Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Utility of Security Force Assistance

April 28, 2017

Journal of Strategic Studies 2017Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald & Ryan Baker (2017): Small footprint, small payoff: The military effectiveness of security force assistance, Journal of Strategic Studies, DOI:10.1080/01402390.2017.1307745


Professor Stephen Biddle, ISCS alumna Professor Julia Macdonald of the University of Denver, and ISCS predoctoral fellow Ryan Baker recently published "Small Footprint, Small Payoff: The Military Utility of Security Force Assistance" in the Journal of Strategic Studies. After fifteen years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, many now see “small-footprint” Security Force Assistance (SFA) – training, advising, and equipping allied militaries – as an alternative to large U.S. ground-force commitments. Yet SFA's actual military efficacy has been little studied. The paper seeks to fill this gap, and finds important limitations on SFA’s military utility, stemming from agency problems arising from systematic interest misalignment between the U.S. and its typical partners. SFA’s achievable upper bound is modest, and attainable only if U.S. policy is intrusive and conditional, which it rarely is. For SFA, small footprints will usually mean small payoffs.