As U.S. forces continue military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, the global presence of the American armed services isn’t limited to combat. Whether it’s building relationships with new strategic partners, teaching command structure to developing democracies, or imparting civilian-oriented expertise, the U.S. National Guard continues to lead an effort that grew out of the aftermath of the Cold War and is now a crucial component of the U.S. military’s international outreach.
Since 1993, the National Guard’s State Partnership Program has been one of the most diplomatic campaigns in which the military is engaged. The program pairs National Guard forces from individual U.S. states with countries abroad to cultivate military-to-military ties while also increasing civilian dialogue between foreign countries and the United States.
Initially, the program focused on Eastern Europe as countries found themselves grappling with their newfound freedom in 1993, becoming a bridge between former Soviet bloc nations and the United States. Since then, the program has become a growing legacy for the Guard, with its unique makeup of citizen-soldiers who bring their real-life professional experiences to share among an ever-expanding roster of countries.
According to Col. Cathy Rodriguez, chief of the National Guard’s International Affairs Division, the program has taken on new life in the last few years. “U.S. security objectives are focusing really on building — the big buzzword is building — partnerships and building partnership capacity,” she said. “And while the [government] is figuring out how we do that, they look at our [program] and say, ‘Wow, you’ve been doing this for a long time.’”
The State Partnership Program has four primary goals. The first two include helping partner countries build a deterrence capacity to prevent potential conflicts and also prepare for such eventualities, something in which the Guard is quite adept, Rodriguez noted.
But the program also targets civil relationships with an abundance of intergovernmental and interagency coordination that leverages local resources to capitalize on the individual skills that National Guardsmen bring to the table.
The oldest component of the Armed Forces, the National Guard is made up of reservists stationed in all 50 U.S. states who can be called up for duty, whether it’s for war or a domestic emergency such as a hurricane (they played a prominent role for instance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina). When not serving their country, these reservists go back to their regular jobs, whether it’s as a police officer, teacher, banker or auto mechanic — experiences that can help cross civilian barriers elsewhere.
As a result, the program is getting a lot of attention abroad. “They have those skill sets … that they can share with their partners,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s really what makes this program so successful, because we can operate across all spectrums of society, not just the military.
“The National Guard is really positioned well to do this because of the nature of who we are, because most National Guard members work in the same state for their entire career,” she added. “They don’t move around like active-duty forces do, so they have the ability to work with their partner countries for a long period of time and develop real personal relationships with people in their partner countries.”
Currently, the program includes 60 partner countries, with the initial 21 located in the European Command and subsequent partnerships expanded to the Southern Command, Africa Command, Pacific Command and Central Command.
One of the most active state partnerships is between the Illinois National Guard and Poland. Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Illinois adjutant general, called his state perhaps the most involved in the partnership program. Much of that may simply stem from the long history and tight cultural ties between Poland and Illinois, home to one of the largest Polish immigrant populations in the country, largely residing in Chicago.
Illinois’s partnership with Poland began in 1994, just as the program took off. It typically involves visits between Polish officials to the United States and Illinois Guardsmen to Poland for training in a variety of capacities. This in turn has led to Polish forces participating in a range of peacekeeping operations from Bosnia to Kosovo, in addition to serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re actually starting our seventh rotation with the Polish military effort,” Enyart said. “The team that we had with them in Iraq actually rolled right out of Iraq [with them] into Afghanistan.”
Poland sent combat troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003 and currently has some 1,600 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission.
But the military aspect is just one component of the partnership. Enyart noted several military-to-civilian exchanges over the past several months that included taking Illinois State Police representatives to Poland to help them establish and improve emergency management structures within the country, including domestic terror preparedness and a response exercise.
Enyart says the program significantly bolsters Poland’s diplomatic relationship with the United States. “I’ve met with the American ambassador, [Victor] Ashe, every time I’ve been in Poland virtually, and he’s very supportive of the State Partnership Program. And I think the Polish government recognizes the benefits of the program to Poland.”
The process by which a country joins the program is quite specific. The request initially must come from the country — generally the defense minister or someone of similar capacity in countries with limited defense forces, Rodriquez explained.
It’s then up to the U.S. ambassador to move the process forward. Rodriguez said the ambassador must believe it’s a “good idea” and in the best interest of both countries, which is not always the case.
“There’s been occasions when a country has requested it, and the country [diplomatic] team doesn’t feel like they’re really ready for that,” Rodriguez said. “But if they agree, then they forward that to the geographic combatant commander who will also take a look at it and see if it’s within their strategy.”
