Security cooperation for the future: opportunities, challenges, and transformation

By Chris Mewett


Members of the security cooperation (SC) community gathered in Arlington, Va., last month to share ideas about how their organizations can continue to provide effective support to both international partners and national strategic objectives in a time of austerity and change.

The 2013 Security Cooperation Workshop, hosted by the Office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for defense exports and cooperation (DASA (DE&C)), brought together people from across the Departments of State and Defense – from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the military departments, the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management, and other organizations – to communicate best practices, exchange lessons learned, and discuss strategic initiatives and adaptations designed to meet the challenges facing the SC workforce.


Ann Cataldo, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for defense exports and cooperation, addresses attendees at the 2013 Security Cooperation Workshop.

U.S. Navy Vice Adm. William Landay, director of DSCA, set the tone for the workshop by challenging participants to think critically about how their organizations can improve performance as both foreign military sale (FMS) case-load and associated administration funds level-off. The security cooperation community has enjoyed a surge in resources over the last several years and has performed well in turn, but this situation cannot be expected to continue indefinitely, he said.

Landay emphasized the gains the community has made in recent years by emphasizing customer satisfaction, cost reduction, improved responsiveness, and increased partner visibility and involvement in the process. The time is right – before possible cuts are implemented – to consider ways to further shorten case processing times, to improve customer focus yet more, and to be more responsive at every phase of implementation and execution.

These efforts must complement a broader initiative to integrate SC activities more closely with interagency capacity-building efforts and other tools of foreign policy through a comprehensive strategic approach to partner nations, something that Dr. Kathleen Hicks, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, highlighted in her keynote speech. The recent release of a new presidential policy directive on security sector assistance indicates that this requirement is recognized across the interagency community. Only by approaching the capability requirements of our partner nations as part of a broader, interagency look at improving security capacity, can we ensure that our SC efforts are both effective and sustainable.

Gregory Kausner, recently named deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security and arms transfers, spoke about needing closer cooperation between the departments of state and defense. Kausner also offered his perspective on congressional views of security assistance, urging the community to improve not only its responsiveness to customers, as emphasized by Landay, but also its efforts to communicate SC’s successes.


Maj. Gen. Frank D. Turner III, commanding general of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, delivers a briefing during the 2013 Security Cooperation Workshop.

Representatives of each military department’s lead organization for SC also briefed the audience on service-level initiatives, including Ann Cataldo, in her first week on the job as the new DASA (DE&C). Cataldo spoke briefly on challenges stemming from strategic and budgetary uncertainty, emphasizing that the SC community can capitalize on what she described as an opportunity for new and challenging ways of thinking. The Army is already working to satisfy the intent of last year’s defense strategic guidance, which emphasized the need to “develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives.” As our overseas posture changes and fewer troops are permanently stationed abroad, SC engagements and the relationships they sustain will be increasingly important.

Cataldo told the audience about several DASA (DE&C) initiatives that have been undertaken to ensure that those SC activities are targeted and effective. The Materiel Enterprise International Engagement Strategy (MEIES) will help tailor security assistance efforts to meet partner nation capability requirements while providing support to Army acquisition programs and the U.S. defense industrial base. The Army’s International Catalogue will complement the work done through the MEIES by giving security cooperation officers (SCO) the information they need to find the right Army solution for their partner nation. And the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command’s common operating picture will help to ensure that personnel across the Army have access to the data they need to manage security assistance cases effectively for the mutual benefit of the U.S. and the partner nation.

The workshop’s second full day kicked off with a discussion of theater security cooperation objectives, led by a panel comprising representatives of the geographic combatant commands and the joint staff. This was followed by presentations from a range of speakers offering several different perspectives on SC: one focused on the challenges of working as an SCO, another on efforts to consolidate information technology (IT) systems under the security cooperation enterprise solution, and a third on SC training activities administered by the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management.

“Community Focus” breakout sessions each afternoon offered attendees the opportunity to focus more deeply on subjects of interest, from public affairs and communications to technology security and foreign disclosure reform to logistics and transportation issues. The workshop also included briefings on the security cooperation information portal and the security cooperation management suite to improve attendees’ understanding of the benefits offered by those IT systems, as well as an update on the stand-up and early operation of the special defense acquisition fund.

On the workshop’s final day, representatives of each service’s international training organization participated in a panel dedicated to that subject. The remainder of the presentations were focused on the future: one on the work of the security cooperation reform task force; another on the way the SC community is resourced; a third on legislative proposals pertaining to SC; and a final brief on DSCA’s efforts to improve customer visibility and participation in the FMS process.

The consistent focus of the workshop, throughout the various presentations and discussions, was the opportunity to learn, adapt, and improve. In her closing remarks, Cataldo encouraged the attendees to return to their organizations with a commitment to spread what they’d learned, to implement the best practices they’d absorbed from others in the community, and to re-commit themselves to demonstrating the importance and value of the work done by the SC community.