News | April 1, 2017

Joint Publication 3-20, Security Cooperation: Adapting Enduring Lessons

By Keith D. Smith, Mark H. Lauber, and Matthew B. Robbins Joint Force Quarterly 85

Keith D. Smith is a Senior Analyst in the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at Joint Staff J7 Joint Force Development. Mark H. Lauber is a Senior Special Operating Forces Analyst in the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance. Lieutenant Colonel Matthew B. Robbins, USMC, is a Joint Doctrine Development Officer in the Joint Doctrine Analysis Division at the Joint Staff J7 Joint Education and Doctrine Division.

Today’s security environment demands that the Department of Defense (DOD) employ a robust strategy and assortment of capabilities across the entire range of military operations and in support of America’s national security interests. A preponderance of these activities falls under the umbrella of security cooperation (SC) in which few, if any, U.S. forces participate directly in combat operations. As DOD continues to develop the “four plus one” threat baseline described by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Force Development Directorate has taken steps to better align joint doctrine with the National Military Strategy as part of an approach that emphasizes the need for adaptive doctrine.1 Within this effort, the need to synergize U.S. capacity and capabilities with those of its partners remains paramount.2

Sailor in hangar bay of aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower maintains E2-C Hawkeye assigned to the Screwtops of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123, October 10, 2016 (U.S. Navy/Joshua Murray)

Sailor in hangar bay of aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower maintains E2-C Hawkeye assigned to the Screwtops of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123, October 10, 2016 (U.S. Navy/Joshua Murray)

To this end, ongoing efforts to adapt the disparate entities and authorities associated with SC into a unified strategy serve as an important next step. In 2008, DOD published a directive that elevated the requirement for DOD expertise for SC activities to the same level as other “integral [conventional] DOD activities.”3 To achieve parity, the Joint Doctrine Development Community (JDDC) identified the need to incorporate the topic of SC into the joint publication library as Joint Publication (JP) 3-20, Security Cooperation. The approval of JP 3-20 is a major step toward the joint force recognizing SC as a way to apply the military instrument of national power in support of partner nations (PNs) around the globe to achieve strategic objectives and to help shape the operational environment for current and future operations. This article outlines the continued adaptation of SC and the inextricable doctrinal security force assistance (SFA) principles discussed in JP 3-20 that are applicable to the joint force.

JP 3-20 defines security cooperation as “all DOD interactions with foreign security establishments to build security relationships that promote specific U.S. security interests, develop allied and friendly military capabilities for self-defense and multinational operations, and provide U.S. forces with peacetime and contingency access to a partner nation.”4 These three categories, however, only hint at the true breadth and complexity of activities that make up the universe of security cooperation. Some SC activities are simple engagements between U.S. and PN defense officials, while others are complex and may include multibillion-dollar arms negotiations brokered at the highest levels of government through DOD-administered and Department of State–led security assistance (SA) programs under U.S. Code Title 22 authority. These examples bracket the more common theater security cooperation exercises routinely conducted within each geographic combatant command’s area of responsibility. While the recent and formal incorporation of SC into joint doctrine may appear new, the United States has used various adaptations of SC to protect and advance its vital interests abroad for decades.

Historical Overview

In 1971, the Secretary of Defense established the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA) to direct, administer, and supervise the execution of approved SA plans and programs, such as military assistance, international military education and training, and foreign military sales.5 In November 1997, the Defense Reform Initiative transferred additional responsibility for program management of humanitarian assistance and demining, armaments cooperation, export loan guarantees, and foreign comparative testing functions, along with their associated personnel and resources, to DSAA. In October 1998, SC officially entered the DOD lexicon, accommodating the scope of these additional functions beyond DSAA’s traditional SA missions. This expansion of mission necessitated a name change, hence DSAA’s redesignation as the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.6 This consolidation of similar programs from five dissonant agencies into one stand-alone entity reflected efforts to improve efficiency and reduce administrative redundancy.

