Security Cooperation in Support of Theater Strategy

By Hartmayer, Michael; Hansen, John | Military Review, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

Security Cooperation in Support of Theater Strategy


Hartmayer, Michael, Hansen, John, Military Review


Our ability to sustain . . . alliances, and to build coalitions of support toward common objectives, depends in part on the capabilities of America's Armed Forces. Similarly, the relationships our Armed Forces have developed with foreign militaries are a critical component of our global engagement and support our collective security.

- National Security Strategy, May 20101

THE EXECUTION OF SECURITY COOPERATION in the service component commands around the globe is an evolving process that occurs in many forms and utilizes a myriad of methods. Requests for assistance for security forces also come in many forms. They may be country or country-team-nominated; they may be at the request of an international organization (e.g., UN, NATO) or subregional organization (e.g., European Union, African Union); they may be directed by Office of the Secretary of Defense, service headquarters, or geographic combatant commands; or they could be requested by a sister service component. However, the huge number of events, the variety of outside actors with separate agendas, and the difficulty in linking these actions and activities to strategy create a challenging environment in which to execute a coherent plan. The problem for the strategist is to synergize or fashion these efforts and players through a process that supports the commander's' goals and objectives.

Key Components of Security Cooperation

The purpose of this article is to identify and link the key components of security cooperation and strategy development processes for those outside the small group of practitioners who wrestle with them normally. Critical steps in building and maintaining a viable theater level strategy are listed below:

* Set the theater security cooperation strategy.

* Align, develop, and prioritize security cooperation activities within the theater.

* Use the security cooperation planning process.

All are critical steps to build and maintain a viable theater-level strategy.The challenge at the component level is planning with and synchronizing a large number of activities and agencies. When coordinating with his parent service or higher headquarters, the strategist often finds a "map with a thousand pins" approach to security cooperation. Briefings often include multiple screenshots of the Theater Security Cooperation Management Information System or similar databases on which maps of countries or regions suddenly become filled with thousands of map pins depicting the entire spectrum of U.S. military activity from conference attendance to major exercises. This gives the impression of a robust and creative Theater Security Cooperation program, when in reality the activities may be of little substance and require minimal coordination. Even if a command's stafffully understands security cooperation strategy and planning and also executes it well, it can become an ad hoc or purposeless drill if the staffignores or loses its expertise. The process needs codifying in doctrine and standard operating procedure publications to make it deliberate, much the way the Army has ingrained the military decision making process into generations of officers. The benefit of a successful Theater Security Cooperation strategy or Phase 0 concept plan ultimately is conflict avoidance, so we must resource Theater Security Cooperation.

To set the stage for understanding security cooperation in the context of theater strategy, it is important to be familiar with the historical context. The geographic combatant commands have had authority and responsibility for theater engagement planning since 1948 under the Unified Command Plan.2 The geographic combatant commands' appreciation of security cooperation necessarily starts with an understanding of the National Defense Strategy. The strategic environment portrayed in the National Defense Strategy identifies a spectrum of challenges, including violent transnational extremist networks, hostile states armed with weapons of mass destruction, rising regional powers, natural and pandemic disasters, and a growing competition for resources. …

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