Educate to Cooperate: Leveraging the New Definition of "Joint" to Build Partnering Capacity

By Abbot, C. Spencer | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2010 | Go to article overview
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Educate to Cooperate: Leveraging the New Definition of "Joint" to Build Partnering Capacity


Abbot, C. Spencer, Joint Force Quarterly


On January 22, 2009, in his first major address on foreign policy following his inauguration, President Barack Obama stated that "[d]ifficult days lie ahead. As we ask more of ourselves, we will seek new partnerships and ask more of our friends and more of people around the globe, because security in the 21st century is shared." Confronting shared security challenges in coming years will test the capacity of the Department of Defense (DOD) to effectively partner with its allies, other governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and at times even the private sector. The last comprehensive legislation enacted to improve partnering capacity within DOD was the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986.

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Goldwater-Nichols was designed to facilitate more effective cooperation among the military Services within DOD and was suited to the Cold War strategic environment in which it was enacted. The education and training of DOD personnel for the multifaceted security challenges of the coming century should reflect the vastly different threat environment that has arisen since the end of the Cold War and should be tailored to the missions and tasks that DOD will be asked to perform over the coming decades. This article recommends several changes to officer education programs, personnel assignment policies, and DOD's security cooperation programs in order to advance its ability to effectively partner with external actors.

One key step needed to increase DOD partnering capacity has already occurred. Substantial legislative changes were made in 2007 to the definition of joint matters under the Goldwater-Nichols construct, broadening the aegis of the term and better reflecting the modern demands of cooperation by DOD with varied external partners. As a continuance of this process under the revised definition, additional expansion of the types of assignments and educational experiences considered "joint," to include liaison officer positions and exchange tours, would help prepare personnel more fully for the demands of working with external actors in the 21st- century strategic environment.

To ensure that its efforts to work with allies to build cultural and operational familiarity correspond with the demands of coming years, DOD's extensive and important security cooperation with foreign partners should incorporate reciprocal exchanges whenever possible to reflect a mindset of mutual respect and shared responsibility. To correspond with the broadened definition of joint matters in the 2007 legislation, joint professional military education (JPME) credit should be considered for a broader range of educational experiences. "Off-ramps" and "on-ramps" for departing and reentering military Service should be more readily available to DOD personnel, contributing to a more responsive system for shaping human capital. Given that it takes more than 30 years to educate and train the military's most senior leaders, a less static strategic environment necessarily demands a more flexible, adaptive system for educating military officers and preparing them for the complexities of modern joint operations.

The New Definition of Joint

Since the passage of Goldwater-Nichols in 1986, joint duty has implied a job typically held by a field grade or senior officer, working on a staff with representatives from the other Services. In the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a substantial requirement for expertise in working with external actors has arisen at the tactical level. Junior officers find themselves interacting directly with a host of external actors, from foreign coalition partners to other governmental agencies and NGOs to local citizens in a variety of roles. The extraordinary complexity of these activities, both with respect to irregular warfare and stability operations, as well as more conventional kinetic operations occurring within the modern post-Cold War milieu, necessitates much broader skill sets at much earlier points in officers' careers.

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