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The Case Against Security Cooperation in Fragile States

A darkish cloud hangs over the Department of Defense. After the “strategic failure” that was Afghanistan, the division is struggling to determine how to not repeat it. In explicit, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the lead company for advising, coaching, and equipping international governments, has taken various key steps to forestall this from reoccurring. My fellow colleagues in the company, whose key mission is to construct the army capability of international companions, took the collapse in Afghanistan significantly exhausting. After the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act the company established certification packages for its workforce and launched new ideas comparable to “building capacity” and “full-spectrum capability.” This is in addition to numerous different initiatives, comparable to altering safety cooperation planning strategies and requiring the evaluation, monitoring, and analysis of outcomes. Though these initiatives predate the latest occasions in Afghanistan, they symbolize a widespread recognition of an issue with how the United States conducts army help, a recognition grimly underscored by the collapse of the Afghan safety forces in August 2021 and the failures of Iraqi reconstruction.



For years, the United States has struggled with how greatest to construct international militaries, with minor successes right here and there however nothing substantial over the long run. These famous difficulties have led to what Jahara Matisek has known as the “Faberge Egg army problem, an expensively built military … easily broken by insurgents.” Some have argued that to deal with these poor outcomes the United States ought to consolidate and simplify the difficult home processes used to execute safety cooperation, in addition to augmenting packages by constructing the capability of formal protection establishments. However, army help outcomes won’t enhance just by making the international army gross sales course of quicker or by enhancing a rustic’s protection establishments, as argued by Jeremy Gwinn. Many previous articles on safety cooperation centered on the trivialities of how you can enhance the method versus asking whether or not safety cooperation is one of the best means by which to perform nationwide safety aims. Security cooperation analyses generally tend to deal with the “tactical” stage of safety cooperation and focus on how you can get the tools to international locations quicker, or what different augmentations or incentives the United States ought to add to make it work. My argument focuses on the strategic use of safety cooperation to perform wider American pursuits in fragile states. By fragile states, I particularly reference these international locations which might be coping with

“extensive corruption and criminal behavior, inability to collect taxes or otherwise draw on citizen support, large-scale involuntary dislocation of the population, sharp economic decline, group-based inequality, institutionalized persecution or discrimination, severe demographic pressures, brain drain, and environmental decay.”

Rather than being a key international coverage software, the United States ought to fastidiously contemplate the ramifications of accelerating safety cooperation in fragile states. For one, the associate nation will doubtless be unable to maintain this newfound army capability. Second, miliary help is prone to result in a rise in political instability, corruption, human-rights abuses, and incidences of political oppression. This is as a result of, at its core, the U.S. method to safety cooperation is contradictory and anachronistic. It is predicated on defective assumptions about situations in associate nations, typically designed to defeat an enemy the associate nation doesn’t have, and rooted in American fashions of protection establishments that don’t exist. Even throughout the period of great-power competitors, it’s not clear that U.S. pursuits are greatest served by sending tens of millions of {dollars} in protection articles and coaching to fragile states below the guise of “regional stability,” with the first objective of holding Russia and China out.

Inherent in the definition of safety cooperation are specific objectives to “build capacity,” which regularly translate to making sure that international international locations can use, preserve, and maintain the tools that the United States has transferred to them, both by means of grant help or by international army gross sales. Given the inner instability of fragile states, most army capabilities that the United States is looking for to foster are for the needs of inner protection, counter-insurgency, or counter-terrorism. The suite of packages used to switch coaching and tools are known as “building partner capacity” or “train and equip programs.” Often recipients of those packages are states that can’t or won’t present primary providers for his or her inhabitants or management their very own territory, as a result of the federal government lacks both the sources, the authority, or the belief of lots of its residents. While the state exists de jure, there is no such thing as a state de facto. The thought of transferring tens of millions of {dollars} of state-of-the-art American tools to a rustic that can’t present essentially the most primary providers to its inhabitants appears counter-intuitive. How is the recipient nation anticipated to keep up it?

While the problem of sustainment is essential, let’s sidestep it and deal with what occurs after the tools is delivered and the coaching has been accomplished. There could also be anecdotal proof of how safety cooperation packages have been “successful” in constructing army capability, however quite a few commentaries and research argue that the outcomes of this newfound capability have been lower than supreme. According to those research, a rise in safety cooperation and safety help correlated with an elevated incidence of army coups, political oppression, human-rights violations, and different types of political instability. For instance, a 2020 research performed by Patricia Sullivan, Leo Blanken, and Ian Rice analyzing post-conflict international locations between 1956 and 2012 discovered a statistically vital improve in incidences of torture, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, political imprisonment and executions, and incidents of genocide amongst recipients of army help. A second research, analyzing U.S. safety help to 150 international locations, discovered an analogous outcome: An improve in army help (safety cooperation) correlated with worse efficiency on human rights. Both of those research embody years in which United States safety cooperation packages had been tied to Leahy Amendment situations regarding human rights that barred sending materials to models on a human-rights watch checklist and having each recipient of coaching vetted. Regardless, the outcomes of those research shouldn’t be stunning. Fragile states in which leaders lack sources to supply primary providers for his or her inhabitants typically flip to well-resourced (due to army help) militaries to repress stressed populations and goal political opponents. Political leaders in fragile states typically use newfound army capability to shore up energy. Moreover, if political leaders can rely upon an out of doors donor, just like the United States, to useful resource their army, versus taxes or another inner sources, it additional severs the tie between the federal government and its residents.

