacity building, there are few, if any, axiomatic ways of conducting these interventions.9 This is even truer for DSP work than for other DIB pillars, as DSP capacity building tends to be broader, more variable, and much more dependent on host country context. The U.S. experience conducting DIB in dozens of countries illustrates some of the key factors that drive how practitioners can or should approach DSP activities, using common DIB processes described in detail in this volume. Much of this experience has attempted to borrow from prevailing thinking (or doctrine) in international development, such as Theory of Change10 and principles of strategic advising.11 Methods from management consulting and human-centered design disciplines have also served to inform DSP capacity building.12 These approaches are particularly useful for exploring existing strategies and their shortfalls, the power of institutional norms and tradition, and areas where governance systems are disconnected from strategic objectives.

The following sections offer suggestions on what could be included in future DSP DIB doctrine. These suggestions are based on examples, failures, and lessons observed on the ground during DSP-related efforts in a number of countries. They are also distilled from observations of fellow practitioners and foreign partners. In keeping with other chapters in this book, these suggestions are shared using some of the key phases of DIB efforts and projects. The bias is toward providing observations drawn from countries where the United States lacked a fully willing partner that acknowledged gaps in institutional capacity for DSP. An associated assumption is that doctrine for DSP work with willing partners is simpler; when a partner acknowledges gaps and wants to fix them, DIB project design and implementation are less complex, and the pace of work may be faster. That said, the suggestions that follow apply to all DSP DIB activities, even those with more favorable circumstances.

The Five Phases of DSP DIB Efforts

Phase 1: Assessment and Scoping

DSP capacity-building efforts must begin with comprehensive assessment, or scoping, as with other DIB engagements. Below, the four common sub-phases of assessment are described with illustrative DSP aspects.

Paper or “desk” review and, ideally, pre-deployment training: The first sub-phase is research and learning done by DIB practitioners, often with the help of knowledge management staff as part of a pre-deployment training cycle. Most practitioners will do this as part of their own professional approach to the work: reading country profiles, conducting library and Internet research on a country’s DSP documents, issues, and challenges, researching governance and military history, and analyzing the defense legal context for DSP work. Research on the laws and regulations that govern the defense sector is particularly relevant; as with U.S. public law regarding the DOD and the Armed Forces (e.g., Title 10), understanding host nation laws is vital.

In the author’s experience, articles on security sector reform in a given country are often instructive for DSP capacity building. Many U.S. and international think tanks also have information on national defense structures, policies, and strategic topics. Additionally, practitioners should make an effort to access the academic work of partner-nation officials, particularly those that have written thesis papers during their time in U.S. military education institutions. In preparation for DIB assignments in both Afghanistan and Indonesia, the author also benefited from participating in a two-month pre-deployment training program. This training included briefings and discussions with country and topical experts to help orient and prepare the author for DSP work in those countries.

Policymaker and embassy consultations: Practitioners should have extensive conversations with U.S. policy makers and security cooperation officials (especially in the country team) who are interested in supporting a partner with strategy efforts. These stakeholders will have a good understanding of partner needs and ambitions, and will be able to articulate why it is in the U.S. interest to support that partner on DSP topics. Practitioners should identify which U.S. objectives are most important: what types of changes in the partner’s security environment suggest the need for a new strategy? Are there new missions that the partner wants to take on that will help the United States with burden sharing in a particular region or capability area (e.g., maritime domain awareness)? To what extent has civil society or civilian leadership been involved in DSP formulation and is the time ripe for a recalibration? For example, when the Government of Kosovo requested U.S. support in conducting a security sector review coinciding with the end of supervised independence, DSP practitioners worked closely with officials in Washington and Pristina to develop an understanding of U.S. policy objectives and concerns. A key U.S. objective for this politically sensitive review was to produce recommendations for a reasonably sized and equipped defense force, which would contribute to regional stability. DSP practitioners judged that a technically sound approach to force planning and cost estimation would likely produce this result, while still respecting partner ownership of the process (which was especially salient in this case, as Kosovo officials felt they had been forced to accept the international community’s views during a previous review). By identifying the issues that are foremost on the agenda of U.S. officials, practitioners will also be better placed to continue their efforts and link them to other U.S. security assistance and cooperation efforts in-country.

