Over the last few years, the term partnership has spread like wildfire through official U.S. national security guidance documents and rhetoric. At the Department of Defense (DOD), which spearheaded the proliferation of the use of the term, partnership has been used to refer to a broad array of civilian as well as military activities in support of national security. At other U.S. government agencies, and at the White House, the use of the term partnership has been echoed and applied even more broadlynot only in the national security arena, but also to all facets of U.S. relationships with foreign partners.
Partnership is not new in either theory or practice. To illustrate, U.S. strategy during the Cold War called for working with formal Allies, through combined planning and the development of interoperable capabilities, in order to deter and if necessary defeat a Soviet threat. And it called for working with partners in the developing world to cultivate the allegiance of states and societies to the West, and to bolster their resistance to Soviet influence. Congress provided oversight in the forms of policy direction, resources and authorities for programs ranging from weapons sales to combined military exercises to cultural exchanges, and accountability.
New in recent years is both the profusion of the use of the term partnership andin the aftermath of both the Cold War and the first post-9/11 decadea much less singular focus for U.S. global engagement. Recent defense and national strategic guidance clearly conveys the view that partnership is good. But as a rule, it provides much less sense of what partnership is designed to achieve and how that protects U.S. interests, it does not clearly indicate how to prioritize among partnership activities, it does not assign specific roles and responsibilities for partnership across the U.S. government, and it does not indicate how to judge whether partnership is working.
Over the last few years, the term "partnership" has spread like wildfire through official U.S. national security guidance documents and rhetoric. At the Department of Defense (DOD), which spearheaded the proliferation of the term, "partnership" has been used to refer to a broad array of civilian as well as military activities in support of national security.1 At other U.S. government agencies, and at the White House, the use of the term "partnership" has been echoed and applied even more broadly—not only in the national security arena, but also to all facets of U.S. relationships with foreign partners.
"Partnership" is not new in either theory or practice. To illustrate, U.S. strategy during the Cold War called for working with formal allies, through combined planning and the development of interoperable capabilities, in order to deter and if necessary defeat a Soviet threat. And it called for working with partners in the developing world to cultivate the allegiance of states and societies to the West, and to bolster their resistance to Soviet influence. Congress provided oversight in the forms of policy direction; resources and authorities for programs ranging from weapons sales to combined military exercises to cultural exchanges; and accountability.
New in recent years is both the profusion of the use of the term partnership and—in the aftermath of both the Cold War and the first post-9/11 decade—a much less singular focus for U.S. global engagement. Recent defense and national strategic guidance clearly conveys the view that partnership is good. But as a rule, it provides much less sense of what partnership is designed to achieve and how that protects U.S. interests; it does not clearly indicate how to prioritize among partnership activities; it does not assign specific roles and responsibilities for partnership across the U.S. government; and it does not indicate how to judge whether partnership is working.2
A lack of sufficient strategic direction could raise a series of potential concerns for Congress:
The debates and discussions among U.S. government officials and outside stakeholders about the use of partnership in support of national security are inchoate, but a number of facets of the debates are discernible, including worldview; goals; effects; priorities; resourcing; assessments; roles and responsibilities; and risk. These issues are variously addressed in recent strategic guidance documents. Key unclassified guidance documents include the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report, and its follow-on Building Partnership Capacity (BPC) roadmap; the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS); the 2010 QDR Report; the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR); and the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG).3 In addition, a wealth of internal DOD guidance reportedly addresses partnership—in particular the Guidance for the Employment of the Force (GEF) as well as planning and programming guidance documents under their various names. Yet the treatment of "partnership" by these documents is both inconsistent and partial—not all documents address all the major facets of strategy; some, such as resourcing, are barely treated; and in many cases the thrust of the guidance has changed over time. This section describes each facet of partnership strategy, analyzes its treatment in recent guidance, and raises questions that may be germane to congressional oversight.
In general, a state's national security strategy is likely to derive from some worldview—a set of assumptions about the nature of the world order and the exercise of power within it, together with a view of that state's role on the world stage. That worldview, in turn, is likely to shape how a state defines its national interests. In any partnership strategy, these starting points are likely to affect what effects are desired, how efforts are prioritized, and how results are assessed. While worldview may not be explicitly stated, identifying its influence on U.S. strategy, including the role of partnership within that strategy, may be helpful to rigorous oversight.4
Recent strategic guidance documents vary significantly in both the extent to which worldview is explicitly stated, and the nature of their respective worldviews:
Key questions concerning worldview might include the following:
In principle, worldview and national interests shape national security strategy, which in turn articulates goals. One fundamental, unresolved tension in the debates about the use of partnership in support of national security concerns the fundamental goal of partnership. One possible logic argues that the global security context today presents a greater or more complex array of challenges than it did in the past, so partnership, including greater participation and contributions by partners, is now essential in order to meet those challenges. Another possible logic argues that partnership generates savings—as U.S. partners assume greater responsibilities, the United States can do less. Those two logics are not mutually exclusive, but different choices about their respective importance could have different implications for prioritizing and resourcing partnership efforts.
