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Security cooperation: achieving strategic objectives through exercises and exchanges.


Security cooperation (SC) comprises all the activities undertaken by the Department of Defense (DOD) to encourage and enable international partners to work with the United States to achieve strategic objectives. It includes all DOD interactions with foreign defense and security establishments, including DOD security assistance programs, that build defense and security relationships; promote specific U.S. security interests, including international armaments cooperation activities and security assistance activities; develop allied and friendly military capabilities for self-defense and multinational operations; and provide U.S. forces with peacetime and contingency access to host nations. (1)


Combatant commands and Army service component commands use exercises and exchanges as methods of employing tactical units to achieve strategic objectives in line with security cooperation goals. Exercises and exchanges build defense and security relationships, promote U.S. security interests, develop allied and friendly military capabilities, and give U.S. forces access to host nations. Multinational exercises provide the environment for national militaries to train together to achieve higher levels of interoperability across tactics, techniques, systems, and equipment. Exchanges of personnel and small teams represent another method to share knowledge through subject matter experts or to gain institutional knowledge by attending formal courses. Exercises and exchanges generate discussion and enhance relationships, thus furthering national security goals across the globe.

Tactical units train on missionessential tasks at home station, during combat training center rotations, in multinational exercises, and on operational deployments. General Mark A. Milley, Army Chief of Staff, explained that continual brigade rotations through Europe "demonstrate our capability to exercise our ... tactical abilities, to exercise strategic movement ability from the continental United States into Europe." (2) Demonstrating U.S. capabilities, exercising tactical abilities, and conducting strategic movement away from the continental United States are three components of SC included in bilateral and multinational exercises.


In addition to U.S.-focused training, multinational exercises and exchanges build partner capacity. Expanding on the definition of SC, the following DOD activities build partner capacity:

* Holding bilateral and multilateral military exercises.

* Conducting multilateral military planning.

* Enrolling U.S. military officers as students at foreign military schools.

* Training foreign military and security forces.

* Embedding advisors at foreign military ministries. (3)

A recent example of a multilateral exercise is Exercise Saber Junction, in which 5,000 participants from 18 allied and European partner nations trained with the 173d Airborne Brigade in Hohenfels, Germany.

When the Army participates in exercises and exchanges, it adheres to the principles of unit training and leader development. Two of the principles of unit training followed during exercises include developing adaptability and understanding the operational environment. Exercises provide varying, challenging, and complex conditions in which Soldiers and their leaders become confident in their ability to adapt to any new mission. Exercises also provide new environments with operational variables, mission variables, and scenarios in actual operational environments that allow units to train realistically. (4)

Executing SC at the tactical level requires an understanding of context to work with international partners to build partner capacity and train on mission-essential tasks. When units train with these exercises and participate in exchanges, the understanding of political, economic, social, and military contexts increases throughout the organization. This understanding further increases the capability and capacity for organizations to deploy and operate in new environments.


(1) DOD, "Security Assistance Management Manual," Defense Security Cooperation Agency Manual 5105.38-M, <http:// -01-06%20-%202003%20SAMM.pdf>, accessed on 28 March 2016.

(2) Michelle Tan, "Interview: U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley," 14 October 2015, <http://www.defensenews .com/story/defense/policy-budget/leaders/interviews/2015/10/14 /interview-army-chief-of-staff-gen-mark-milley/73614752/>, accessed on 28 March 2016.

(3) Kathleen J. McInnis and Nathan J. Lucas, "What is 'Building Partner Capacity?' Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, 23 December 2015, < /crs/natsec/R44313.pdf>, accessed on 28 March 2016.

(4) Army Doctrine Reference Publication 7-0, Training Units and Developing Leaders, 23 August 2013.

Major Carvelli served as the strategy officer for the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, when this article was written. He now attends the College of Naval Command and Staff in Newport, Rhode Island. He holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a master's degree in operations management from the University of Arkansas. He is a licensed professional engineer in Pennsylvania.
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Author:Carvelli, Michael P.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2016
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