A great method for DSP practitioners to gain insights is to identify existing country team efforts related to assessment or strategic planning. DSP practitioners can join these efforts in real-time, or plan a scoping visit to the country during one of these reviews. Wherever possible, they should try to participate in annual evaluations of the security cooperation office and country security cooperation planning.

In Indonesia, including visiting security assistance teams or DIB practitioners into these internal processes was advantageous. As part of the assessment of maritime strategy and policy capacity building needs in-country, these visitors brought new perspectives and technical expertise to add to the assessment process. The practitioners also benefitted by learning from the discussions in ways that they may not have otherwise seen or heard during a typical scoping visit.

Consultations with host-country officials: Practitioners and security cooperation officials can best achieve the third sub-phase of assessment through a teamed approach in consultations with defense counterparts. This may occur simultaneously or sequentially with the second sub-phase above. Security cooperation officers can transfer their knowledge of a counterpart’s security and defense agenda, current issues, and challenges. They have existing knowledge of and relationships with the country’s defense leaders and staff. As such, security cooperation officers will often hear the demand signals from a partner for DIB support on DSP topics. There may even be a DIB practitioner assigned to the country team as an advisor or technical expert, who will be more aware and focused on identifying DIB gaps and opportunities.

DSP practitioners will benefit from this kind of teamwork. On arrival in Afghanistan, for example, existing advisors provided the author with orientation, familiarization, and updated training on Afghan culture within the military. They introduced Afghan counterparts, ministerial organizational structures, strategic and planning documents, and associated capacity gaps. This was uncommon; there is not usually a formal handover from one advisor to another.

Consultations with a wide range of host-nation experts are recommended. DIB experts will need one or more scoping visits to do this well. These visits should include office calls, briefings, and informal discussion sessions with stakeholders, such as:

  • Officials directly involved with the strategy, planning, or policy issues that will form the basis for a capacity building project.
  • Offices that handle international cooperation, or the defense diplomacy aspects of bilateral defense cooperation for most ministries or military headquarters. These offices should also be consulted. They will be involved with coordinating future meetings, arranging for access, and may also regulate security access/approvals.
  • Officials providing guidance to the defense sector. This includes coordinating ministries, presidential/prime minister staff, parliamentary staff, or planning/finance ministries. They can help diagnose what is working well and what could be improved in a nation’s defense strategy, planning, or policies.
  • External experts, including researchers, think tank staff, retired military or defense officials, and academics can also be useful sounding boards.

DIB practitioners should consider using human-centered design methods during this work. This ranges from ethnographic research (e.g., looking at which offices and in what conditions strategy and policy making are done, and how), to assessing how people and systems interact in DSP (e.g., understanding stakeholders through mapping key relationships). The objective for all of these interactions is to identify where useful DSP capacity building work can be done.

Information synthesis: The final sub-phase of initial assessment involves the synthesis of this information by the DIB practitioner or team. The objective is to identify initial hypotheses: Where are the main institutional capacity gaps? What are the immediate needs? How might these be explored through initial DIB engagements, demonstrations, or pilot projects? Practitioners will need a disciplined process for sifting through their observations, evidence, documentation, and research material. Key questions to explore are: does the partner have existing strategy, planning, or policy processes and documentation? What are the initial impressions of the human capital working on these topics? To what extent is top-down guidance shaping or directing DSP? How are these DSP processes driving priorities, military activity, and budgets? What gaps in understanding still exist about the partner’s defense context, military history, or bureaucratic culture?

