A Book review by Robert Van Horn, Associate Professor, Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management (DISAM)of the title book published (Washington, DC:  Georgetown University Press, 2010)by Derek S. Reveron.

The U.S. military has always done more than fight wars.  Humanitarian assistance and civic action, disaster relief, providing equipment and training to foreign militaries, and myriad other activities that fall under what is now called “security cooperation” have long been among tasks performed by military personnel.  In the past, these missions were done largely, but not solely, by special operations forces.  They were not considered to be in the mainstream. 

            The aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 brought increased emphasis to security cooperation activities.  Many threats to U.S. interests today come not from peer competitors with traditional military forces but rather from weak or failing states that provide sanctuary to subnational and transnational actors.  These threats cannot be addressed solely, or even primarily, through combat operations.  Instead, U.S. strategy stresses using security cooperation tools to “build the capacity” of other countries so that they can counter local and regional threats themselves, thus supporting “stabilization and reconstruction.”  This requires more than just tanks and planes, guns and bullets.  Programs that address public security in a particular country may have to address concurrently such disparate needs as health, clean water, and sanitation; professionalization and reform of law enforcement, correctional, and judicial systems; fighting trafficking in persons, piracy, and drug smuggling; and infrastructure development for education, communications, and transportation.  U.S. military teams around the world dig wells, build schools, develop programs to prevent HIV/AIDS and other diseases, conduct training on protecting fisheries, and hold conferences on the implications of climate change.  Security cooperation is no longer a secondary mission for the Department of Defense (DOD).  It has moved to the forefront.

For a security cooperation strategy to be effective,  DOD must also work in close concert with other US government agencies through a “whole of government” approach, so that military and non-military programs are mutually supporting or at least not in opposition to one another.  This change in emphasis has even affected the way DOD is organized.  For example, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established explicitly as a security cooperation organization with interagency coordination as part of its DNA.  Even before AFRICOM stood up, US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) morphed from a traditional combatant command headquarters to one focused on security cooperation, with interagency coordination also integral to its make-up. Other combatant commands have created staff directorates that have the expressed responsibility to promote interagency and non-governmental coordination (e.g., US European Command (EUCOM) ECJ9:  Interagency Partnering Directorate, and US Pacific Command (PACOM) J9:  Pacific Outreach Directorate).

Not everyone in the U.S. supports this shift.  Some lament the loss of focus on traditional military missions. They see security cooperation as a distraction, a drain on manpower, acquisition, and other resources.  Other detractors see DOD’s emphasis on security cooperation as usurping the roles of the Department of State and other civilian government agencies.  They see this as DOD mission creep and the militarization of foreign aid. 

Derek Reveron of the US Naval War College (NWC) disagrees.  On the contrary, he argues in his book Exporting Security:  International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military that DOD’s turn toward security cooperation and interagency coordination is not only appropriate, it is necessary.  Security cooperation is a principal means by which the U.S. engages with most other countries around the world.  That being so, Reveron stresses that “it is imperative for the military to develop concepts and capabilities appropriate to work with partners outside of combat zones in permissive environments.”[1]  He stresses that since the goal of security cooperation is to enable partner nations to meet their own security challenges, and thus by implication obviate the need for U.S. forces to do it for them, security cooperation missions are “arguably more important and more likely for the U.S. military than combat.”[2]

Reveron notes that even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involve much more than combat operations.  They too have a huge stabilization and reconstruction component.  Iraq and Afghanistan prove that military victory and strategic success are not the same.  Defeating an enemy force may really be only the first and easiest step in achieving strategic objectives.  Stabilization and reconstruction efforts that follow military victory may be the greater and more important challenge.  

Reveron argues that rather than being the militarization of foreign aid, security cooperation is merely the government using the military in civilian applications.  He responds to those who favor the primacy of economic and other non-military aid by pointing out that “security and stability are essential to socioeconomic development.”[3]  For example, reliable seaport and airport security, modern air traffic control procedures, and professional and trustworthy immigration and customs officers can have significant impacts on trade.  Thriving markets and political liberalization may be possible only when citizens feel reasonably safe.    

Reveron makes a strong case defending security cooperation and the military’s role in foreign aid.  DOD has more people, money, and other resources than any other agency in the U.S. government.  Moreover, its culture promotes an action-oriented “can do” spirit, so projects that otherwise might get bogged down are pushed forward when run by DOD.  The military has stepped up to assume responsibility for political-military programs, civic action projects, and even economic development activities in many places either because the local security environment was not safe for civilians, or an insufficient number of qualified civilians were willing to go where the need is, or often just because civilian agencies did not have the wherewithal to implement viable programs.  Reveron cites as an example the Department of State’s efforts to be more assertive in the security arena through its Office of Coordination for Stabilization and Reconstruction (S/CRS).  While S/CRS’s efforts have been stymied in part by its limited success in recruiting staff,  even with its full complement of people, it could not supplant a “modest” DOD civil affairs effort such as Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti.[4]  Moreover, calls for State to do more in the area of security cooperation often assume competencies that are not there.  As Reveron notes, just because diplomats are civilians does not mean that they are any more prepared to rebuild countries than are their counterparts in the military.[5]  Furthermore, while military-managed programs may not be the cure for what ails a country or society, the same may well be said for civilian aid programs that State can bring to bear.