Regardless of those outcomes, the first objective of safety cooperation is “to build partner nation capacity consistent with [American] defense objectives.” While the National Defense Strategy outlines quite a few protection aims, in areas with fragile states these aims typically embody selling regional stability, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and even policing (countering human trafficking and drug trafficking). Therefore, the aim of constructing army capability in weak and failed states is usually to make sure the inner safety of that state. However, the American army, by regulation and custom, isn’t designed to play an inner safety function. When the United States has engaged in constructing international militaries, it has tended to mirror the American means of struggle centered round taking part in its financial power and technological benefit right into a tactical benefit on the battlefield. From doctrine to protection establishments and logistics techniques, the complete Department of Defense is constructed round this American means of struggle. In truth, for U.S. forces counter-insurgency was a subset of whole struggle till the late 2000s. Through constructing associate capability packages, particularly these below Department of Defense authorities, the method to safety cooperation has been to reflect American methods of struggle, doctrine, logistics techniques, and coaching by asking American army members and establishments to assist to construct the capability of protection establishments. In Afghanistan in explicit, the Department of Defense sought to construct a army “that was modeled on the centralized command structures and complex bureaucracy of the Defense Department” quite than construct a army to defeat the particular risk(s) that Afghanistan faces rooted in protection establishments that Afghanistan may assist. The U.S. implementers drew on what they knew, which resulted in Afghan forces not with the ability to operate with out American assist operationally and logistically. Ultimately, as soon as the United States withdrew, the Afghan forces fell rapidly.

U.S. safety practitioners specializing in institutional capacity-building level to Afghanistan for example of not taking institutional capacity-building severely, due to this fact dooming the rebuilding of the Afghan army, and never essentially of broader safety cooperation failure. Congress listened, and required often used safety cooperation packages to deal with institutional capacity-building, which advocates argue may even assist to forestall human rights abuses, principally by means of schooling or some form of subject-matter knowledgeable or army advisor exchanges. However, institutional capacity-building isn’t the panacea to the safety cooperation dilemma that many inside the Department of Defense assume it’s. Institutional capacity-building packages nonetheless deal with the technical elements of establishments, or give cursory schooling on points such because the regulation of armed battle. But these packages fail to think about the politics of how authority inside states emerges, develops, or adjustments in order to institutionalize these newly launched practices. To be clear, I’m not arguing that safety cooperation planners don’t contemplate politics in any respect. In truth, U.S. regulation requires the Department of Defense to “jointly consider political, social, economic, diplomatic, and historical factors, if any, of the foreign country that may impact the effectiveness of the program.” However, assessments of those elements are sometimes shallow and focus on the politics of formal establishments, overlooking the significance of casual establishments and the way energy and authority is definitely wielded in fragile states.

In order to grasp the deep politics of fragile states, it’s essential to have an understanding of what a state is. The famous sociologist Max Weber outlined the state as a “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” The key for the Weberian conception of the state is the time period respectable use of drive. Weber argued that even states that seem like authoritarian will search to root their declare of legitimacy in one among three “pure” forms of authority: authorized, conventional, or charismatic. Authority in the American state most carefully aligns itself with authorized legitimation, that means that U.S. residents see the American state and authorities as respectable as a result of a pacesetter’s energy is derived from written legal guidelines, procedures, and rules. Leaders in fragile states typically attempt to legitimize their rule not by means of authorized means, however in a sub-categorization of conventional authority: the neo-patrimonial system. Leaders in neo-patrimonial states, whereas having a veneer of paperwork, additionally search to stay in energy by means of clientelism, or the trade of products and providers for political assist. Neo-patrimonial governments additionally desire to maintain state establishments weak by stacking bureaucracies, like protection establishments, with supporters and inspiring competitors amongst people to maintain them divided and due to this fact not a risk to their rule. This permits key army leaders to be depending on the ruler for his or her wealth whereas additionally holding “national armies divided and faction-ridden.” U.S. army help is particularly liable to contribute to corruption as typically this help accounts for a big portion of protection budgets. “Ghost soldiers” (nonexistent army personnel manufactured by corrupt officers to pocket their wage) in Iraq and Uganda are two well-known examples of how straightforward it may be for army establishments to interact in corruption. Clientelism isn’t thought-about corruption, however simply the way in which governance is completed in states in which the central authorities competes with native actors for legitimacy. The Taliban understood this and struck offers “with low-level representatives of the standing Afghan government through bribes or safety guarantees” in order to rapidly seize management of varied areas.