During the author’s initial assessment phase in Afghanistan, these types of questions led to nagging concerns. U.S. capacity-building efforts had imposed formulaic U.S.-centric processes and timelines on DIB partners. This was done without sufficient accounting for host-nation ownership. There was also a lack of empathy on the part of U.S. assistance providers. Through similar scoping synthesis, DIB practitioners will be able to: identify what additional scoping work or research needs to be done; note where a partner may most welcome or need initial DSP capacity building; clarify if existing assistance needs to be adjusted; and determine how such work will benefit the partner and the United States.

Assessment will continue over the lifespan of any DIB program or activity. For DSP projects, this is especially true. As the DIB pillar that is the most sensitive and reactive to external and internal events in a host nation, regular assessment checks are needed. Changes in government policy, the arrival of new civilian or military leaders into key positions, or tensions with neighboring countries can all trigger institutional shifts in strategy and policy.

Phase 2: Demonstration

Practitioners must prove they can be relevant. In work with the host nation and counterparts, practitioners must demonstrate appreciation and respect for the partner’s DSP system and needs. By bringing initial knowledge, examples, and illustrative approaches to the partner for consideration, they can gain trust and demonstrate expertise. There may be engagements where the practitioner has to demonstrate subject matter expertise on strategy, planning, or policy development. Practitioners must be able to draw upon their own experiences, knowledge of core DSP principles, and associated international and U.S. practices and examples.

This phase requires some degree of humility, as well. Practitioners will know that best practices from other countries have their limitations, and are not always perfectly replicable. Being able to discuss these experiences with a counterpart in a calibrated and contextualized way is vital. For example, the author’s experience with several Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs) in the United States initially seemed like a good source of anecdotes or methods of planning to share with host nation counterparts. After all, QDRs include work on multiple DSP processes. However, for countries like Indonesia, with an executive cycle different from that of the United States and which uses a World Bank-based central planning system, QDR timelines and components may not work as well.

Likewise, DIB practitioners should demonstrate their knowledge to U.S. officials, at multiple levels. All relevant U.S. staff will be assessing the practitioners’ utility, be it the country team, a regional combatant command security cooperation office, or policy and program managers at the headquarters level. This is the test of credibility and adaptability that can sometimes doom a practitioner or team. If a DSP practitioner fails to understand how a country’s own governance systems are different than those of the United States, but keeps pushing for solutions that copy U.S. procedures, this should be a reason for the country team to prevent that individual or team from coming back and continuing their work.

A tagline for this phase is “get invited back,” which means two invitations. The most important invitation to return is from the partner. The most difficult return invitation to earn can sometimes be from your own government.

Phase 3: Project Design

Practitioners conduct their capacity-building project design based on their assessments. Their project design should lead to one or more capacity-building approaches and associated plans that identify what elements of DSP capacity building will be conducted, what commitments the partner has agreed to, and a schedule for these activities. Project plans should identify long-term capacity goals (e.g., an improved strategy development system that restrains and guides defense budgets), and include shorter-term pilot projects or “quick wins” (e.g., sharing best practices in analyzing security and military trends). The latter is important to bolster confidence with a partner, and to demonstrate capacity-building benefits immediately relevant to better strategy or policy processes. Long-term goals, or what are sometimes referred to as “the North Star” that guides strategy efforts, are the five- to ten-year milestones that a DSP project is seeking to influence, support, or catalyze. This may be to drive a multi-year budget plan or to shape a long-term set of weapons systems and capability investments that will change the partner’s defense posture. The design of these projects necessitates multiple interactions with the partner and includes the designation of a project sponsor and set of working-level counterparts.

In U.S.-NATO advisory work with the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the U.S. DSP team worked on project design efforts on several levels simultaneously.13 By 2011, the long-term NATO objective was to support Afghan establishment of ministerial functions and required offices capable of conducting strategy, defense diplomacy, policy, and budget planning/programming. Many projects were being implemented already. Other DSP projects needed to be established or re-scoped based on the team’s assessment of gaps in the approach and feedback from Afghan partners.

