Institutional Capacity Building

DSCA - A Look at Institutional Capacity Building from DSCA on Vimeo.

Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) programs, overseen by DSCA, encompass Security Cooperation activities that directly support U.S. ally and partner nation efforts to improve security sector governance and core management competencies necessary to effectively and responsibly achieve shared security objectives. Understanding an ally or partner’s institutional capacity is critical to the development of a full-spectrum approach to Security Cooperation.  A Full-Spectrum approach assists allies and partners by ensuring they have all that is necessary and sufficient to successfully perform a security role in support of shared objectives. ICB assists allies and partners in examining and addressing broader, systemic factors essential to delivering what is needed (e.g., money, things, people, ideas, decisions) to:

  1. Understand requirements, develop forces, and purchase or obtain the articles and services as required to develop, employ, and sustain required capabilities;
  2. Successfully absorb and integrate fully developed capabilities into their existing security forces;
  3. Effectively and responsibly employ those capabilities in the pursuit of common objectives between the U.S. and the ally or partner; and
  4. Adequately staff, sustain, and maintain, those capabilities throughout their lifecycle and eventually retire them when appropriate.

Why Does ICB Matter?

ICB has become an increasingly important aspect of the U.S. approach to Security Cooperation. The Department of Defense (DoD) has offered support to allies and partners in the development of their institutions for many years, but the term “Institutional Capacity Building” is fairly new, being first used in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA 17).  NDAA 17 instituted a wide range of reforms in Security Cooperation, including the authorities and programs DoD uses to build partner capacity.

ICB is an essential element of the Security Cooperation full-spectrum approach that postures the ally or partner to be successful in fulfilling a mutually agreed upon security role through the strengthening of their policy and strategy; legal authorities and frameworks; processes and management systems; resourcing systems, doctrine, or operational concepts; and command and control of their forces. 

Applying a full-spectrum approach is a strategic advantage for DoD, building effective alliances and partnerships to achieve shared results while promoting American values and respect for international norms.  These include core values such as respect for human rights, the law of armed conflict, democratic principles, civilian-harm mitigation, and anti-corruption. 

ICB is conducted in a way that promotes principles that enable security sector institutions to be effective, accountable, transparent, and responsible to national political systems, especially regarding good governance and oversight of security forces.  ICB, as a Security Cooperation tool, is core to enabling preparedness, deterring threats, and prevailing in strategic competition.

What are the principles of effective ICB?

Strategically Driven

Driven by U.S. interests and values. When integrated early into Security Cooperation planning and development, ICB enhances strategic dialogue with allies and partners regarding shared objectives and roles, and enables a comprehensive, full-spectrum approach to ally and partner capability and capacity development.

Problem Focused

Assesses shortfalls in and challenges to institutional performances that impede ally and partner abilities to execute missions and roles. Considers appropriate entry points for engagement with the ally or partner, the enablers and inhibitors of change and/or development.

Partner Centric

Responsive to allies’ and partners’ priorities and their unique cultural, political, and institutional dynamics, ICB is targeted and tailored to the partner. It is shaped by mutual interests and avoids the projection or imposition of U.S. models, which may not fit an ally or partner’s specific context.

Who do we engage with on ICB?

ICB expert teams are comprised of faculty, staff, and supporting subject matter experts from the Institute for Security Governance (ISG) and the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS). ISG and DIILS are components of DSCA’s Defense Security Cooperation University (DSCU), whose mission is to work with ally and partner civilian and military institutions, including Ministries of Defense, Joint or General Staffs, military services, defense agencies, and related national security organizations.

To learn more, check out the Institute for Security Governance (ISG) series of "ICB Smart Sheets." Smart Sheets – the first of many Institutional Capacity Building resource documents – cover specific ICB functional or issue areas. Each sheet presents the specific challenge faced, the current state of the field, the role ICB plays in resolving the challenge, and provides ICB best practice recommendations.  More Smart Sheets are in the works for the “DSCA at 50” campaign’s ICB month.

When did the Estonia project begin and what was its focus?

Since restoring its national independence in 1991, Estonia has steadily emerged as a stable partner in an increasingly challenging international security landscape. Joining NATO in 2004 was a key milestone, and since then, Estonia increasingly has contributed to international security cooperation efforts in response to current and emerging threats and the evolving strategic competition facing the United States and its allies.

One of DSCA’s current multi-year institutional capacity building (ICB) efforts with Estonia is a legal ICB program by the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS), which began in the Spring of 2018. The DIILS legal ICB program with Estonia focuses on:

  1. operational law capabilities, including legal policy and staff structure and enhanced capacity to provide legal advice to planning and execution of operations;
  2. a legal framework to better account for and respond to malign activities in multi-domain grey zones in accordance with international law; and
  3. legal authorities, processes, and rules of engagement relevant to regional Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense (IAMD) and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) operations.

What gains has ICB afforded our strategic partner?

The DIILS legal ICB collaboration with the Estonian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has effectively further developed internal support and appreciation for the role of military and MoD legal advisors. More specifically, DIILS supported the MoD in establishing a standard operating procedure (SOP) that Estonia will use to meet its obligation to conduct legal reviews of weapons fielded by its armed forces, in accordance with Article 36 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. Additional efforts underway include supporting Estonian initiatives to develop legal doctrine (such as handbooks, standard operating procedures, and/or a field manual) to support commanders when making real-time decisions in the tactical environment, so that those decisions align with international laws and NATO protocols. These products would cover subjects ranging from operational planning to targeting decisions and humanitarian law and human rights compliance.

