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Future vision: Panel discusses way ahead for DOD National Guard State Partnership Program

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sarah McClanahan
  • Air National Guard

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. --- As the Department of Defense and National Guard State Partnership Program celebrated its 30th anniversary, U.S. and international senior leaders and officials from 93 of the SPP’s 100 partner nations attended a panel discussion highlighting aspirational goals for the program and a vision for the way ahead.

Panel members discussed how the SPP could expand its support of U.S. security cooperation objectives of the Geographic Combatant Commands through further implementation of the 2022 National Defense Strategy’s priorities, innovatively building partner capacity and interoperability, professionalizing the security coalition workforce, and increasing the readiness of U.S. and partner forces to meet emerging challenges.

“If you want to move fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Zana, director of strategy, plans and policy at the National Guard Bureau, during his opening remarks as panel moderator.

Zana’s use of the African proverb emphasized how continuing to strengthen and develop enduring partnerships through the SPP reinforces its pivotal role in the NDS in an increasingly complex strategic environment.

“Developments in cyber and space certainly add complexity to what was already a complex landscape,” said U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Stephen “Web” Koehler, director of strategy, plans and policy with the Pentagon Joint Staff. “In the face of this complexity, these challenges that the U.S. National Defense Strategy highlights are [met] by what we call integrated deterrence, or simply working together with partners across all warfighting domains, across all theaters and spectrums of conflict, to deter our adversaries.”

The NDS is a call to action to break down barriers to innovatively working with allies and partners toward accomplishing security cooperation objectives, explained Madeline Mortelmans, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities.“Looking to the future, SPP can help us break down those barriers and move into new areas, evolving and growing, and meaningfully expanding our partnerships,” said Mortelmans. “This isn't just about creating new partnerships, it's about thinking about new ways to work together to enhance our shared security.”

Mortelmans discussed numerous growth opportunities for the SPP, including space and cyber, climate change and global health concerns, human rights protections, and leveraging the unique nature of the National Guard to reduce the potential for conflict and strengthen whole-of-nation resilience amidst growing threats targeting domestic critical infrastructure and populations.

Growing "stronger together" was a unified emphasis of the panel, supporting the program's continued evolution from traditional military-to-military bilateral engagements to broader whole-of-government and whole-of-nation multilateral activities.

“We need to look more toward multilateral engagements, in addition to bilateral engagements, and that will help us expand partnerships to whole-of-nation partnerships, which will be hugely beneficial in the future,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard.

Greater synchronization of SPP events and processes across the combatant commands will contribute to more productive engagements and a more predictable funding model, explained Knapp.

“The more that we can keep the process and procedure consistent across all of our partnerships, the better we'll be able to tell our story when we're asking for money or going to Congress for new programs or funding,” said Knapp.

With 88 enduring, cost-effective partnerships accounting for more than 50% of the world’s countries, Knapp emphasized the importance of acquiring additional force structure to effectively manage and support those partnerships.

“We want to keep the quality high of engagements and I think through the ability to staff and fund those is key,” said Knapp, who discussed professionalizing the bilateral affairs officer career path and introducing a bilateral affairs non-commissioned officer position.

Another key discussion topic focused on the professionalization of the security cooperation workforce and training standardization to ensure there is a full complement of personnel to support the combatant commands among embassy staff and directly with SPP partners.

“When we think about security cooperation, we need to make sure we're getting the right people in the right places with the right training and education,” said Dr. Celeste Gventer, president, Defense Security Cooperation University. “This professionalization process is critically important to our success going forward. We need to invest in our people, we need to be able to find the best talent, and we need to be able to cultivate them, provide career paths to them, and make security cooperation a real profession and a real career … and be able to work closely with our partners, and understand them, understand their challenges, and be able to provide them with real solutions.”

By working in close collaboration, SPP partners gain a mutual understanding of each other’s unique values and challenges, enabling them to provide real solutions, explained Gventer.

“[As Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said] ‘we will never fight alone,’’ said Gen. Daniel Petrescu, chief of defense, Republic of Romania. “We have a community of values that support our goals and support our fight for a rule-based international order. So the end state should be, I believe, a stable international system and we all should contribute to the stable international system. This involves a coordinated effort of all like-minded countries, and I think being here today, we are like-minded countries and share the same values.”

The partnerships forged through the SPP build capability, shared understanding, and readiness for U.S. and partner forces, and the most important and irreplaceable aspect is that they build trust, said Zana.

“You cannot surge trust in crisis,” said Koehler. “When the crisis comes [and] the trust is already built, you will succeed. So this is one way SPP can continue to help us all by providing all these regional partnerships and the ability to combat all of these very difficult, worldwide problem sets together.”