A practitioner on the DSP team identified Afghan interest in military center of gravity analysis as a good defense analysis approach helpful to DSP work. This analytic approach was understood by some experienced Afghan leaders, but not widely understood across the MOD. The DSP practitioner leveraged several months of assessment work and relationship building with his ministerial counterparts to discuss and then co-design a capacity building workshop on center of gravity analysis and related Clausewitzian theory. The workshops included Afghan speakers who could present operational and historical experiences that described the value of center of gravity analysis in the Afghan context and Afghan way of war. The workshops incorporated educational materials from U.S. military education institutions to bolster their credibility and the materials were prepared in both English and Dari. Many more hours went into project planning and design than the implementation itself, and it paid off. In departure calls with Afghan ministerial officials, it was repeatedly referenced as one of the most impactful workshops the team conducted during that tour.

This anecdote is an example of how DSP practitioners can design capacity building to account for host-nation buy-in, needs, and absorptive capacity. In some cases, project design for defense strategy may need to look different than capacity building for defense policy and vice-versa.

Defense strategy project design: A common project effort is to support a nation conducting a strategic review, or assessment, of its security and defense needs. Another may be a full, multi-year defense strategy process improvement effort. A third common strategy project is to explore how strategy is managed with resourcing and budgeting.

Many countries struggle with using strategy to constrain and restrain budget priorities and capability investments. For example, the Indonesian MOD senior leadership asked the U.S. for DSP process support to examine the extent to which strategy was shaping budget planning. The DIB team conducted a series of process mapping workshops to allow Indonesian strategists and budget planners to see how their processes were, or were not, connected.

Some DSP projects may also favor inclusion of stakeholders outside defense and military strategy offices. This will involve drawing upon information from people in other ministries, academia, or think tanks. Projects like this may be more sustainable if external stakeholders also serve as formal project team members (such as the U.S. National Defense University or strategic policy offices of related ministries).

Defense policy project design: An initial choice to present to a partner is whether a project will be about the process of developing policy, or about a specific policy itself. Policy projects will usually have shorter time frames than strategy projects. They allow DSP practitioners the chance to demonstrate some quick wins as well: supporting development of a policy document will usually be less complex than developing a nation’s defense strategy.

Defense guidance project design: DSP practitioners and their partners need to identify whether the project will emphasize force employment issues or force development. The former often relies on designing simulations and table-top exercises to test force employment options, or they can provide opportunities to link DIB with existing bilateral military exercises. Force employment efforts may also require greater interaction with joint, regional, or service military headquarters, where much of the force employment planning expertise of a nation either resides or will be impacted. For force development projects, a DSP practitioner team should plan to include capability planners or resource/budget management experts. Likewise, such projects may need to include diverse parts of defense institutions (e.g., planning staffs and program managers or long-term budget analysts) that may not be accustomed to working together.

Phase 4: Project Implementation

A milestone for the end of a DSP project design is the formulation of the project plan, terms of reference, or other agreements that set the parameters for implementation. While there are exceptions (especially in cases where a country is willing to move directly to fixing DSP gaps or challenges), most DSP projects will have two major phases. The first phase involves practitioners transferring core knowledge on DSP, good/best practices, and lessons from U.S. and international cases where DSP efforts have gone well or poorly. The second phase involves the partner choosing to explore how that knowledge can be applied to improve systems, processes, or policies. For defense institutions struggling with change management or reform, the second phase may be delayed, or it may never occur.

DSP capacity building can take on many forms, as described in previous sections; a comprehensive list or description of these types of projects is beyond the scope of this chapter. There are, however, some unique lessons and challenges in implementing DSP projects that can inform doctrine.

