August 05, 2015

CNAS Releases Report on "Security Cooperation and Assistance: Rethinking the Return on Investment"


Washington, August 5 – As the United States addresses numerous security challenges requiring partnerships with multiple countries, not all of which share U.S. objectives or threat assessments, two experts from the Center for a New American Security have released a report, “Security Cooperation and Assistance: Rethinking the Return on Investment.” In the report, Dr. Dafna H. Rand and Dr. Stephen Tankel argue that despite the growth of new programs and authorities to build partnership capacity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and many other countries facing similar threats, the success of these efforts is often limited by structural and strategic deficiencies. The report makes 10 recommendations for how the United States can better realize its national security interests, including consolidating the many new security assistance authorities and focusing on the specific objectives of a particular program in order to synthesize military and non-military goals.

Please find the full report here:

Author Biographies:
Dr. Dafna H. Rand is the former Deputy Director of Studies and Leon E. Panetta Fellow at CNAS. She previously served on the National Security Council staff and as a Middle East expert on the Department of State's Policy Planning Staff.

Stephen Tankel is an Assistant Professor in the School of International Service at American University, and an adjunct fellow in the Asia-Pacific Security program at CNAS. He previously served as a Senior Adviser for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs at the Department of Defense.

Please find a summary of the report below:

Security assistance and cooperation have been critical pillars of U.S. statecraft for decades. The post-9/11 interest in using assistance and cooperation to incentivize and enable local partners contributed to the creation of a slew of new authorities and programs. Yet, despite its strategic centrality and large price tag, the report argues that many security assistance and cooperation programs fail to achieve U.S. objectives because of strategic and structural deficiencies.

Strategically, the specific goals of security assistance and cooperation are often inadequately articulated. In other cases, disparate objectives are not prioritized and in some cases may actually conflict with one another. Security assistance and cooperation are also too often provided on the basis of faulty assumptions or because of the desire for a quick fix when other U.S. policy options are limited or unappealing. The lack of viable metrics and attendant failure to adequately assess efficacy contributes to the potential for overreliance on security assistance and cooperation as a tool of statecraft.

Structurally, the glut of new authorities, occasional confusion about their purpose, and lack of predictability contribute to poor synchronization across the interagency. These factors also fuel the propensity to deploy security assistance and cooperation based on which authorities are available or most flexible, as opposed to choosing the right program for the problem and implementing it in a more systematic manner. The fact that many new authorities fall under the auspices of the Department of Defense rather than the State Department means that many programs are deployed to meet narrower DoD requirements as opposed to broader foreign policy objectives.

To improve the effectiveness of security assistance and cooperation, this report identifies specific challenges for policymakers to overcome and makes 10 concrete recommendations for how to do so.

Tankel is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at


  • Dafna Rand

  • Stephen Tankel

    Former Adjunct Senior Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Stephen Tankel is a former Adjunct Senior Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He is also an Associate Professor at Am...