DIILS has also supported a DSCA-provided Ministry of Defense Advisor (MoDA) dedicated to Estonian maritime security issues. Legal ICB support in the maritime domain focuses on assisting Estonian efforts to improve its protocols and processes for coordinated response to maritime threats, and to formalize its national maritime security doctrine. This work supports Estonian efforts to ensure compliance with international maritime law, to include coastal states’ rights and navigational freedoms established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In November 2020, the Estonian Minister of Defense acknowledged two civilian DIILS attorneys as having significantly contributed to the national defense of the Republic of Estonia.

What challenges did this project face in building the partner’s institutional capacity?

From the beginning of the project, the Estonian MoD and armed services have welcomed and supported the DIILS legal ICB effort, and have worked with DIILS to refine the purpose and content of the legal ICB engagements to meet shared U.S. and Estonian security objectives. Operational commanders, legal advisors and MoD officials all quickly recognized the value of developing sound legal frameworks, as well as policies and processes that incorporate direct and specific legal advice, including from the operational planning stages through actualization of dynamic tactical situations, to ensure adherence to international legal standards. Estonia’s receptivity to legal ICB will help ensure that it possesses sufficient capacity to meet the requirements of increased participation in international operations and to ensure sufficient interoperability with its NATO partners for protection of the Estonian homeland from external aggression.

Are there implications for the Estonia project beyond its borders?

The DIILS legal ICB efforts also further the need of Estonia and other Baltic states for a common understanding of and approach to legal issues that may arise when conducting or supporting combined regional Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense (IAMD) and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) operations among the Baltic states or in conjunction with other NATO allies and partners.

What was the catalyst for Colombia’s foray into Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) Project? 

For decades, the Government of Colombia engaged in a civil conflict. By the late 2000s, with the conflict rapidly approaching an inflection point, bilateral security cooperation efforts under Plan Colombia (initiated in 1999) began to produce military gains against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

As the conflict began to shift in their favor, the Colombian Government recognized the need to modernize their defense governance and management processes in order to take on complex future challenges.

When did the Colombia project begin and what was its focus? 

In 2009, the Defense Institution Reform Initiative (DIRI) — now incorporated as an element of ISG — began supporting Colombian civilian and military leader efforts to develop a greater analytic capacity in all aspects of defense planning, resource management, and force development. The goal of the project was to deliver a cost-informed, medium- to long-term transformation roadmap for the Colombian Armed Forces and National Police that meets both national policy priorities and US-Colombia bilateral defense objectives.

What gains has Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) afforded our strategic partner? 

Since 2009, with ICB support, the combined Colombian defense and security sector developed and implemented an integrated defense planning system. This system is used to identify future force employment criteria, development priorities, and resourcing requirements over time. 

Changes to the Colombian defense governance and management framework are currently being led by new organizations within the Ministry of National Defense, which, since 2013, has created and operationalized the Directorates for Capability Projection, Human Capital Development, and Logistics. Each of these organizations work with their General Command of the Military Forces and Public Force headquarters counterparts on respective planning and management systems, with the objective of standardizing and quantifying respective practices to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

The Colombian Ministry of National Defense is now finalizing an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development-compliant (OECD) Performance Budgeting Framework that links national policy to defense capabilities and budgets. Furthermore, senior Colombian military leaders are now able to influence the direction of the Military Forces and National Police’s future force structure; develop “Joint Concepts” against future scenarios and mission sets; and drive “Joint Doctrine” development and resultant Professional Military Education and Training requirements to develop highly versatile forces capable of responding to a broad range of threats unilaterally or with coalition partners.

What challenges did this project face in building the partner’s institutional capacity?

While facilitating the Colombian Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning modernization efforts, it was important to recognize the limitations and challenges to the “de facto” implementation of a new defense governance and management system without a supporting national “de jure” framework. Nevertheless, ISG continued supporting the Ministry, General Command, and Public Force efforts to work through manageable obstacles.

The Government of Colombia fully supports the Ministry of National Defense and Public Force’s efforts to prepare for a post-conflict transformation. Respective civilian, military, and police leaders have worked collaboratively over the years to develop and begin implementing the “Capability Planning and Development Model of the Public Forces” because of their shared desire to be prepared for post-conflict challenges. These integrated ICB efforts are now helping civilian and military leaders address both current and future capability requirements with known and projected fiscal realities of Colombia.

Are there implications for the Colombia project beyond its borders? 

Colombia’s defense planning framework has become the benchmark for many key regional partners, and their resident ICB expertise helps inform partner decisions. The Colombia project has specifically helped partners seeking to balance near-term, threat-based resourcing requirements with US Title 10 and Title 22 investments; nationalize USG-financed capabilities; understand medium- and long-term capability-based costs of units, equipment, sustainment, and modernization; and adopt a longer-term capability and resource planning approach to address future challenges and threats.

In 2017, Colombia became Latin America’s first NATO Partner (2017) as a result of its demonstrated defense and security capabilities. From this accomplishment, Colombia has: 

  • Achieved Tier- 2 Status within the NATO Codification System  
  • Engaged in successful “NATO Integrity Building” discussions
  • Been nominated as a NATO “Center of Excellence” for counterinsurgency and demining/humanitarian mine action

Colombia’s transformation and leadership in defense governance benefited not only regional partners and allies, but also US security objectives in the Central and South America.