“Regular” timelines are often trumped by reality: In many countries, including the United States, the work of strategists, planners, and policymakers is often associated with presumed regular schedules. Some capacity builders therefore try to use these schedules as incentives during project implementation. But in many countries, those schedules are frequently ignored or delayed (especially in countries where strategy is already disconnected from budget planning). Simple reasons can drive this (i.e., a strategy staff did not get its annual budget for conducting the work) or it can be more complex. A common challenge is senior leader turnover, which often restarts the process of a strategy or planning effort. Experienced practitioners understand that these timelines are fluid. In contrast, human resource management is a DIB pillar that is less forgiving; when soldiers are not paid, they tend to only tolerate such failures in management for so long before revolting. The cold reality for many defense institutions is that DSP activities are often considered nonessential for a ministry of defense or a military headquarters if they want to simply appear to be functioning. In situations where this is the case, DSP practitioners will find more success by helping the defense institution understand the costs associated with not having strategy drive resource priorities. They may also be able to help a policy staff articulate to leadership the negative consequences of not having a particular policy.

Some inexperienced security cooperation officers or DIB practitioners will confuse the regular production of strategy or policies for “a functioning defense institution.” However, just because a National Military Strategy is produced every year on time does not make it a good strategy. On arrival in Afghanistan, the author learned (to his dismay) that the U.S. had forced an annual strategic document production process on the Afghan MOD and military headquarters. We had confused form with function. Some advisors explained, “This will give them good practice in strategy and planning.” Even in the United States, we do not develop national military strategies every year. As a result, the DIB team began working with Afghan counterparts to move away from the annual production cycle for strategy documents. At the same time, we shifted our capacity building attention to more important challenges associated with force employment planning: how to plan the transfer of territorial control from NATO forces to the Afghan MOD, the Afghan National Army, and other security forces.

Strategists need to be aware of bureaucratic limitations: Most DSP DIB practitioners have lived the experience of seeing a strategy, plan, or policy fail at the execution or implementation stage in their own nations. In countries needing DSP DIB support, this challenge is even more common. Be it lack of implementation oversight, insufficient budgetary guidance, weak internal controls, or organizational resistance to strategic direction, defense institutions around the world often lack the systems required to assure DSP implementation.

A common capacity shortfall among strategists, planners, and policymakers in a defense institution is the absence of bureaucratic “savvy,” or understanding of what other parts of the defense institution need from their strategy and policy work. For DSP project implementation, it then becomes paramount that DSP practitioners use the capacity building opportunity to build awareness in their counterparts about how their work relates to the rest of the defense institution. Good methods for doing this include process mapping workshops, focus groups with stakeholders from other parts of the defense institution, stakeholder mapping (and assessment of the health of these processes and stakeholder relationships), and structured interviews/discussions with offices that use (or ignore) strategy, planning, and policy documentation.

External and internal events can disrupt or accelerate implementation: While events can alter the course of any DIB project, DSP activities are particularly sensitive to political, military, or societal changes in or near a country. For example, a new president will often mean implied and/or explicit changes to a country’s defense strategy and policies. The arrival in 2012 of the new President in Guatemala, for example, actually led to the initiation of a new DSP DIB project by the United States after that leader asked for help with reducing corruption and improving security in his country. A significant DSP and resource management set of DIB projects came to follow in the span of a few years. Regional security dynamics—such as the purchase of a major new weapons system by a neighboring country—may quickly alter the threat perceptions of a partner nation. This may change its assessment of both planning requirements and bilateral defense relations toward that neighbor. Societal views toward the military may shift, changing the way that a defense institution explains its strategies or policies to the public.

DSP DIB practitioners should monitor events within and external to the partner and adjust the approach as warranted. Within U.S. channels, regular interactions with the country team will help with this. Building in project-oriented and informal time to discuss ongoing events with DSP DIB counterparts in the MOD and military services is also a necessity. Another useful mechanism is structuring DIB workshops with time to discuss recent events, or facilitate analysis of major news items or think tank reports relevant to a country’s defense sector.