With this understanding of the state, a deeper look into the method to institutional capacity-building nonetheless exhibits the failures of safety cooperation. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, institutional capacity-building initiatives are to be “driven by U.S. interests and values” however on the identical time keep away from “the projection or imposition of United States’ models, which may not fit an ally or partner’s specific context.” How can institutional capacity-building be pushed by U.S. values whereas additionally not be pushed by U.S. fashions? Often Americans despatched to assist construct establishments are subject-matter specialists in growing and working logistics techniques, human useful resource establishments, and different formal protection establishments in the United States, not state-building or political growth students with a deep understanding of the casual politics of the state. These gaps in data are then crammed in by their expertise in working establishments in the United States, ensuing in international protection establishments modeled on the complicated American bureaucratic system, a system rooted in rational legitimacy. Additionally, institutional capability packages are sometimes aimed toward enhancing the talents of functionaries and/or rewriting legal guidelines, processes, or rules that enhance the veneer of the neo-patrimonial system with out essentially shifting governance model additional down the authorized continuum. This veneer serves to additional improve a pacesetter’s worldwide legitimacy whereas doing nothing to enhance their home legitimacy, to say nothing of the usual of dwelling of the nation’s residents.

Security cooperation observers might level to Ukraine for example of profitable safety cooperation, with the United States offering army help to disclaim Russia a straightforward win, and to date it appears to be working. Observers didn’t count on Ukraine to take action effectively in opposition to Russia. However, that is the exception that proves the rule. Ukraine by most measures isn’t a deeply fragile state. In truth, in line with the delicate state index, the place a decrease quantity signifies much less fragility, it has ranked wherever from 86 to as little as 117 out of 179 international locations. Currently, about 88 out of 179 international locations are deemed extra fragile than Ukraine. Compared to international locations just like the Philippines, Nigeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and lots of African international locations, it was comparatively extra secure. Second, American protection articles and providers are getting used to combat off an exterior risk. Third, authorities legitimacy isn’t in query. The purpose that safety cooperation is “working” is that Ukrainian residents see the federal government as making an attempt to supply them with safety in opposition to the Russian invasion: They see an association in which they (the Ukrainians) are giving their blood, with a lot of the treasure being supplied by the United States. After the struggle, Ukraine might come out with a stronger nation-state id and maybe a much less corrupt authorities. In addition, following the trail recognized by Charles Tilly, turning into environment friendly and efficient at struggle contributes to transferring states additional down the authorized legitimacy continuum. The problem with many fragile states, particularly in African international locations, is that their residents see quite a lot of actors as respectable governors, not the central authorities. In flip, typically, governments of fragile states see their very own residents and teams as potential political rivals, not communities to be served. Some fragile states are solely states as a result of worldwide society says so, not as a result of their residents imagine them to be, not like in Ukraine.

Engaging in safety cooperation in fragile international locations is a depraved drawback, in that any method the United States takes will invariably not be adequate to realize the lofty objectives outlined in the National Security Strategy. When the United States helps to construct international militaries it can’t assist however use an American mannequin, one which additionally assumes an goal management of civil-military relations, which neo-patrimonial regimes don’t observe. Political leaders in fragile states will gladly take no matter army coaching and tools that the United States is prepared to offer whereas additionally making certain they will nonetheless maintain on to energy, by means of numerous types of patronage and/or coup-proofing. In addition, Chinese and Russian army and financial help is ready in the wings to complement and even supplant American help. Suggestions to tie continued U.S. safety cooperation to enchancment in home situations might not work, as fragile states typically use the specter of going to Russia or China to realize concessions. U.S. policymakers must rethink their method to safety cooperation by first deciding whether or not holding Russia and China out is sufficient of a nationwide curiosity to justify offering assist to particular fragile states.

Despite great-power competitors, U.S. pursuits could also be greatest served by abandoning security-cooperation efforts in fragile states. Arguments to enhance the international army gross sales course of or incentivize a rustic’s conduct are largely irrelevant and won’t result in higher safety cooperation outcomes, no less than not inside the timelines imposed by U.S. authorities packages. It could be very troublesome to construct a sustainable army capability in fragile international locations whose governments lack sources, each financial and human, and to take action in opposition to the wishes of political leaders who may even see holding establishments weak as a strategy to keep in energy. The United States ought to solely select to conduct safety cooperation, particularly if paid for by taxpayer {dollars} — as a result of not all packages are, and a few are funded by the international governments themselves — in very particular instances that actually serve nationwide pursuits. U.S. policymakers also needs to be ready for the fallout that comes with rising army capability in states that can’t present primary wants for their very own inhabitants or have governments that lack legitimacy, particularly human-rights abuses, corruption, and normal regional instability. When the United States does select to pour tens of millions of taxpayer {dollars} into the safety sector of a fragile state, it ought to be able to make a long-term dedication and embed any method in each the formal and casual political buildings of the state.



Barbara Salera is at present an affiliate professor of safety cooperation administration on the Defense Security Cooperation University, School of Security Cooperation Studies. She has beforehand revealed articles on the pedagogy of educating political science, humanitarian help, and safety cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Any opinions expressed are these of the writer alone and don’t essentially mirror official coverage of the Defense Security Cooperation University, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or the Department of Defense.

Image: U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Lance Cpl. Nicholas Guevara