However, SC did not appear in mainstream joint doctrine until manifested in a 2004 revision of JP 3-07.1, Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Foreign Internal Defense (FID). As the JDDC struggled to refine doctrinal treatment of SC, amended versions of then–JP 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, revealed continuing efforts to clarify myriad SC activities. Though not retained in the current JP 1-02, the meaning behind the original definition of SC activity prevails:

Military activity that involves other nations and is intended to shape the operational environment in peacetime. Activities include programs and exercises that the U.S. military conducts with other nations to improve mutual understanding and improve interoperability with treaty partners. They are designed to support a combatant commander’s theater strategy as articulated in the theater security cooperation plan.7

Today, SC more broadly supports the combatant command’s entire theater campaign plan.

Subsequent developments in SC further expanded its scope by adding authorities from U.S. Code Title 10 for programs such as multinational exercises—a move designed to gain synergy by coordinating peacetime Title 10 activities with Title 22 activities. Amended in the reformative aftermath of the Vietnam War, these Title 22 programs specifically precluded the United States from employing its forces in harm’s way using SA funds. This contributed to a misunderstanding of both SA and SC as exclusively peacetime activities. This inaccurate conclusion led to confusion regarding when and how SA and SC authorities and programs could and should be used. Originally designed to limit American participation in conflict, modern versions of the vintage U.S. Lend-Lease program, as the precursor to what we now know as SA, continue to evolve, but still contribute to the development of our foreign partners’ security force capacities and capabilities across the entire range of military operations.

The term security force assistance entered the DOD lexicon to provide greater depth to the SC pillar of developing PN capabilities. SFA was coined (after early efforts in Iraq failed to create a viable security force) to provide U.S. forces with applicable means for developing the capacity and capabilities of PN forces and their supporting institutions. The training of foreign security forces is a primary role of U.S. special operations forces. However, special operations forces were stretched to their limits conducting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operation and elsewhere. In response, significant numbers of conventional forces were indoctrinated to conduct SFA activities and further doctrine was developed. The initial incorporation of SFA into the 2010 replacement for JP 3-07.1, known after as JP 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense, defined it as DOD “activities that contribute to unified action by the U.S. Government to support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions.” Essential to SC, this streamlined definition established the enduring relevance of SFA, and subsequently SC, in all circumstances where U.S. military forces must develop foreign security force (FSF) capabilities.

MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Vipers of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 48 conducts vertical replenishment training aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey, Gulf of Oman, November 21, 2016 (U.S. Navy/William Jenkins)

MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Vipers of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 48 conducts vertical replenishment training aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey, Gulf of Oman, November 21, 2016 (U.S. Navy/William Jenkins)

SC and SFA in the Current and Future Operating Environment

While SC and SFA remain important to steady-state operations, they are equally valuable in support of major combat operations because they can facilitate operational access and improved military relations and interoperability. Whether considering their preemptive use to shape the operational environment, provide trained and ready forces to participate in operations, or create a postconflict application to lay the foundations for lasting peace and regional stability, SC and SFA present irreplaceable mechanisms for achieving conditions conducive to U.S. national interests.

As history shows, improving the security capacity and capabilities of U.S. allies and partners contributes significantly to both the PN security strategies as well as U.S. national interests. Repeatedly, U.S. Presidents have illustrated the connection between the two. In March 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower conveyed to Congress that “we cannot safely confine government programs to our own domestic progress and our own military power. We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom.”8

Decades later, a White House fact sheet detailing the U.S. Security Sector Assistance Policy from 2013, known as Presidential Policy Directive–23 (PPD-23), read as follows:

The United States has long recognized that the diversity and complexity of the threats to our national interest require a collaborative approach, both within the United States Government and among allies, partners, and multilateral organizations. U.S. assistance to build capabilities to meet these challenges can yield critical benefits, including reducing the possibility that the United States or partner nations may be required to intervene abroad in response to instability.9

Implied in these statements from two different Presidents—who were separated by generations—is the fact that the United States faces a unique set of security challenges. Today, they are budgetary constraints and threats that are increasingly complex, transregional, multidomain, and multifunctional. Management of these challenges and associated threats demands greater innovation and a higher degree of efficiency in mastering SFA activities and SC as force multipliers, shapers, and stabilizers.

