Major James P. Micciche is a U.S. Army Strategist and Civil Affairs Officer. He holds degrees from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Troy University and can be found on Twitter @james_micciche. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the USG. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature, nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: Without modifications to Title 10 U.S. Code (USC), Subtitle A, Part I, Chapter 16, §321 and §333, U.S. Security Force Assistance (SFA) contributions to strategic competition will not be fully realized.
Date Originally Written: March 23, 2022.
Date Originally Published: April 4, 2022.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes SFA can address strategic competitors’ most likely and most dangerous courses of action while also supporting competitive efforts through other instruments of national power.
Background: The DoD defines SFA as “activities that support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions.” SFA improves the ability of the Joint Force to support, enable, and enhance campaigning across all elements of the competition continuum. Despite SFA’s prominent role in supporting the Integrated Deterrence concept underlying the 2022 National Defense Strategy, current statutory authorities limit SFA’s effectiveness. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act’s (NDAA) Section 1323 (Study on Certain Security Cooperation Programs) and Section 1261 (Report on Security Cooperation Authorities and Associated Resourcing in Support of the Security Force Assistance Brigades) of the Senate’s proposed NDAA signal Congressional interest in improving SFA authorities to address strategic competition.
Significance: Allies and Partners are a cornerstone of U.S. policy. The first National Security Strategy identified an “area of U.S. strength and Soviet weakness is alliance relationships.” Current DoD leadership continues to emphasize Allies and Partners as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities testified to the House Armed Service Committee “The U.S. network of alliances and partnerships is a strategic advantage our competitors cannot match.” That advantage enables the realization of Integrated Deterrence, the foundation of the 2022 National Defense Strategy. Integrated Deterrence synchronizes Joint Force and Interagency capabilities with those of Allies and Partners to deter or compel strategic competitors. SFA builds the requisite partnerships and interoperability with Allies and Partners in key locations to generate Integrated Deterrent effects mitigating threats to U.S. interests.
Sun Tzu prioritized negating an adversary’s strategy and then destabilizing their alliances. China, America’s identified pacing threat, did this by investing in capabilities preventing the deployment of U.S. military power. China also uses diplomatic, information, and economic instruments of national power to degrade U.S. access, influence, and presence globally. From Anti-Access Area Denial technologies to coercive economic and diplomatic practices, China is denying options and increasing the costs for the U.S. military. Due to these concerted efforts, the Joint Force now faces two strategic challenges, “time and distance.”
SFA provides options for combatant commanders to compete below levels of armed conflict through establishing or maintaining access, presence, and influence while improving partners’ military capability and interoperability with U.S. forces. SFA increases adversarial escalation costs and allows the Joint Force to begin conflict at a positional advantage. Despite SFA’s capabilities, the current statutory authorities do not enable the DoD to maximize its employment of purpose-built SFA formations, like the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) and the Air Force’s Mobility Support Advisory Squadrons.
Title 10 USC, Subtitle A, Part I, Chapter 16, authorizes the majority of DoD security cooperation activities, of which SFA is a subset. The current chapter 16 authorities represent the unipolar world of 1991-2003 or the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) from 2001-2017. Within the current legislative framework §321 (Training with Friendly Countries) and §333 (Foreign Security Forces: Authority to Build Capacity) are the primary mechanisms for the DoD to conduct SFA. Each authority has limitations and strengths but neither is optimized for strategic competition.
Option #1: Congress changes “only with the military forces” to “security forces” within the limitation clause of §321.
§321 authorizes general-purpose forces of the United States to train only with the militaries of partners for the overall benefit of the U.S. unit. §321 prevents the development of new partner capabilities and restricts materiel, construction, or contract support to training events only. While §321 is a flexible option for combatant commanders to establish access, presence, and influence it limits the development and integration to indirect benefits of training with U.S. forces.
Risk: Expanding the amount and type of security forces that U.S. conventional units can train without State Department concurrence risks over-militarizing aspects of U.S. foreign policy and delegitimizing whole of government efforts to develop capacity in non-defense sectors. §321 expansion risks potentially duplicating authorities within §322 (Special operations forces: training with friendly foreign forces) without an overarching program manager like U.S. Special Operations Command’s Joint Combined Exchange Training.
Gain: Increasing the aperture of who U.S. conventional forces can train with increases the flexibility and utility of using §321 to establish access, presence, and influence. This is especially beneficial within nations that have internally-focused security forces that are not part of a traditional military architecture.
Option #2: Congress creates a tenth capacity category authorizing “improved combined military interoperability” in §333.
§333 authorizes materiel, training, and operational support to foreign partner forces in developing capabilities across nine different mission types with seven of the nine being focused on GWOT-era objectives. Unlike §321 activities, §333 missions require Department of State concurrence and coordination and have specific Congressionally appropriated funding through the international security cooperation programs account.