Recent strategic guidance has tended to suggest that both logics apply without clarifying their relative importance:
Key questions concerning the fundamental goals of partnership might include the following:
In theory, partnership might be used to help achieve any of a wide array of ends that support national security: enabling partners to do specific things (at home, abroad, or as part of multilateral efforts); giving the United States better situational understanding; ensuring U.S. access; and shaping partners' perceptions and decision-making. Moreover, many specific partnership activities may aim at multiple effects—digging a well might build local good will for further tactical-level cooperation but may also develop capabilities that host nation forces could apply at home or abroad, foster effective host nation civil-military collaboration, deepen U.S. ability to work with host nation partners on a range of issues, and/or demonstrate U.S. commitment as part of a broader, orchestrated bilateral relationship. Clearly establishing the strategic logic that links interests to desired effects, and effects to activities, is widely viewed by strategists as essential for prioritizing efforts, producing effective assessments, and providing accountability.
Recent strategic guidance tends to describe desired effects omnivorously—after all, most potential effects of partnership sound desirable—without clarifying the interests-effects-activities logic trail:
Key questions concerning effects might include the following:
Opportunities for partnership in support of national security are theoretically unbounded, so prioritization is essential both to focus effort and to conserve resources. In theory, priorities—always based on advancing and protecting U.S. interests—might be based on geography; or on functional concerns such as CT, countering weapons of mass destruction, and preventing or mitigating conflict; or on qualities of a potential partner such as its willingness to participate, its existing capabilities, and its general importance on the world stage aside from the dynamics of its bilateral relationship with the United States. These three possible rationales are likely to drive decision-making in quite different directions. It makes sense for partnership strategy to provide some mechanism for adjudicating among and sensibly synchronizing these three sets of concerns.13
Published strategic guidance documents are generally short on prioritization, while internal guidance reportedly has not settled on a single approach toward prioritization:
Key questions concerning prioritization might include the following:
The broad partnership debates often seem to assume that partnership yields savings over time. To the extent that savings is part of the desired ends, it may be helpful for partnership strategy to outline the curves of investment and expected pay-off over time, including when and how both curves will be reflected in budget requests.
As a rule, strategic guidance concerning partnership broadly intimates that partnership eventually produces savings without demonstrating how that is expected to occur.
Key questions concerning resources might include the following:
One potential fundamental challenge to congressional oversight of Administration partnership efforts in support of national security is the lack of a clear assessment model for gauging the impact of partnership efforts. A common but generally unhelpful approach is to assess easily quantifiable "outputs" rather than "effects"—for example, assessing a bilateral exercise as successful because the exercise did indeed take place, rather than gauging the immediate and cumulative impact of relationship-building and capabilities-fostering on protecting U.S. interests. In theory, rigorous assessment requires as a starting point a clear and specific articulation of desired ends, together with a clear logic for assessing progress toward those ends. The realm of partnership complicates assessment in two ways. First, partnership efforts may be aimed at achieving multiple effects simultaneously—ranging from immediate, concrete results to longer-term, less tangible outcomes such as stronger U.S. influence that shapes a partner's decision-making. Second, some effects may be achieved partially, along a spectrum, rather than in the binary terms of success or failure.
As a rule, strategic guidance regarding partnership has been vague about desired effects, and it has not addressed the balance among qualitatively different kinds of effects. If anything, guidance tends to imply, without stating so, that accomplishing a tactical-level mission will naturally also yield an array of tangible and intangible benefits at the operational and strategic levels. Assessments depend on unambiguous statements of expected results. Among the recent guidance, only the 2006 BPC roadmap explicitly recognized the need to be able to assess return on U.S. investment, but it did not outline how to do so.
Key questions concerning assessments might include the following:
Observers have suggested that in an ideal world, the U.S. government would closely integrate all of its partnership efforts in support of national security—in diplomacy, development, and defense—not only so that these efforts do not contradict each other, but also so that they actively leverage each other and, as a whole, reflect U.S. priorities. Furthermore, the U.S. government would have a clear internal division of roles and responsibilities for partnership—among departments, and among key components within departments—in order to prevent confusion, mitigate friction, and allow effective and efficient preparation and execution by each entity. That clear division of labor would be reinforced, in turn, by congressional oversight.