SC and SFA will continue to be necessary in the future operating environment, as characterized by persistent disorder and contested norms.10

Persistent Disorder. Within the context of violent ideological competition, the Joint Operating Environment 2035 highlights identity networks as key actors. Much like nonstate actors, identity networks may be activated, guided, and directed by states to perpetuate chaos and disorder. These networks, and the individuals identifying with them, cross geographical boundaries and exploit the information environment, requiring more robust allied and PN security institutions to thwart their attacks and facilitate a more enduring peace and stability. Well-trained and properly equipped internal security forces, supported by the appropriate institutional backbone, help to reduce these types of threats. JP 3-20 enables the joint force to tailor SC and SFA activities to develop just such PN capacity and capabilities to defeat these increasingly advanced threats.

Contested Norms. State and nonstate actors will continue to threaten U.S. territory and sovereignty, thus necessitating increased efficiency and tempo in SC and SFA activities. The permeability of U.S. borders may lead the joint force to enhance cooperation with its neighbors and partners in Central, South, and North America. Continued Russian and Chinese activity in the Arctic may lead to increased collaboration with Canada. Transregionally, hybrid attacks conducted against global trade and logistics nodes, but below the traditional U.S. threshold for military involvement, may warrant further development of partner capacity and capabilities to secure and defend these assets. JP 3-20 provides doctrinal guidance upon which combatant command planners can build an operational framework to support U.S. defenses against such threats.

U.S. and Royal Thai marines participate in Indo-Asia-Pacific region exercise Cobra Gold, February 14, 2017, Ban Chan Krem, Thailand (U.S. Marine Corps/Tiffany Edwards)

U.S. and Royal Thai marines participate in Indo-Asia-Pacific region exercise Cobra Gold, February 14, 2017, Ban Chan Krem, Thailand (U.S. Marine Corps/Tiffany Edwards)

Foreseeable manifestations of these distinctive challenges will require more than raw U.S. military capability and will demand a more comprehensive solution. As the draft copy of the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations notes, “The contexts of conflict represent a complex mix of diplomatic, informational, economic, and social problems. . . . The military can enable stable conditions in which to address these problems, but whole of government efforts are better suited to solve them.”11 One shortcoming in the creation of a truly whole-of-government effect has been lexicon. Interagency coordination faces great obstacles when even understanding the multitude of DOD terms associated with SC tends to cause more than a little confusion. The 2011 DOD Security Force Assistance Lexicon Framework, written in response to an SFA doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) change recommendation and Joint Requirements Oversight Council memorandum, should have provided just such an approach given its intent to “develop a framework that reconciles/clarifies SFA with overlapping and related terms.”12 As early as 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office highlighted “the value of distinguishing security force assistance from other security cooperation activities.”13 Soon after, the Joint Staff J7, Joint and Coalition Warfighting Directorate, conducted a front-end analysis that prompted a 2012 special study titled Security Force Assistance in Joint Doctrine “to determine the proper place and amount of doctrinal guidance on security cooperation, SSR [security sector reform], SFA, and FID.”14 Despite the eventual decision within the JDDC to develop JP 3-20, many of the deliberations captured in this special study persist.

Because of its continued adaptation in policy and practice without a doctrinal anchor point, various interpretations of SC and its application have developed over time and still complicate understanding of the many terms related to its policies, programs, and authorities. Such contention explains the conspicuous omission and intentional exclusion of much of the content of that original lexicon discussion. Despite assuming the doctrinal responsibility for SFA and promoting an articulation of the functional relationships among SC, foreign assistance, security assistance, SFA, and FID, JP 3-20 relegated the opportunity to clarify the joint force’s understanding of these relationships to JP 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense. Complete resolution of these complex relationships is tied to current and future policy. The introduction of any subsequent terms or broader doctrinal content should reflect a common understanding between multiple departments, as illustrated in PPD-23. However, facilitating that common understanding is traditionally beyond the scope of an operational-level publication.

