Hello to colleagues and friends participating in the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium.
Although part of my career was in the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, I want to convey to you the perspectives gained in my current capacity as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs as well as previous diplomatic service. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy do not just intersect with the SO/LIC mission set at discrete moments in time – when an Ambassador is sought out for operational concurrence, or when an Embassy is in extremis. Quite the contrary. Particularly in these times of Great Power Competition and COVID impacts on foreign partners’ defense posture and readiness, diplomacy and foreign policy must drive further interagency understanding and integration across defense and diplomacy for all our missions to succeed.
My bureau, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, is a global enterprise that provides much of the funding underpinning our training and capacity-building efforts across the world, from Peacekeeping Operations (PKO)-funded programs like the Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Partnership, and the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Program, to Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs supporting a wide array of partners ranging from the Baltics to the Pacific Islands, including dedicated funding to counter Russian and Chinese malign influence; our global International Military Education and Training (IMET) partnerships, as well as worldwide conventional weapons destruction. We also oversee the arms transfer process through Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales enabling partners to build their materiel capabilities to address immediate and long-term needs.
Beyond that, the Office of Security Negotiations and Agreements is responsible for negotiating the Status of Forces and Defense Cooperation Agreements that provide the legal undergirding for U.S. forces deployed in foreign nations. Our Defense Strategy and Plans team coordinates with DOD on everything from Sensitive Military Exercises to DOD Plans Development. The work our bureau does to integrate the strategic ends of diplomacy into military plans ensures our agencies have a shared understanding of political, diplomatic, and military objectives from the outset to better control the intensity and tempo of military operations. And when military operations conclude, our office of Weapons Removal and Abatement works to ensure the terrain is safe enough for return to civilian activities, and stocks of small arms and light weapons are secured or destroyed.
Yet we are not the only Bureau at State engaged in security cooperation.
The Diplomatic Security Service for instance, is a law enforcement and security arm of the Department of State. Diplomatic Security provides a safe and secure environment and allows us to conduct diplomacy and visa and passport fraud investigations around the world. Diplomatic
Security mitigates terrorist threats to U.S. personnel and facilities, launches international investigations, and generates innovations in cybersecurity and physical security engineering.
Diplomatic Security also implements the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program in partnership with our Counterterrorism bureau, and is the primary provider of U.S. government antiterrorism training and equipment to law enforcement agencies of partner nations throughout the world. ATA provides training in eleven disciplines, including those of relevance to low-level conflicts, such as Special Weapons and Tactics, protection of critical infrastructure, and cybersecurity.
The Bureau of Counterterrorism is focused on a host of issues at the intersections of the National Counterterrorism and Defense Strategies, including terrorist designations, information sharing with foreign partners, and coordination with DOD on CT and Special Operations.
So with all these tools, how might we and the SO/LIC community look at Great Power Competition and other conditions stress testing the capabilities and readiness our foreign security partners?
America’s adversaries are not going to stand idly by and let us expand and deepen our global network of security partners. In particular, the PRC and Russia have increasingly turned to arms sales and diplomacy as a strategy to exert influence abroad and erode U.S. security partnerships. Where American systems appear too costly or slow to deliver, the PRC and Russia offer deceptively aggressive pricing and accessibility. Their cut-rate prices often mask predatory financing mechanisms, corrupt and coercive political demands, and the long-term costs of maintaining undependable systems. And their ability to deliver systems quickly often depends on providing “off-the-shelf” solutions, which may not even fulfill partners’ basic requirements. Nonetheless, the offer of speedy delivery and cost-savings holds a powerful allure for many security partners.
Russia and the PRC also like to tout their purported respect for partners’ sovereignty and policies of noninterference in other nations’ internal affairs, drawing a contrast to the United States perennial concerns over the responsible end-use of U.S.-origin military equipment and partners’ respect for human rights. Where the United States offers consistent engagement and a long-term commitment, our adversaries offer only a transactional and coercive approach to security cooperation that seeks to take advantage of potential partners in need.
In response, we are working to promote America as the security partner of choice, centered on four pillars: diplomacy, arms transfers, security assistance, and support to defense industry. One of our foremost imperatives is to modernize and strengthen our alliances in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. In addition to the security agreement negotiations I just mentioned, PM leads political-military dialogues with key partners. In these dialogues, we encourage more equitable burden-sharing, strengthen the effectiveness of our investments, and identify precisely how we can best help increase partners’ resilience and capacity to resist the malign activities of the PRC and Russia. We encourage our embassies to conduct defense trade advocacy, both generally and for specific cases identified through the Defense Advocacy Working Group, whose mission is to enhance interagency support for defense exports and help advance the U.S. defense industry.
Lastly, we continue to strive for efficiencies and simpler processes to give our defense industrial base every possible competitive advantage. We are working to streamline defense trade controls, for example, through improvements to the International Traffic in Arms Regulation and the U.S. Munitions List. We are also providing relief for the defense industrial base in the face of the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. We’ve responded with a number of temporary changes to the ITAR and additional measures to enhance remote work, such as holding the Defense Trade Advisory Group meeting virtually with industry representatives. As a result, both the U.S. Government and American industry continue to honor our commitments to our security partners, whose security requirements and programmatic needs remain despite the pandemic.
Combining the tools I listed earlier with the low cost and low visibility capabilities Special Operations Forces bring and the innovations of the defense industrial base, and new paradigms to our foreign policy, and strategy to our defense operations. It is a partnership no competitor has mastered like the United States has, and it is built on a set of capabilities that no adversary can match. COVID impacts on our partners’ economies and defense budgets are still being fully realized and assessed. Still, we already know the pandemic requires us to be alert to new risks and deft to developing new opportunities. Where there may be adjusted posture for some conventional engagements, Special Operations opportunities may provide attainable cost-effective options for the partner.
Thank you for your partnership and interagency coordination to protect America’s interests. I look forward to continuing to work with you across our evolving lines of effort in the national security enterprise, from countering terrorism to winning the great power competition.