Implementation may be thrust upon you without needed time to design: DSP practitioners are familiar with responding quickly to new tasks related to a strategic topic, a new planning requirement, or the need to quickly conduct policy analysis of an emerging development in defense affairs. These are typical dynamics in a modern defense organization. The same holds true for our partners and their defense institutions. The DSP DIB practitioner can be a key sounding board or otherwise support a counterpart during these times. This is especially relevant in situations where the DSP practitioner is an in-country advisor with a good counterpart relationship. Unplanned DSP DIB events may be opportunities for practitioners to either demonstrate the relevance of a project already in implementation, or quickly shift to a new implementation event that supports their counterpart. There may not be sufficient time to design a new capacity building effort, but these events can provide real world situations to road test ongoing DIB themes or objectives.

A similar opportunity emerged while in Afghanistan as NATO and coalition forces prepared to transfer security responsibility to Afghan security forces. This phased transition of geographic control became known in Dari as Inteqal. Coalition leadership disseminated the order to prepare for this transition and within days the DSP team was to begin the planning process with our Afghan counterparts for how this would unfold in reality. Prior discussions with ministerial counterparts on national military strategies and subordinate planning documents quickly shifted to the need to support the team’s Afghan counterpart (a Deputy Assistant Minister for Strategy and Policy) with his duties for Inteqal. That said, this new implementation event also became a venue for practical discussions of how existing strategic objectives in the Afghan National Military Strategy translated to the operational level of security transition, and how they did not. This process also galvanized Afghan MOD understanding of the need for improved campaign planning, which energized its involvement in Army headquarters-driven planning processes. Through what quickly became an interministerial and coalition combined planning effort, numerous opportunities also arose to advise counterparts on the need for the MOD to take a leading role in coordinating political and defense leadership guidance into the planning process. These discussions provided opportunities to share lessons on civilian oversight and control of the military; discuss roles and missions of a MOD in interministerial affairs; and identify future areas for DSP capacity building.

Whether it is a regional security crisis that sparks new work within a defense institution, or the arrival of a new leader within the defense chain of command, DSP DIB practitioners can leverage these events toward the ultimate objectives of their work with a partner. The path toward that objective may take a turn, or it may need to be blazed in a new direction, but usually such events provide new opportunities and tangible contexts for DSP to be made even more relevant with partners.

Phase 5: Monitoring and Evaluation

Ongoing monitoring of DSP capacity-building progress is required to ensure efforts are on track. Regular reviews should be scheduled. Evaluation efforts are best done at the end of major projects, or to support annual security cooperation timelines (such as the annual review of country security cooperation plans). This volume provides a good example of how to conduct monitoring and evaluation of DIB, to include associated metrics.

A few DSP unique monitoring and evaluation best practices merit attention. Country teams and policymakers alike can leverage standing bilateral defense dialogues, military-military dialogues, and staff talks to check DSP project value. Usually, such projects will be related to, or be impacted by, decisions stemming from such bilateral events.

For monitoring, DSP projects should be responsive to any changes in higher-level national strategic planning efforts. They should also anticipate any adjustments to national budget cycles. DSP projects that do not build capacity or improve processes in ways that are responsive to, and influential to, these national processes run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

During evaluation phases, external evaluators and practitioners should assess DSP projects against conditions across the security sector, and not simply in relationship to producing better defense or military outcomes. Determining progress toward U.S. interagency goals in the country’s Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) is also warranted. Many U.S. ICS objectives tend to be directly tied to the DSP pillar of the defense management framework.

Future Issues and Conclusion

For those interested in the future of defense strategy and policy capacity building in the DIB context, there are four issues for consideration, further debate, and incorporation into future security cooperation approaches. Some are born of lessons gained while working at the country team level, others are cumulative in the author’s experience at the policy level and in working with DIB program managers and practitioners.

