The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ (PM) Office of Global Programs (GPI) and Initiatives manages key programs to improve security sector governance and institutional capacity internationally. One of these programs is the Global Defense Reform Program (GDRP), which aim to build the resilience of U.S. partners and their security institutions, enhance effectiveness and accountability, and better align the security sector to the needs and challenges of the partner nation and its citizens. One of our major priorities in Europe is expanding partnerships in southeastern Europe, as our partners there continue their respective development paths and make necessary political and economic reforms started post-independence. Here’s how our security sector governance programs have worked to strengthen partners and allies in the Balkans.
The GDRP Kosovo project was conceived in 2019 by the U.S. Embassy in Pristina in partnership with Kosovo Ministry of Defense (MOD) officials. Its objective was to streamline communication between the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and the Kosovo Parliament as part of a larger effort to improve civilian oversight of the military. To that end, PM embedded Katherine Barton, an experienced legislative affairs strategic advisor, with the Kosovo MOD to help recruit, hire, and train a team of legislative affairs professionals and accomplish the project’s objective. “By building this dedicated legislative liaison capacity,” Barton said, “the MOD and KSF continue their commitment to proactive communication and responsiveness to oversight responsibilities of the Kosovo Parliament.”
This additional official communication channel helped expedite the approval of the KSF participation in Operation Inherent Resolve in early 2021. As this was the first deployment for the KSF to an international security mission, the Legislative Liaison was able to communicate essential information for lawmakers to drive a unanimous approval for KSF’s deployment. This project has helped Embassy Pristina to advance its strategic objectives of promoting greater transparency and rule of law.
To further build the MOD’s legislative affairs capacity, the GDRP Advisor organized and led a June 2021 capacity-building engagement in Washington, D.C. for the Kosovo MOD Legislative Liaison Office. The MOD delegation witnessed first-hand the legislative interaction between the Departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Congress and took home an enhanced understanding of best practices for effective communication and the roles and responsibilities of legislative affairs staff. As a result of the visit, the MOD will be updating their legislative communication policies and practices and the growth of this new Legislative Liaison Office will serve as an example for other Government of Kosovo offices seeking to enhance communications with selected officials.
In neighboring North Macedonia, GDRP strategic advisory assistance supports the country’s investment in defense transformation and shaping of the MOD’s strategy and planning processes of aligning with NATO standards in the wake of its accession in March 2020. GDRP Advisor Larry Swift has proven to be a trusted advisor for MOD leadership, helping to launch a robust, analysis-based planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process.
Since deploying to Skopje in November 2020, Advisor Swift has helped generate consensus around defense-reform goals and harmonize efforts among various U.S. government (USG) and international capacity-building stakeholders. He has met with Cabinet members to share ideas on improving coordination with international partners in support of MOD strategic priorities. This has delivered results beyond GDRP to complementary advisory efforts in-country—particularly the ongoing security governance activities of the United Kingdom. The North Macedonian Minister of Defense values Advisor Swift’s experience, and this collaboration has contributed to the country’s defense modernization through improvements in strategic planning and programming. A recent high-level visit by the Commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa to North Macedonia highlighted the “outsized impact” of this project, pointing to what GDRP brings to capacity-building efforts and the MOD’s willingness to reform.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a two-person team is assisting the BiH Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the armed forces with contingency planning for a series of mandatory retirements beginning in 2022. By working closely with all levels of the defense sector and employing effective change-management principles, the GDRP advisors have successfully advocated for regulatory reforms and new practices for procurement, ethics, and recruitment and retention. Most recently, the advisors’ work in procurement planning and execution for the MOD led to completion of the defense budget several months earlier than in previous years. This achievement enhances the pace of logistical preparations and readiness of the Armed Forces. As one of the USG security assistance providers, this GDRP effort strengthens bilateral relations with BiH while supporting the government’s capacity to accurately balance its resources and personnel levels. This will better enable BiH to respond to security threats and plan for eventual NATO accession.
In Albania, the GDRP Advisor, Tony Medina, has advanced a strategic-level framework for managing human resources and the career trajectory of Albanian Armed Forces (AAF) personnel. This advances Albania’s interoperability requirements for NATO as related to its military force structure. Additionally, Medina’s work in Albania helps to reaffirm the U.S. support of NATO allies. As a result of this engagement, the Chief of the General Staff and AAF has approved a new policy for advancement, and nine other policies are currently under review by a special commission. The advisor’s placement provides an opening to convene working groups at the ministerial level to introduce innovative approaches to AAF personnel management with senior-leader visibility. In a recent briefing to Albania’s Parliament, the MOD highlighted the support of the GDRP Advisor in improving the military’s human resource management practices. This achievement helps to build a foundation for future reforms in the security sector.
Since its inception in 2018, the GDRP’s consultative and partnership-based approach to institution capacity-building is beginning to pay dividends. PM’s advocacy of good practice in security sector governance advances U.S. national security and shared interests, and promotes the alliances and partnerships needed to succeed in today’s competitive geopolitical environment.
About the Author: Benjamin Fisher serves as a Portfolio Manager in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Global Programs and Initiatives at the U.S. Department of State. If you have any questions about GDRP or would like to learn more about security governance programming, you may reach out to the PM/GPI Security Forces Capacity Building team, at PM-GPI-SFCB@state.gov for additional information. Follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.