If the partnership is approved, an appropriate state is nominated to partner with that country, and in some cases a country may have to officially ratify the partnership.
Although in existence for more than 15 years, the program did not actually receive specific funding in the Defense Department budget until the 2008 fiscal year. Before that, combatant commanders would fund the program through individual command accounts, though nothing was official at the Defense level.
But diplomacy has become a new catchword in the U.S. Defense vernacular, with soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan taking on tasks such as building civilian police forces, for instance, while the U.S. Africa Command tries to boost political stability and economic opportunities on the continent. And although there have been some efforts to transfer traditional diplomatic duties back to the State Department (also see “Defense, Development and Diplomacy: Experts Want a Return to the Last Two” in the February 2009 issue of The Washington Diplomat), diplomacy is sure to remain an important tool in the Defense arsenal.
The money trail reflects that. The State Partnership Program’s budget jumped from million in fiscal year 2008 to million in 2009. That is slated to increase again to about million in 2010 and then up to about million in subsequent years.
Though initially aimed at Soviet bloc countries, the program’s next biggest potential growth areas appear to be the Africa and Pacific Commands, according to Rodriguez.
A recent addition is Thailand’s partnership with the state of Washington, formed in 2002. Rodriguez described the link — which includes cultural and economic ties — as a natural fit. According to the National Guard, Washington is the third leading exporter to Thailand behind Texas and California. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Asians reside in the state.
Rodriguez said that security concerns made Washington a good fit as well, given that many exports from the regional port of Laem Chebang in Thailand end up in Tacoma or Seattle. “There was a logical connection there, because that falls under the umbrella of homeland security,” she said, noting that the next partnership to come online will likely be Cambodia and Idaho.
Africa has also become fertile ground for U.S. outreach, especially in light of the growing awareness of failed states and the global security threats they can pose. “The interesting thing is that we had to scrounge around a lot to get the events going, because at the time Pacific Command didn’t see that as something within their strategy,” Rodriguez said.
But that approach is clearly changing, as the United States seeks to shore up stability on the continent through economic growth and political development (also see “Newfound U.S. Military Presence In Africa Raises Suspicion on Both Sides” in the June 2008 issue of The Washington Diplomat).
For example, Rodriguez pointed out that South Dakota’s partnership with Suriname is more focused on civilian aspects because the country has a very small army. Focal points include promoting eco-tourism, Boy Scouts, Rotary International, as well as university projects and mining activities.
“We literally design our program,” she said, “focused on that particular country, what U.S. objectives are for that country, how it fits into the overall strategy for the region and then again leveraging … funding to do the things we know we bring that add value that other people aren’t doing.”
SIDEBAR: Stately Combinations
The following lists the 60 partnerships formed between U.S. states and foreign countries as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program:
Alaska-Mongolia Alabama-Romania Arkansas-Guatemala Arizona-Kazakhstan California-Ukraine and Nigeria Colorado-Jordan and Slovenia Connecticut-Uruguay District of Columbia-Jamaica Delaware-Trinidad and Tobago Florida-Guyana and Venezuela Georgia-Georgia Hawaii and Guam- Philippines Hawaii- Indonesia Illinois-Poland Indiana-Slovakia Kansas-Armenia Kentucky-Ecuador Louisiana-Uzbekistan and Belize Massachusetts-Paraguay Maryland-Bosnia and Estonia Maine-Montenegro Michigan-Latvia Minnesota-Croatia Missouri-Panama Mississippi-Bolivia Montana-Kyrgyzstan North Carolina-Moldova and Botswana North Dakota-Ghana Nebraska-Czech Republic New Hampshire-El Salvador New Jersey-Albania New Mexico-Costa Rica Nevada-Turkmenistan New York-South Africa Ohio-Serbia and Hungary Oregon-Bangladesh Oklahoma-Azerbaijan Pennsylvania-Lithuania Puerto Rico-Honduras and Dominican Republic Rhode Island-Bahamas South Dakota-Suriname Tennessee-Bulgaria Texas-Czech Republic and Chile Utah-Morocco Virginia-Tajikistan Vermont-Macedonia and Senegal Washington-Thailand Wisconsin-Nicaragua West Virginia-Peru Wyoming-Tunisia
About the Author
Christopher Prawdzik is a freelance writer in Falls Church, Va.