Why Nation Building is Needed to "Halt the Spread of Radical Islam"

By Walter Pincus

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist Walter Pincus is a contributing senior national security columnist for The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on topics that ranged from nuclear weapons to politics. He is the author of Blown to Hell: America's Deadly Betrayal of the Marshall Islanders. Pincus won an Emmy in 1981 and was the recipient of the Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy in 2010.  He was also a team member for a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and the George Polk Award in 1978.  

Before Donald Trump speaks out again on the subject of nation-building, I suggest he – or his staff – study what the Pentagon terms “Building Partner Capacity,” which has been expanding over the past decade and serves as what can only be termed the Defense Department’s part in nation-building.

Trump’s latest statement on the subject came on August 15 in Youngstown, Ohio, when he said, “If I become President, the era of nation-building will be ended. Our new approach, which must be shared by both parties in America, by our allies overseas, and by our friends in the Middle East, must be to halt the spread of Radical Islam.”

Trump, as usual, has yet to describe in any detail what he meant by “our new approach,” but as anyone with knowledge of the situation knows, “to halt the spread of radical Islam,” some form of U.S. help to weak or turbulently-governed states, i.e. nation-building in some form, will be needed.

The Defense Department’s Building Partner Capacity (BPC) first turned up as a phrase describing several Pentagon programs in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review prepared for the George W. Bush administration. BPC became the catchall designation for a wide array of programs that allow for “the more effective prosecution of counterterrorism operations, increasing the capacity of states to manage their own regional security challenges in order to prevent an eventual U.S. or international crisis intervention, and as an exit strategy for post-9/11 military campaigns,” according to the Congressional Research Service’s “DOD Security Cooperation: An Overview of Authorities and Issues,” released last week by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

In following years, Congress provided the Pentagon with more authority to fight the terrorism threat to include expanded training, mentoring, advising, equipping, exercising, educating and planning with foreign security forces. By 2010, the Quadrennial Defense Review that year stated U.S. security is “inextricably tied to the effectiveness of our efforts to help partners and allies build their own security capacity.”

In the May/June 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs, former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates wrote that addressing security threats in unstable states that lack effective institutions to govern or provide their own security would be “the main security challenge of our time.”

He suggested some Pentagon efforts be pooled with the State Department, adding, “The strategic reality demands that the U.S. government get better at what is called ‘building partner capacity,’ helping other countries defend themselves or, if necessary, fight alongside U.S. forces by providing them with equipment, training, or other forms of security assistance.”

Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State, was a party to Gates’ approach. One of Clinton’s top current foreign policy advisors, Andrew J. Shapiro, worked for her as Assistant Secretary for Political Military Affairs. In the Fall 2012 issue of The Washington Quarterly, he wrote, “The United States works directly with many allies and partners to professionalize their military forces through training and joint military exercises. Countries with weak, poorly trained, and poorly resourced militaries are often unable to control their territories, protect human rights, or create a stable and safe environment for their citizens.”

In her November 19, 2015 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton echoed that approach sayings, “No other country can rally allies and partner to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadist terrorism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale in defense of our peoples and our values, and that’s exactly what we need to do.”

She added, “If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities.”

Congress has certainly indicated its support for building partner capacity programs.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Defense Department has legal authority to conduct coalition operational support; global and regional train and equip programs; counter-narcotics; counter-transnational organized crime; counter-proliferation activities; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; military exercises; education and exchange programs; military-to-military contacts; defense institution building and support; and recovery and accounting for missing personnel.

In its version of the current fiscal 2017 Defense Authorization Bill, now before Congress, the House has moved to make implementation of building partner capacity programs easier by gathering various authorizations under one chapter called Security Cooperation in the law. It would provide authority for military-to-military engagement, training with foreign forces, support for operations and capacity building, and education and training activities.

In its version of the bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee went further to include a major expansion of the Pentagon’s ability to build a foreign country’s capacity to counter weapons of mass destruction, drugs, and transnational crime, as well as to conduct maritime and border security, military intelligence, humanitarian disaster assistance operations, and national territorial defense operations.

Nothing represents the Pentagon’s cooperative security approach than the activities of Special Operations Command. Its commander, Gen. Joseph L. Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 8 that there were 10,000 Special Operations Forces deployed or forward-stationed in more than 80 countries worldwide coordinating counter-terrorism planning and operations along with “supporting the capabilities of our interagency partners and developing critical relationships with key influencers.”

Not only that, there were representatives from 17 nations working at SOCOM’s Tampa headquarters, and Votel has his own own liaisons in 15 partner nations around the globe. In addition, he said the command had “worked with 18 international partners on coordinating hostage rescue operations.”

SOCOM, he said, has an “extensive investment in building a global network of partners who are critical to providing us with the range of capabilities, resources, and access we require.”

Trump has not talked about it recently, but I wonder whether he still plans—should he become president – to charge foreign countries for the services of our military, such as the 80 or so countries where Votel’s Special Forces were working last March. In Trump’s business world, these may be considered money-making operations rather than nation-building.

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