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

Publication Date


Document Type


Organizational Units

Josef Korbel School of International Studies, International Studies


Military effectiveness, Strategy, Defense policy, Military assistance, Training, Advising, Allies


After 15 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 US ground-force commitments. Yet, its actual military efficacy has been little studied. This paper seeks to fill this gap. We find important limitations on SFA’s military utility, stemming from agency problems arising from systematic interest misalignment between the US and its typical partners. SFA’s achievable upper bound is modest and attainable only if US policy is intrusive and conditional, which it rarely is. For SFA, small footprints will usually mean small payoffs.

Publication Statement

Copyright held by author or publisher. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

This document is currently not available here.