Risk: Despite developing long-term partner capabilities, §333 activities take 18-24 months to approve, preventing its use in emergent and unforeseen requirements. Additionally, both conventional and special operations forces use §333 and its associated funds and adding additional mission types will increase competition for an already limited resource, especially with the loss of overseas contingency operations funding.
Gain: SFA works best over prolonged periods through persistent presence. §333’s ability to build partner capacity and provide materiel and operational support make it ideal for improving the effectiveness of partner forces to deter aggression and generating interoperability with U.S. Forces. Department of State concurrence and monitoring of §333 also facilitates the integration of other instruments of national power.
Option #3: Congress creates an SFA-specific authority and funding source.
§321 broadly allows combatant commanders some flexibility in where they conduct SFA requiring months to approve and fund but vastly limits the long-term impact of their activities. Inversely, §333 is specific in allowing concerted efforts with a given partner that takes years to approve and its codified mission types constrain use to developing nations. Creating a responsive SFA-specific authority and funding source provides the Joint Force the ability to address strategic competition and prioritizes Partners and Allies.
Risk: After the failures of the Afghan National Security Forces in August 2021 and the deaths of four U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers during an ambush in 2017, there is substantial pushback on increasing the autonomy of the DoD to execute SFA. Increasing SFA’s ability to employ military members in advisory roles requires Congress to assume risk and put faith back into the DoD to execute global competition missions.
Gain: An SFA-specific authority and funding source highlights U.S. commitment to allies, partners, and strategic competition. This authority, with an accompanying appropriated funding source, will generate the long-term strategies needed to maximize the effects of SFA.
Other Comments: Combatant commanders continue to warn of legislative inaction in a world defined by competition between autocracies and democracies. In competition autocratic states enjoy an asymmetric advantage in speed, responsiveness, and reach due to no bureaucratic restrictions or adherence to international norms and laws. The Commander of U.S. Africa Command highlighted the issue of speed warning that U.S. assistance, “can sometimes take a long time to unfold, and that sometimes forces our African partners to go with the bird in hand, which is sometimes China, sometimes Russia.” The Commander of U.S. Southern Command outlined the need for flexibility when asking Congress to explore a “21st century flexible and responsible tool to allow us to outcompete and win by meeting our partner’s needs.” Inaction risks potential degradation of U.S. access, presence, and influence needed to establish integrated deterrence.
 Joint Chiefs of Staff (2021), DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. page 192. Retrieved from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/dictionary.pdf
 Joint Chiefs of Staff (2019) Competition Continuum (Joint Doctrine Note 1-19). Retrieved from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/jdn_jg/jdn1_19.pdf?ver=2019-06-10-113311-233 defines three competition as having three nonlinear elements nonexclusive elements cooperation, competition below levels of armed conflict, and conflict.
 United States. (2022). National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year: Conference report. Washington, D.C: U.S. G.P.O. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/1605/text
 United States. Congress. Conference Committees 2022. (2022). JOINT EXPLANATORY STATEMENT TO ACCOMPANY THE NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2022: Washington :U.S. Govt. Print. Off.. Retrieved from https://rules.house.gov/sites/democrats.rules.house.gov/files/17S1605-RCP117-21-JES-U1.pdf
 Reagan, Ronald (1987). National security strategy of the United States of America. Executive Office of The President Washington DC Washington United States. Retrieved from https://history.defense.gov/Portals/70/Documents/nss/nss1987.pdf
 C-SPAN (2022). Defense and State Officials Testify on U.S. Engagement with Allies. Retrieved from https://www.c-span.org/video/?518194-1/defense-state-officials-testify-us-engagement-allies
 Garamone, Jim (2021). “Concept of Integrated Deterrence Will Be Key to National Defense Strategy, DOD Official Says.” U.S. Department of Defense – DOD News. Retrieved from https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/2866963/concept-of-integrated-deterrence-will-be-key-to-national-defense-strategy-dod-o/
 Griffith, S. B. (1963). Sun Tzu: The art of war (Vol. 39). London: Oxford University Press.
 McConville, James (2021). Army Multi-Domain Transformation: Ready to Win in Competition and Conflict, Chief of Staff Paper #1. Headquarters Department of the Army. Retrieved from https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/2021/03/23/eeac3d01/20210319-csa-paper-1-signed-print-version.pdf
 10 U.S.C. § 321 (2016), accessed 5 March 2021, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2016-title10/html/USCODE-2016-title10-subtitleA-partI-chap16-subchapIII.htm.
 Senate Armed Service Committee. (2022). HEARING TO RECEIVE TESTIMONY ON THE POSTURE OF UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND AND UNITED STATES AFRICA COMMAND a.” Retrieved from https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/22-12_03-15-2022.pdf
 House Armed Service Committee. (2021). National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activity in North and South America.” Retrieved from https://armedservices.house.gov/2021/4/full-committee-hearing-national-security-challenges-and-u-s-military-activity-in-north-and-south-america