Officials Highlight Importance of U.S. Security Sector Assistance

U.S. security sector assistance is an important tool to build partner capacity and strengthen regional security, officials said today during a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.

The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act required reforms to U.S. security sector assistance, including largely consolidating more than 120 different authorities, Greg Pollock, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for security cooperation, said.

Pollock and Army Brig. Gen. Antonio Fletcher, U.S. Southern Command’s director of strategy, policy and plans, were among the speakers at the discussion, titled “Oversight and Accountability in U.S. Security Sector Assistance: Seeking Return on Investment.”

A key authority for the Defense Department is the Section 333 Global Train and Equip Authority, which seeks real strategic effects consistent with the National Defense Strategy, Pollock explained.

“It’s a wide-reaching effort that really touches every combatant command, all of the services, so maintaining that network and creating a partnership across those echelons is really central to my day-to-day work,” he said.

Evolving Challenges, Long-Term Strategy

The new authorities allow flexibility to fund both priorities both short-term and long-term across geography and domains, Pollock said.

“We’re out there looking at the big picture and trying to make investments that meet all of our respective national security interests,” he said. “The security environment will evolve, but our interests won’t evolve.”

The U.S. security support around the globe is an important investment, he explained.

“We hope that we can depend upon the partnership of both our current allies and more and more the sort of partners that we’re investing in out there, whether it’s in Eastern Europe on the margins of Russia or in Southeast Asia [or] East Asia,” Pollock said.

The Defense Department will continue to ensure the combatant commands have the resources they need to “work by, with and through partners to deal with local sources of instability and potentially terrorism as well,” he said.

The challenge, he explained, is to ensure thoughtful investments for “partners that are in the fight today, but also investing in partners that we want to count on for the long haul, particularly in respect to some of the near-peer competitors out there.”

Pollock highlighted the importance of a collaborative, interagency and long-term approach, including efforts with the State Department.

He described this as a “very exciting moment” in which security cooperation is situated into the wider framework of foreign policy and defense strategy, and welcomed efforts to further boost engagements with the State Department.

Southcom Perspective

Southcom’s theater engagement strategy is a long-term effort built on themes that resonate in the entire area of responsibility, Fletcher said. Those themes include human rights and countering transregional and transnational threat networks.  

“I think too often where there is risk to force [and] risk to mission, we make some short-term decisions that may not be in the best interests long term,” he said. “So what we are trying to do in Southcom is actually take a very long look, long-term approach to our engagements in the [area of responsibility].”

The aim includes improving resilience of nations in responding to humanitarian assistance or disaster relief. With the investment comes the expectation that the recipient allies and partners will share what they learned with their regional partners, he said. Colombia is a great example of a success story, he pointed out.

Fletcher highlighted the importance of strengthening the no-commissioned officer corps of partner nations. “At the end of the day, if you look at the American military and DoD, really it is our NCO corps that sets us apart from most of the militaries around the world.”

A central focus of the Southcom strategy is the importance of an interagency and joint force approach, he explained. “It takes the whole-of-government, it takes a complete team to be effective,” he added. “We built our strategy around that, and we think it will pay dividends going forward.”

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)