Does Building Foreign Military Capacity Help?

12.21.15 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The notion that the U.S. should strengthen the military capabilities of foreign partners so that they could assume increased responsibility for regional security is critically examined in a major new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The approach known as Building Partner Capacity (BPC) “has increased in prominence within U.S. strategy, arguably becoming a central pillar of U.S. national security and foreign policy in recent years,” based on the premise that strengthening fragile foreign security institutions abroad will have benefits for U.S. national security.

But despite the growing centrality of BPC, “it remains unclear whether building the capacity of foreign security forces is an effective way to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives,” the CRS report said.

In fact, “Recent events, particularly the battle between the Afghan government and the Taliban over Konduz, as well as the collapse of U.S.-trained and equipped forces in Iraq and Syria in the face of the Islamic State, have called into question whether these BPC programs can achieve their desired effects.”

“Do BPC programs and activities actually advance U.S. national security interests? If so, when? If not, why not?”

One short answer is that “Within the case studies explored, BPC was least effective as a tool for allowing the United States to extract itself from conflict (victory in war/war termination). However, it was most effective as a tool for building interpersonal and institutional linkages, and for alliance building.”

But the purpose of the CRS report was not to simply announce analytic conclusions. Rather, it should “be used as a starting point for further debate and analysis on the subject. There are no clear-cut answers at present. Considerably more intellectual spade work could be undertaken to clarify the conceptual underpinnings of BPC efforts, and whether, and when, BPC is an appropriate tool for advancing U.S. strategic goals.”

Notably, “This report differs from many other CRS products, as it is intended to assist Congress with its oversight responsibilities by helping it think critically about BPC and related programs. Accordingly, it raises more questions than it answers. Among the most important: are BPC shortcomings due to execution issues? Or are they due to BPC being an inappropriate way to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives?”

A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News. See What Is “Building Partner Capacity?” Issues for Congress, December 18, 2015.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that were issued last week include the following.

Arms Sales: Congressional Review Process, updated December 17, 2015

Firearms Eligibility for Foreign Nationals in the United States, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 18, 2015

New Circuit Split: Seventh Circuit Rules that Unlawfully Present Aliens with “Extensive Ties” to the United States Have Second Amendment Rights, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 17, 2015

You Win Some, You Lose Some: the Complicated Legal Status of Daily Fantasy Sports, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 18, 2015

Employer Wellness Programs and Genetic Information: Frequently Asked Questions, December 17, 2015

Nationwide Injunctions: Recent Rulings Raise Questions about Nationwide Reach of a Single Federal Court, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 16, 2015

IRS Proposes Controversial Regulations Regarding Charity Donors’ SSNs, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 16, 2015

First Spoofing Conviction Gives Teeth to Dodd-Frank in Prosecuting Commodities Violations, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 15, 2015

Women and the Selective Service, CRS Insight, December 15, 2015

FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Issues, updated December 17, 2015

Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress, updated December 17, 2015

Australia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated December 14, 2015