August 10, 2020 | Breaking Defense

Modernize The National Guard’s State Partnership Program

Low-key deployments by citizen-soldiers have strengthened ties with 89 nations – but some crucial partners are missing.
August 10, 2020 | Breaking Defense

Modernize The National Guard’s State Partnership Program

Low-key deployments by citizen-soldiers have strengthened ties with 89 nations – but some crucial partners are missing.

The United States has a low-key, low-cost tool to build relationships with friendly militaries around the world. But after 27 years of success, the State Partnership Program – originally created for post-Cold War Europe – needs a review to ensure it is optimized for Washington’s current national security needs.

Why does SPP matter? With threats growing and budgets under pressure from COVID-19, the Pentagon needs a cost-efficient way to build stronger relationships and military capacity with partner nations in each combatant command. Ideally, this approach would not place additional burdens on the active duty U.S. military and would operate largely below the radar of America’s adversaries and competitors.

That is where the SPP excels. But the program is overdue for a strategic assessment to ensure it is appropriately resourced and properly focused on the objectives of the National Defense Strategy, which refocuses the US military from counterinsurgency to strategic competition against Russia and China.

The program was created in a very different era, when the U.S. had a very different relationship with both Russia and China. The Pentagon established the SPP in 1993 to create constructive relationships between state National Guards and the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union. For example, the Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania National Guards established programs with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, respectively.

This enabled National Guard citizen-soldiers and airmen to build the military capacity of partner countries. This use of reserve-component personnel was less prone to catch Moscow’s attention or incite an unwelcome over-reaction from the Kremlin.

Nations participating in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). (82 nations are listed; seven other nations that participate in multi-nation partnerships are not shown).

Meanwhile, the program incrementally built partner capacity and interoperability, while productive long-term relationships took root. Junior enlisted personnel and young officers who first met their European counterparts in the 1990s are now sergeant majors and colonels. Two and a half decades of trust have been built with frontline allies. That is as important as it is difficult to measure.

In recent years, the Michigan National Guard has been helping to train Latvian joint terminal attack controllers—directly improving Latvian close air support capabilities. The commander of U.S. European Command, General Tod Wolters, praised the work of the Michigan National Guard in improving its partners’ “air-land integration” and noted that Guard members help arriving NATO military training teams “reintegrate at a much faster pace.”

Based on the initial success of SPP in Europe in the 1990s, the Pentagon expanded the program in the intervening years to the Middle East, Central and South America, and the Indo-Pacific.

Now, there are programs with 89 nations around the globe.

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Issues:

Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy