Those who haven’t spent much time in government, or who have perhaps been too long out of it, may sometimes tend to assume that policymaking consists principally of making policy decisions and then announcing them – assuming, in effect, that declaring something so makes it thus. Those with more experience, however, understand the importance of also translating shifts of policy into organizational behavior, into institutional cultures and mores, into budgets, and into concrete capacities and the practices and habits of their use.
If all that’s really desired is the shallow virtue-signaling of having associated oneself with a position, of course, brash policy pronouncements may be good enough on their own. If you want to make a lasting difference, however, you need to pay attention to a lot more. Even the arch-realist Niccolò Machiavelli, after all, reserved his greatest respect for the founders of religions – that is, those who did not compel behavior in others for the mere duration of some specific coercive influence, as much as they instead won others over to new behaviors, and gave such changes their own momentum by persuading people that those new patterns were indeed the right ones.
It is thus very telling whether one can point to a purported policy shift as actually having led to significant “facts on the ground” behavioral change in the lived reality of how governance is carried out. If things really are changing in the complexities of state practice, then the shift is much less likely simply to be bluster, and much more likely to have an enduring character. Such practical changes tend to be signals of stakeholder buy-in and of intellectual investment in the foundational premises upon which the new approach is based.
That’s why, for instance, I’m pretty optimistic about the likely continuation of much of the U.S. Government’s current approach to mobilizing whole-of-government solutions to the emergent challenges of great power competition – or “GPC” as one hears it termed in Pentagon circles (where resistance to acronyms is futile) – that face our country today. Far from being merely a superficial adjustment, it is clear to me that things really are shifting. To be sure, the current U.S. administration initiated this new shift by explicitly recognizing GPC challenges, making them the centerpiece of our National Security Strategy, and providing fresh intellectual leadership in this area after a generation of U.S. leaders who had tried to pretend that such competitive dynamics had forever disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed, I’m honored at the chance I have had to contribute to this. Nevertheless, I believe these moves are in fact part of a much broader shift that has been a long time coming, and that is very likely to continue for many years to come – irrespective of which political party controls the Executive Branch – as part of the “new normal” into which Russian and Chinese geopolitical revisionism has unfortunately thrust us.
And this is the prism through which I’d like to say a few words about the evolution of our programming work in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) at the State Department.
Since early 2018, the ISN Bureau has been reorienting itself in order better to support U.S. competitive strategy in today’s global struggles. ISN has spent many years becoming the government’s “center of excellence” in implementing nonproliferation sanctions, developing improved technology transfer and national security export controls, and undertaking worldwide capacity-building programming to help U.S. partners develop and implement “best practices” in export control, border security, and threat reduction to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and advanced conventional arms. But it’s also the case that such skills and tools can help support U.S. national security interests in the arena of great power competition, too – and that’s the new practice area we have been working to build out into a major area of Bureau focus.
Some of this simply has to do with how we have organized ourselves, such as by establishing a new Office of Competitive Strategies to help coordinate our efforts across ISN issue areas, beefing up strategic planning in the front office, and institutionalizing a “negotiated threat elimination” capacity to which U.S. leaders can turn to plan and implement the dismantlement of adversary threat systems in places such as North Korea and Iran if the diplomatic circumstances allow. But much of this shift also relates to our capacity-building work.
ISN currently has a programming budget of about $265 million per year, which we spend in a variety of ways in efforts to help international partners become better partners in collaborative work to support shared security interests. This programming work – especially when it is accompanied by close coordination and deep mutual situational awareness between our “policy” and “programming” offices – is critical to our success, for it represents one of the ways in which U.S. policies translate into constructive changes in lived international reality, as we develop and promote growing global communities of “best practice” standards in how countries protect themselves against various types of threat.
To make our programming more effective, the ISN Bureau has over the last three years taken important steps to reorganize and reform its nonproliferation programming through an extensive, “bottom-up” review – aiming to make that programming more threat-prioritized and threat-responsive, to improve performance metrics and develop “graduation” criteria for partners who have been successfully brought up to international “best practice” standards, and to deepen coordination and find more synergies between programming and policy components. Rather than engaging with partners simply for its own sake, we are thus optimizing programming in order to be able to reassure the American taxpayer that every dollar spent is optimally aligned against clear and prioritized national security threats.
As to which threats we address, moreover, we have also been working to direct our capacity-building work increasingly to tasks which also support U.S. competitiveness against great power challengers. This has meant, for instance, using our skills in interdiction, nonproliferation sanctions enforcement, and export controls to lead the charge in restricting transfers of sensitive technology to the PRC that would otherwise feed its “Military-Civil Fusion” strategy of acquiring technology abroad and diverting it to the People’s Liberation Army in support of the Chinese Communist Party’s dangerous global ambitions.
We have also used sanctions to deter other countries’ entanglement with Russian arms merchants, thereby shutting down many billions of dollars in contracts through which the Kremlin would otherwise have enriched itself and built relationships with arms clients that it could later manipulate to strategic advantage. Additional, we have strengthened relationships between partner states and the U.S. energy sector, particularly in the realm of nuclear energy, in ways that boost U.S. competitiveness and impede the colonization and exploitation of foreign energy markets by the predatory state-subsidized and state-directed Chinese and Russian nuclear industries. And we have strengthened worldwide enforcement by many countries of international and other pressures designed to rein in the proliferation threats presented by the dangerous regional revisionist regimes in North Korea and Iran.