With that in mind, JP 3-20 cursorily describes the sometimes hierarchical, sometimes conditional, and sometimes functional relationships among the SC- and SFA-related programs and authorities applicable to them. It does, however, include appendix B, which explains two particular SFA models relevant to developing a viable and lasting security force. The first of these models represents the executive, generating, and operating (EGO) functions that must be performed by any effective security force, while the latter addresses the organize, train, equip, rebuild/build, and advise (OTERA) tasks associated with the conduct of SFA. EGO depends upon the delineation of responsibilities for DOD as written in U.S. Code Title 10. While many nations may not want their defense apparatus to mimic DOD, nor even possess the resources to build similar organizations, they will need to perform these basic functions effectively in some way or fashion. When the United States has determined that it will help a PN build capabilities, it must consider which EGO function(s) require assistance. Crafted to leverage expertise not available within U.S. operating forces, defense institution building specifically addresses the development of capacity and capabilities at the ministerial level.

At this point, a second doctrinal SFA model enables the United States to apply personnel and other resources as the means to conduct SFA activities through one or more of the OTERA tasks. These tasks roughly align with the DOTMLPF and policy mechanisms of change used for U.S. joint force development, though formatted as tasks for execution. Not yet recognized for inclusion in JP 3-20, another SFA model offers a potential solution to synchronizing U.S. activities according to the level of development of the FSF. The development of additional capacity and capabilities follows a distinctive pattern involving five concurrent stages with common activities: Plan, Generate, Employ, Transition, and Sustain (PGETS).

During the Plan stage, an assessment with the PN is conducted to help determine what the FSF must do to fulfill its role as a security force. Though planning and resourcing activities comprise the bulk of the activities during this stage, they span all five stages. The majority of the activities accomplished during the “Generate” stage contribute to building the required capacity and capabilities for the PN. The “Employ” stage results in application of generated capacity or capabilities toward their intended purpose. The “Transition” stage shifts responsibility for the generating and operational functions to the PN. The “Sustain” stage recognizes PN achievement of self-sustaining capacity and capabilities across the EGO functions. This PGETS model applies to the development of an individual capability or an entirely new security force (see figure).

Figure. National Level of Effort by Stage (PGETS) Over Time
In form, the PGETS model evokes the familiar joint operation phasing model as discussed in both JP 3-0, Joint Operations, and JP 5-0, Joint Planning, but transcends the doctrinal limitations of its designed application at the operational and tactical levels of joint operations. It also complements the JP 3-22 efforts to encapsulate an updated and viable framework or lexicon for SC and SFA at this same level. By bridging the political and strategic levels where the preponderance of SC guidance originates with operational- and tactical-level details, the PGETS model facilitates a linkage not fully reflected in JP 3-20, whereby the Department of Defense Guidance for Security Cooperation establishes policy that “prioritizes the outcomes that security cooperation efforts should seek to achieve and provides additional guidance to the security cooperation enterprise on Department-wide expectations for planning, assessing, monitoring, and evaluating (AME) security cooperation.”15

This guidance clearly describes the need for initial and follow-on assessment, systematic monitoring to track implementation and output, and evaluations that analyze the relevance, effectiveness, and sustainability of SC activities not well-detailed in JP 3-20, which enables it to distinguish these efforts from doctrinal operation assessment. It actually offers a broader mechanism that complements operation assessment by incorporating appropriate data from the measures of performance and measures of effectiveness used to assess individual SFA activities. Though contextualized for SC, this AME guidance may in fact warrant consideration for inclusion in the keystone JP 5-0, as the need for feedback and accountability far exceeds the scope of Joint Doctrine Note 1-15, Operation Assessment. However, it is not without its own complications, as that same DOD policy portrays AME as a part of yet another competing SC framework.

