What Is ICB

Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) encompasses Security Cooperation (SC) activities that directly support partner nation efforts to improve security sector governance and core management competencies needed to effectively and responsibly achieve shared security objectives.

Understanding a partner’s institutional capacity is critical to the development of an SC full-spectrum approach that enables allies and partner nations to develop institutional capabilities that are necessary and sufficient to successfully perform a security role in support of shared objectives.

ICB helps examine and address problems in broader, systemic factors, allowing allies and partners to:

  • Understand requirements, develop forces, and purchase or obtain the articles and services to develop, employ, and sustain required capabilities;
  • Successfully absorb and integrate fully developed capabilities into their existing security forces;
  • Effectively and responsibly employ those capabilities in the pursuit of common objectives with the U.S. and its partners; and
  • Adequately staff, sustain, and maintain, those capabilities throughout their lifecycle and eventual retirement.

Why is ICB Essential to Security Cooperation

ICB has become an increasingly important component 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 relatively 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 a full-spectrum Security Cooperation approach that postures the ally or partner to be successful in achieving a mutually agreed upon security roles through the strengthening of their defense 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, healthy civil-military dynamics, democratic principles, civilian-harm mitigation, and anti-corruption.


ICB is executed in accordance with best practices, promoting 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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

ISG and the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (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.

Both components of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), ISG and the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) are situated within the Defense Security Cooperation University (DSCU), whose mission, inter alia, is to implement Institutional Capacity Building, Security Cooperation education, and related programs and initiatives with our allies and partners.


For more detailed information on how to apply ICB principles and best practices:

  1. 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.
  2. Ask an ISG expert about any ICB question at isginfo@nps.edu.

ICB Examples


    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. 

    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 U.S.-Colombia bilateral defense objectives.

    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./p>

    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 headquarter counterparts on respective planning and management systems, with the objective of standardizing and quantifying respective practices to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

    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.

    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 U.S. 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.


      The. U.S. and Jordan share a longstanding partnership and U.S. security assistance has played an important role in advancing shared regional interests. In 2016, King Abdullah II directed the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) to launch a modernization and reorganization effort. The U.S. supported this Jordanian modernization effort, with particular emphasis on building the capability of Jordan’s defense institutions.

      After initial scoping engagements, American and Jordanian officials agreed in 2017 to begin a series of Capabilities Based Assessments (CBAs) to better inform decision-making and strategic planning processes related to the U.S.-Jordan Five Year Security Assistance Roadmap (FYSAR). The first CBAs focused on ground mobility and combined arms in the context of strengthening Jordan’s border security. Given Jordan’s strategic location bordering Syria and Iraq, addressing capabilities that improved Jordan’s ability to secure its borders and respond quickly to a crisis were high priorities.

      Faced with difficult trade-offs, ICB efforts have supported our Jordanian partners to find lower cost, non-material solutions to a range of capability challenges. For example, rather than the JAF investing in brand new, armored vehicles or artillery pieces, CBAs identified ways to boost capability by adjusting doctrine, training, and maintenance practices, and by making less expensive modifications to existing equipment. These types of solutions enhance military readiness while also keeping sustainment costs low.

      One of the biggest challenges the project faced was developing methods to understand how the future security environment should influence capability investments for the near-term and the future. Since it is impossible to make exact predictions regarding the future, strategic planning must consider a range of possibilities and ultimately select capabilities agile enough to address the most critical and probable challenges. It is a difficult task for even the most sophisticated militaries, and the tendency is to focus on the very near term because it is hard to predict long-term future challenges. The hard work and creativity of the JAF Joint Staff has enabled senior officials to make confident investment decisions in capabilities that will hopefully endure for the next 20 years and ably address future situations.

      Jordan has been a crucial partner in the fight against the Islamic State, and both American and Jordanian leaders share an interest in ensuring Jordan has fully-developed, sustainable capabilities that can be ready to quickly contribute to coalition operations. Jordanian forces need to be interoperable with U.S. and other potential coalition partners. Jordan has long supported UN Peacekeeping Operations, including a continuous 15-year mission in Haiti. Future Jordanian capability investments will help to sustain Jordan’s commitment to working with like-minded partners to advance peace around the globe.