These efforts in ISN dovetail nicely with important work being done by other components of the so-called “T” family of bureaus here at the State Department – that is, not just ISN but also the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM), the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC), and the Office of the Cyber Coordinator (CCI) – all of which I have overseen for the last year in performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
Acutely aware of the Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean state actors that lie behind the gravest cyber threats facing the United States today, for instance, CCI has been leveraging Economic Support Fund (ESF) money in cyberspace-focused capacity-building work with a range of foreign partners – including not just nation-states but also regional organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). These programs focus upon building partner nations’ capacities to implement the framework for responsible state behavior in cyberspace and to participate in the U.S.-led Cyber Deterrence Initiative (CDI), as well as upon strengthening national approaches to cybersecurity through globally recognized best practices.
CRDF Global has been a valued partner in our international cyber capacity building efforts. With State Department resources, CRDF has promoted cybersecurity education, organized “hackathons” for students and critical infrastructure IT staff in Ukraine, and has administered a small grants program to upgrade cyber defenses at Ukrainian government institutions.
Through cyber capacity building work, among other things, we have helped various countries’ national Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) gain membership in the Forum for Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST), the premier global organization for cyber incident responders. Our diligent work to build a global community of cyberspace security “like-mindedness” and improved technical competence is also being rewarded by increasingly strong collective responses to Russian and other cyber provocations, including multilateral cooperation in making pathbreaking joint attribution declarations in response to cyber incidents.
Similarly, the PM Bureau has been extremely active, not merely in strengthening the security of U.S. allies and partners through arms transfers – to the tune of more than $272 billion since the beginning of 2017 – but also in a range of capacity-building programs and security assistance. Direct U.S. security sector assistance for our friends and partners has also expanded considerably, nearly tripling since 2001 to a current annual total of about $18 billion to help build the capacity of foreign security forces in support of their own national defense, and ongoing counterterrorism and military coalition operations. The PM Bureau directly manages more than $6.5 billion of the $9 billion in Security Sector Assistance (SSA) that the State Department receives. PM is also the lead for ensuring that the nearly $9 billion in SSA that the Defense Department receives is managed in ways complementary to State funding and that support U.S. foreign policy.
For example, in support of the Security Pillar of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the Department reprogrammed $290 million to support partners’ maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and peacekeeping capabilities. State also led the reinstatement of Thailand’s security assistance programs following the Secretary’s FY 2019 certification that Thailand had returned to democratic governance after a seven-year security assistance restriction following the coup. We intend to increase investments in this renewed partnership. In support of the increasing policy focus on the Pacific Islands, moreover, the Department is providing U.S. Coast Guard maritime security-focused technical training to maritime police units responsible for national territorial defense in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu, and has expanded regional funds to emerging partners, such as Timor-Leste. Enhancing the governance of security sector institutions is also an important feature of these efforts.
In Europe, as a unique counterweight against Russian aggression, the State and Defense Departments have been helping partners divest themselves of Russian legacy equipment and improve U.S. and NATO interoperability, contingent upon partner national fund contributions. To date, the Department has allocated more than $276 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to eight countries, with a return on investment of nearly $2 billion in national funds contributions. The Department has also invested more than $100 million for cyber programming to help our European partners operate in this critical space.
On top of all this, PM also manages the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, through which we build relationships, work to inculcate high standards of military ethics and professional competence, and contribute to the human aspects of interoperability between the U.S. armed forces and those of our partner nations around the world.
Capacity-building efforts help build global communities of collaborative work against international security threats. Such programming is important in helping overcome what I’ve called the “Three Cant’s” – that is, situations in which partners fall short because, for one reason or another, they simply cannot meet the standard. A country, for example, may not be aware of particular threats, or know the risks they present, and therefore to some extent “Can’t” mitigate them. (That’s the “First Can’t.”) A second “Can’t” relates to possible failures of education or capacity, such as where – despite good intentions – a government may not know how to bring itself up to appropriately high standards, or where it lacks the resources or other capabilities necessary to do so. The third “Can’t” relates to governmental “bandwidth” and the challenges of prioritization in a world full of pressing challenges – such as where a government may be unable to address a given threat properly because the relevant leaders or personnel are preoccupied with meeting some other pressing issue.
Capacity-building work can help overcome all these obstacles. It can sometimes even help with the “Won’ts” – which is to say, cases in which another country doesn’t initially want to take effective and responsible steps against the problem. Capacity-building programming brings relevant stakeholders in one country together with their counterparts in other countries, in the context of exploring ways to meet shared threats and challenges. Its immediate objective tends to be the conveyance of practical and technical knowledge and capacity, but good programming also frequently – and quite intentionally – has the valuable side effect of transmitting institutional culture and values. It is not for nothing that we speak of cultivating communities of international security “best practices” as we work with our partners around the world.
Capacity-building programming is not always the “sexiest” aspect of international security policy, but it’s extremely important – and it is part of how policy translates into real-world outcomes. I think it was U.S. Marine Corps General Robert Barrow who once made the point that whereas amateurs talk about strategy and tactics, professionals talk about logistics and sustainability. In some of the areas in which I work, I think collaborative capacity-building is a bit like that: not necessarily glamorous, but absolutely indispensable.
In recent successful efforts to facilitate and strengthen the “coalitions of caution” we have with like-minded allies in facing great-power challenges, we can indeed observe with some satisfaction that policy is blossoming into security-enhancing actions around the world to mitigate contemporary threats. I hope that with these remarks I’ve managed to convey at least a bit of this importance.