On a much broader scale, the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act promises even more comprehensive whole-of-government reform. In addition to enforcing standards for AME, “the statutes will enhance the flexibility, transparency, and oversight of SC authorities and resources; professionalize the workforce; and improve alignment of security cooperation activities to defense strategy.”16 The ensuing consolidation of train-and-equip authority, SC programming, budgeting, and management responsibilities will clearly impact future developments of SC and SFA within joint doctrine.

Current and future manifestations of the four-plus-one threat will continue to necessitate transregional, multifunctional, and multidomain solutions that involve much more than the military instrument of national power. JP 3-20 offers the joint force guidance to protect U.S. security interests in this increasingly complex world, harmonized with the development of PN capacity and capabilities. While JP 3-20 might be new, the notion of enabling partners and allies to thwart threats and facilitate enduring peace and stability around the globe comprises a long and storied history. The dynamic complexities of the current and future operating environment associated with persistent disorder and contested norms demand that the joint force array itself to address not only the conventional threats presented by state actors, but also those represented by identity networks and other nonstate entities. This disposition must also reflect current fiscal realities amid the various legal ramifications of national sovereignty that further strain multinational relationships. The doctrinal planning constructs of EGO and OTERA, as well as other relevant but not yet extant or validated practices such as PGETS and AME, present planners from across the joint force with an organized approach to enhancing the operational effectiveness of U.S. joint forces and optimizing the application of U.S. military power while addressing these challenges. JP 3-20 fills a persistent doctrinal gap by codifying SC and SFA doctrine into the changing character of warfare as essential to shaping the operational environment and, protecting U.S. and PN security interests now and into the future. JFQ


1 In order to address one of the priorities of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), the director of the Joint Staff J7 Joint Force Development Directorate created the Campaign Plan for Joint Force Development Next. This campaign plan involves four lines of effort, one of which includes a task that ensures joint doctrine remains adaptive to operational priorities by using adaptive processes and adaptive products.

2 See CJCS commencement remarks to the National Defense University’s Class of 2017, titled “Dunford Details Implications of Today’s Threats on Tomorrow’s Strategy,” August 23, 2016, available at <>.

3 Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 5132.03, “DOD Policy and Responsibilities Relating to Security Cooperation,” October 24, 2008, available at <>.

4 JP 3-20, Security Cooperation (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, September 2016, Signature draft).

5 DODD 5105.38, “Defense Security Assistance Agency,” August 11, 1971.

6 DODD 5105.65, “Defense Security Cooperation Agency,” October 26, 2012, available at <>.

7 Introduced into Joint Doctrine in the 2006 revision of JP 3-0, Joint Operations, the term security cooperation activity was removed in the 2011 revision of JP 3-0 and thus from JP 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, November 8, 2010, as amended through February 15, 2016).

8 See “Special Message to the Congress on the Mutual Security Program,” March 13, 1959, available at <>.

9 “Fact Sheet: U.S. Security Sector Assistance Policy,” April 5, 2013, The White House, available at <>.

10 Joint Operating Environment JOE 2035: The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, July 14, 2016).

11 “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2030,” draft, June 28, 2016.

12 DOD Security Force Assistance Lexicon Framework, November 1, 2011 (incorporating Change 1, April 27, 2012).

13 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report to Congressional Committees, Security Force Assistance: Additional Actions Needed to Guide Geographic Combatant Command and Service Efforts (Washington, DC: GAO, May 2012), 14.

14 Joint and Coalition Warfighting Study on Security Force Assistance in Joint Doctrine, November 2012.

15 “DOD Guidance for Security Cooperation,” memo from the Deputy Secretary of Defense, August 29, 2016.

16 Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Title XII, Subtitle E, Summary of Key Reforms, December 5, 2016.