  • Help security cooperation officers and in-country practitioners by better linking DSP DIB activities with individual training and education programs provided through IMET, FMF, or other security assistance: Many host-nation strategy and policy leaders (or future leaders) benefit from education at premier U.S. war colleges and defense education institutes. But their involvement and participation in DSP capacity building in their own country is often spotty, or not well coordinated. Host nation officials leading or participating in DSP projects often miss the chance to be involved in such individualized education. A good first innovation would be to identify existing strategy and policy courses, professors, and degree programs that could be linked with DSP activities in-country. Ideally, this would be in a digital format that could more easily be used by security cooperation officers and partner-nation officials alike to improve capacity building integration and effectiveness.
  • Develop simpler and more useful doctrine for synchronizing DSP and DRM: While practitioners and DIB program managers have done good work on these related, but different pillars of defense management, more forums for discussion and deliberation between practitioners would be beneficial. With multiple U.S. DIB programs now having accumulated experience in many country projects, it could be beneficial to convene practitioners associated with these projects. They could report on crosscutting lessons, develop areas of doctrinal innovation, and develop training materials for future teams and advisors pursuing this work in the field.
  • Consider reforms to U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) processes and equipment assistance programs to better integrate DSP capacity building as part of the sales and equipping processes: Country teams can do more to consider the strategy and policy aspects of a host nation’s interest in FMS or a particular grant aid weapons system. There appears to be room for improvement in how the strategic orientation of a country’s defense needs is assessed and considered as part of such weapons sales or assistance. Additionally, the United States could do more to require or link DSP capacity building to traditional FMS or equipment assistance programs. Such changes may help reduce the common risk that such sales and assistance end up being improperly sustained or mismanaged by partner nations.
  • Research and test ways to better combine capacity building for DSP and joint concepts: While mentioned briefly in this chapter, better capacity building on joint concepts as part of comprehensive defense management and DSP efforts appears to have great promise. For example, improving how joint concepts in military exercises and operational security cooperation are linked with long-term institution building merits greater attention. Country teams, regional combatant command staffs, and policymakers seeking to achieve U.S. security cooperation goals could leverage such improved DIB doctrine for joint concepts for higher-level defense objectives. The United States has tremendous experience of joint concepts. In many ways, the United States has comparative advantages in jointness, which is acknowledged by many security cooperation partners and foreign militaries. These strengths should be leveraged to improve the relevance and impact of U.S. DIB programs and activities.

With the insights gained from many years of DSP capacity building conducted by the United States and other countries, there is emerging doctrine for how such work ought to be conducted. As argued above, DSP capacity building will be more efficacious in countries where conditions are conducive for the successful articulation of national goals, roles, and missions for its security sector. That said, the processes of DSP capacity building, even in less favorable conditions, can be useful in pursuing other U.S. goals—especially in fragile states or in other countries for purposes of supporting TAO and improved democratic civilian control.

Practitioners have been producing significant lessons learned for DSP work in the field and why it should matter to policymakers, to which the DIB and DOD communities should pay greater attention. The doctrine derived from some of those lessons, as described above, is closely linked to which phases of DSP DIB activity are happening in a given country. This doctrine will continue to evolve. Within the pillars of defense management there is more work to be done on harmonizing doctrine. This is especially true in relation to how DSP is synchronized with resource management and joint concepts.

U.S. national defense strategies of the future will likely continue to call on our allies and partners to do more to support global security. Defense strategy and policy capacity building can be central to making that aspiration a reality. The security cooperation system and its leaders are prone to promoting training and equipping to achieve those ends. The United States should ask that same system and its leaders to better promote institutional capacity building for DSP, lest burden sharing efforts fail due to the fragility of a partner’s defense strategy and policy framework.


1 There is a difference between strategy and policy made at the defense level, and policy made at the military service or joint headquarters levels. Defense strategies encompass subordinate military strategies; for example, they also provide guidance to non-military organizations and personnel in a defense sector (for example, defense agencies, ministerial offices, etc.). For ease of reading, “defense” is used as the umbrella term. Doctrine for defense strategy and policy capacity building is generally the same for associated military-oriented DSP work, although military organizations have important cultural, organizational, and mission differences that will impact strategy and policy formulation at the military headquarters level and below.

2 Zoltan Barany, The Soldier and the Changing State: Building Democratic Armies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 355-356. Barany provides a useful discussion of why it is important for countries in democratic transition to identify the right military missions, so that these militaries will be sized and shaped to be relevant to the direction of that democratic change. For DSP practitioners that may be working in a state experiencing such a transition, defense strategy processes can be very useful to supporting a review of new or needed missions for a military undergoing reform or change.