In general, strategic guidance tends to be strong in calling for integration of effort, though usually without prescribing mechanisms for achieving that integration; and weak in calling for, let alone clarifying, a clear division of roles and responsibilities:
Key questions concerning integration of effort and division of labor for partnership efforts in support of national security might include the following:
Many potential benefits of partnership are seemingly obvious—to the extent that they are rarely spelled out. But partnership efforts carry potential risks as well as rewards. For example, partners may, tacitly or otherwise, come to depend on U.S. assistance in lieu of fostering their own fully sustainable systems. Partners may deliberately slow their growth of capabilities, or perpetuate a negative security climate, in order to justify requests for continued assistance. Partners may accept U.S. assistance but then choose not to apply their new capabilities toward U.S. strategic objectives. Or partners may apply the skills, education, and/or weaponry gained through partnership toward ends that contradict U.S. policy, such as carrying out human rights violations and staging a coup against a legitimate government.
Key questions concerning risk might include the following:
Illustratively, these activities may include senior-level personal relationships between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) or Combatant Command Commanders, and the Chiefs of Defense (CHODs) of other states; bilateral military exercises like the annual African Lion exercise conducted by the United States Marine Corps and the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces; multi-lateral exercises such as NATO's annual Combined Endeavor communications interoperability exercise involving NATO Allies and Partnership for Peace countries; inclusion of foreign military officers as students at U.S. military schools, as well as the participation of U.S. military officers as students at foreign military schools such as the National Defence University of Pakistan; pursuit of major platform interoperability, for example through the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Poland; fostering specific capabilities in a country or a given region of the world, such as the maritime capability-focused Africa Partnership Station; preparing foreign security forces to participate in multi-lateral operations, such as training Burundian battalions to support their deployment to Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); and efforts to foster more effective governance and development, for example in Afghanistan at the provincial and district levels.
Based on recent usage, "partnership" does not appear to be equivalent to any other existing terminology. The closest analogue may be "security cooperation," itself an umbrella term for many different programs and activities, which DOD defines as "those activities conducted with allies and friendly nations to build relationships that promote specified U.S. interests; build allied and friendly nation capabilities for self-defense and coalition operations; and provide U.S. forces with peacetime and contingency access." See the website for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, http://www.dsca.osd.mil/PressReleases/faq.htm#What%20is%C2%A0Security%20Cooperation. While that definition appears to cast a broad net, "partnership" arguably has been used even more broadly to include potential partners that are not necessarily "friendly", as well as goals that extend beyond relationships, capability-building and access—such as fostering shared norms, and reducing conditions conducive to the rise of transnational threats. While the term "partnership" could conceivably be defined as an umbrella for a series of specific, familiar, existing efforts, such an authoritative definition has not yet been offered.
See Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 6, 2006, with140 uses of some form of "partner"; Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, "Quadrennial Defense Review Building Partnership Capacity (BPC) Execution Roadmap," May 22, 2006; President Barack Obama, National Security Strategy, May 2010; with 120 uses of "partner"; Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 2010, with 225 uses of "partner"; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Leading through Civilian Power, the First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, 2010, with 347 uses of "partner"; and Department of Defense, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012, with 27 uses of "partner".
The results of U.S. partnership efforts, in turn, are likely to be shaped by the worldviews of all participating partners.
While in common parlance "partnership" suggests co-equal partners, that connotation may not apply to the debates about partnership in support of national security. The premise of the 2006 QDR is obviously "asymmetric" in the leading role it assigns to the U.S. government, not only for building partner capabilities but for largely determining in the first place what capabilities ought to be built and in what contexts they ought to be applied, together with its assumption that partners will indeed follow U.S. strategic intent in their application of their new capabilities. Yet the 2010 NSS is also asymmetric, in a different way, in the leadership role it assigns to the U.S. government for actively fostering shared norms with partners. The theory may vary, but the "U.S. lead role" in U.S. debates about partnership seems consistent.
2006 QDR, see pp.14, 22, 88. See also speeches and congressional testimony by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, in 2006 and 2007, available at http://www.defense.gov/speeches/archive.aspx.
See 2006 BPC p.3, 19.
See 2010 QDR pp. 27-30, 57.
See DSG p.3, and see for example testimony by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey before the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 14, 2012.
See 2006 QDR, p. 90.
See 2010 QDR, pp. 2, 27-30.
See 2010 QDDR p. 10, and for example p. 22.
In practice, even the most rigorous prioritization is likely to be tempered by some opportunism—the rationale that if a partnership opportunity arises in which a little investment appears to go a long way, why not engage?
Interviews with DOD officials, 2012.
See BPC, p. 19.