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There has been a perception that security cooperation (SC) represents an effective and low-cost means to realize national security goals. This belief in the importance of SC’s capacity-building was, for example, articulated in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which argued that “U.S. security is inextricably tied to the effectiveness of our efforts to help partners and allies build their own security capacity.” The point was further emphasized in the 2014 QDR, which stated that while the U.S. must maintain the capacity to act unilaterally when necessary, “[t]he Department of Defense will rebalance our counterterrorism efforts toward greater emphasis on building partnership capacity especially in fragile states.” In both of these cases, the belief has been that using SC to build partner nations’ security capacity, so that that they can play a larger role in maintaining their internal political stability and contribute to regional security initiatives, will relieve some of the burden from the Joint Force our joint security objectives, thereby reducing the need for the U.S. to commit blood and treasure to realize U.S. national security objectives.

While we believe that its underlying logic is sound, we do not believe this strategic guidance gives sufficient direction to the military planners and operators who must translate a belief in the general efficacy of SC into concrete programs, projects, plans and missions. Indeed, it is not sufficient that staff officers and senior decision makers only employ SC principles, but they must do so in ways that maximize their effectiveness in realizing U.S. and partner nation objectives. Planning staffs must be able to identify the particular security tools and programs that are likely to bring the greatest return on their investments of scarce time, money and resources and the conditions within which the application of those SC tools will most likely succeed. This is particularly true during a time of constrained resources which require that “the U.S. should make careful, explicit choices about its partnership investments—a tailored rather than an omnivorous approach—based on prioritized desired effects” while pursuing an SC strategy that asks “how exactly might building the capacity and capabilities of U.S. partners lead, through their actions, toward outcomes that help protect U.S. national security interests?”

We believe that this is an appropriate time to ask these hard questions and raise these difficult issues, and we are pleased that this special issue has been conceived of to consider these and other matters concerning the practice and efficacy of SC. We seek to contribute to staffs’ and warfighters’ capacity to effectively plan to employ the tools at their disposal, which include SC, by articulating one means through which the impact of SC activities might be more rigorously assessed and the return on their investments in these programs calculated. Although we focus on one specific aspect of SC in this paper, global health engagement (GHE), we wish to emphasize that the approach advocated here can be applied to any category or sector of SC: to include foreign military financing, international military education and training, infrastructure, governance and so on.