3 Policies exist throughout a defense enterprise to direct the work of organizations and people. Policies are used to keep organizations and staff aligned as they do that work. Personnel policies, logistics policies, and budget policies all play important roles in helping defense institutions manage day-to-day activities. Defense policy in this definition operates at a political-military level as described.

4 Joint concepts are important for defense institution building as they help defense and military institutions to identify more effective and efficient ways to manage their organizations, budgets, and military units. A simple example relates to airpower across multiple services. Without joint concepts being used to shape defense choices, defense institutions may naturally evolve to have airpower and aviation capabilities in every single service in ways that are not needed. In systems where oversight or management is not good, this may result in each military service investing in or trying to maintain similar types of aviation aircraft (such as helicopters). This may also result in these aircraft being very expensive to maintain, or operate, which can often lead to management choices to not fund readiness or sustainment. Over time, a nation may have a large helicopter fleet, but it will not be able to operate those aircraft when it needs to (due to resultant operational readiness shortfalls). Using joint concepts to inform “force development” choices can help identify how a smaller number of aircraft, associated with joint missions and tasks, can be maintained and operated at lower cost (e.g., efficiency) but still get the required military activities accomplished (e.g., effectiveness). While beyond the scope of this paper, and still evolving as an area of DIB discipline, joint concepts and their utilization in DIB capacity building are topics worth additional academic study and practitioner discussion.

5 U.S. Code, Title 10, “Armed Forces,” § 118.

6 Republic of Indonesia Ministry of Defense and U.S. DOD, Joint Statement on Comprehensive Defense Cooperation, October 26, 2015.

7 Elliot Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (New York, NY: The Free Press, 2002), 205-207. Cohen’s arguments on civilian control and civil-military dialogue are instructive to this point. He argues against those that believe civilian leaders should simply identify the goals of a strategy or a war and then let the military determine the ways and means to conduct them; he believes this is deeply misguided. Rather, he sees that the right lessons from history should be, “above all, that political leaders must immerse themselves in the conduct of their wars no less than in their great projects of domestic legislation; that they must master their military briefs as thoroughly as they do their civilian ones; that they must demand and expect from their military subordinates a candor as bruising as it is necessary; that both groups must expect a running conversation in which, although civilian opinion will not usually dictate, it must dominate; and that conversation will cover not only ends and policies, but ways and means” (emphasis added).

8 United States Institute of Peace, Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2009), 6-51 to 6-53.

9 Intervention is used here as borrowed from international development terminology.

10 Isabel Vogel, “Review of the use of “Theory of Change” in international development,” UK Department for International Development Review Report, April 2012, available at <>, 8-12. For an overview of theory of change history and usage within international development efforts, see Vogel: “Theory of change comes from both evaluation and social change traditions, so it is being used both by smaller civil society organizations and by donors. Development agencies and organizations are mainly using theory of change for evaluation, but it is increasingly being used for program design and to guide implementation. Perceived benefits include an integrated approach to design, implementation and evaluation and better analysis of the program context than other approaches.”

11 Nadia Gerspacher, Strategic Advising in Foreign Assistance, A Practical Guide (Boulder, CO: Kumarian Press, 2016), 27-38.

12 Luma Institute, Innovating for People Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods (Pittsburgh, PA: LUMA Institute, 2012).

13 Technically, in 2011 and 2012, ministerial advising with the Afghan Ministry of Defense was not a declared NATO mission. It was a U.S. mission, under the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan Commander (the commander was dual hatted as the NATO Training Assistance-Afghanistan Commander). Other countries joined this effort in their respective bilateral mechanisms. This included the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Estonia, and others. In practice, however, our Afghan partners saw us as representing the NATO coalition, and we operated as a multilateral staff. For simplicity sake, the author uses NATO advisors or capacity builders to describe our efforts.