Not surprisingly, given his affiliation with the NWC, Reveron presents U.S. Navy security cooperation as a case study to support his argument.  I found this the most enjoyable part of the book, if only because my own Army background has not given me much exposure to Navy programs.  His discussion of such activities as Global Fleet Station, maritime partnerships, and the East Africa and Southwest Indian Ocean Initiative illuminates the breadth and depth of Navy security cooperation.  He notes, “Piracy, illegal fishing, and illegal trafficking by sea have forced the U.S. Navy to adapt its mission and think beyond major warfare with another maritime power.  Instead, maritime civil affairs, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief are becoming core competencies.”[6]  Not only are activities like these key to U.S. security, the U.S. Navy is the only U.S. government organization that has what it takes to pull them off, even though “these are very different missions from those for which warships are designed.”[7]

As well as Reveron makes his case, I think even he would caution that we should not support increased emphasis on security cooperation without some caveats.  First and foremost, the U.S. military must not lose sight of the fact that its raison d’être is to fight our nation’s wars.  Of all the organizations in the U.S. government, only the military can conduct combat operations.  DOD must strike a fine balance between security cooperation on one hand and fighting or preparing for war on the other.  This is certainly true in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While building schools, drilling wells, and drinking the requisite “three cups of tea" are important, as has been noted elsewhere at some point in a counterinsurgency you have to counter the insurgent.[8]  When a rifleman is training to perform a security cooperation mission, he is not training to use his rifle, which is and must be his primary core competency.

This is not only true with regard to current conflicts.  Even though there is now no peer competitor that poses a threat to vital U.S. interests, DOD must still plan, equip, and train to meet one should it arise, no matter how unlikely that may be. Given the lag time for funding, acquisition, and train-up, this cannot wait till such a threat clears the horizon.  While it is certainly healthy to debate the type of force that may be required to meet possible future threats and the flanks on which those threats may appear (e.g., cyberspace), in my opinion it would be a mistake to give these threats short shrift in favor of current security cooperation efforts.

Another important caveat is that to be successful, security cooperation must have a long-term perspective.  Security cooperation aims to change attitudes, earn trust, and gain access.  This takes time and repetition.  It cannot be “one and done.”  Furthermore, sustainability must be an integral part of the plan for any security cooperation program.  It does not serve U.S. interests to provide capabilities that begin to decay as soon as U.S. forces leave.  For example, in his discussion of the Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (GPOI), Reveron notes that although the U.S. supports dozens of peace operations training centers around the world, the true measure of success for GPOI will be whether partner nations sustain the training centers and actually participate in peacekeeping operations when the U.S. eventually curtails its involvement.[9] Providing a capability without also providing the wherewithal to maintain it may be worse than providing nothing at all.  As Reveron notes in another discussion, at a minimum, where projects are not sustained “investment will fall short of expectations.”[10]  

By the same token, security cooperation projects normally should not involve a permanent U.S. presence.  The goal of any security cooperation effort should be for the partner nation eventually to “graduate” and become self-sufficient.  There is always the danger that the U.S. military will get overly invested in a project or country, becoming tied down indefinitely.  

Finally, it remains to be seen how long DOD will continue its emphasis on counterinsurgency in general and security cooperation in particular once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close.  Those of us of a certain age can recall how the U.S. military jettisoned its counterinsurgency experience at the end of the Vietnam War, settling comfortably into a collective amnesia. We turned our attention back to the Fulda Gap almost as if Vietnam had never happened.  It is possible that once operations in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, security cooperation will again be pushed to the background and traditional concerns will once again become paramount.  Should this happen, military professionals who have bought into security cooperation may find themselves shunted aside.  Even the Secretary of Defense has questioned whether military personnel systems will adequately recognize and reward those who fill security cooperation assignments, which are “still not considered a career-enhancing path for the best and brightest officers.”[11]  In my opinion, slighting security cooperation in the future would be as big a mistake as ignoring other possible future threats in favor of security cooperation.  Again, there has to be a balance between security cooperation that tamps down current threats to prevent them from flaring into conflagrations, and preparing for whatever awaits us over the next rise.

Posing these few qualifications is not meant to denigrate Reveron’s  work in Exporting Security. To be fair, Reveron acknowledges each of the issues raised above, at least in passing.  All in all, he has provided a welcome addition to the discussion about the proper place of security cooperation in the array of strategic tools available to DOD.  His chapters providing an overview of select security cooperation programs and discussing implications for U.S. force structure and doctrine are especially useful.   I recommend this book to anyone who is working in or wants to understand security cooperation.

[Exporting Security:  International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military by Derek S. Reveron is available in the DISAM library.] 



[1]Derek S. Reveron, Exporting Security:  International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military, p. 145.

[2]Ibid., pp. 145-146

[3]Ibid., p 42.

[4]Ibid., pp. 58-59.

[5]Ibid., p. 171.

[6]Ibid., p. 139.

[7]Ibid., p. 123.

[8]John T. Bennett, “Olson:  Counterinsurgency Ops Should ‘Involve Countering the Insurgents’,”  Defense News, 26 May 2010, last reviewed 28 Oct 2010; <http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4643956&c=LAN&s=TOP>

[9]Reveron, op. cit, p. 115.

[10]Ibid., note 62, p. 143.

[11]Robert M. Gates, “A Balanced Strategy:  Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age,” Foreign Affairs, 88:1 (January–February 2009), p. 37.

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