POLAD Orientation Program

Andrew J. Shapiro
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
George C. Marshall Conference Center
Washington, DC
September 12, 2011

It is my great pleasure to be here today. The POLAD program is immensely important and I want to thank you all for your service to our country, and to also for volunteering for a position that may take you out of your comfort zone. You will soon be the face of the Department of State to military commands around the world. Some of those commands have experience already working with POLADs, while for others, they will be as new and unfamiliar to you as you are to them.

Your presence here today is no accident. Like your military counterparts, you are all volunteers, and you endured an exhaustive screening process – first, just to be a Foreign Service officer, and again for selection to POLAD duty. Not just anyone can do what you have been selected to do. You have amassed expertise and insights that will be of critical value during your tours. You will have to demonstrate that expertise daily so that you become invaluable to your commands. The military can at times be a “tough audience,” but I can assure you that your commands want nothing more than to see you succeed.

This is because the nature of the complex global challenges we face require a tightly integrated approach. Traditionally, diplomatic and military roles were seen as distinct spheres, with a sequential order to diplomacy and defense. The idea was that the military would only come into play if diplomacy broke down. If military force was needed, diplomats would step back, and once the military battle was won, the troops would go home and the diplomats would come back in and resume working the politics. This is how it was supposed to work – with the diplomat and the soldier each having reasonably well-defined roles and missions that have little overlap.

And yet, for the last few decades this sequencing has become increasingly scrambled. As the Admiral Mullen noted last year, “defense and diplomacy are no longer discreet choices one to be applied when the other one fails, but must, in fact, complement one another throughout the messy process of international relations.” The challenges we face today increasingly blur bureaucratic lines – whether that’s fighting a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, responding to the massive change in the Middle East, combating piracy off the coast of Somalia, or responding to the earthquake in Haiti. Each of these challenges require an integrated response on behalf of the U.S. government.

This is why Secretary Clinton has made improving and transforming the State-DoD relationship a top priority. In years past, relations between the two were sometimes characterized by suspicion and distrust. Today, under the Secretary’s leadership, relations between State and DoD have been transformed and are the best they have ever been. POLADs have been right at the heart of this transformation and are helping to make inter-agency collaboration routine.

We are in a new era for Foreign Policy Advisors. It was just a few short years ago that POLADS were found only with the four-star service chiefs and with the combatant commanders. The ranks have dramatically expanded and now there are about one hundred POLADs – more than double the amount there were just five years ago.

The worldwide distribution of POLADs is testament to your increasing utility to our military leaders. Military commanders will want your input on a whole host of issues and the advice you provide may impact a decision that has far-reaching consequences for our nation’s security. By virtue of your unique talents, training, and abilities, you provide insights that might otherwise be missed in the course of military planning and execution. There is now a broad recognition that the work you do as a POLAD is more important than ever.

One of your central roles is also to ensure that the U.S. Government speaks with one voice. You are there to ensure that DoD policies and military activities are in sync with U.S. foreign policy. As the entry point for State-DoD coordination, I urge you to stay engaged and convey the views of the Department which you represent.

This objective is also shared by the Pol-Mil Bureau and was the impetus for PM’s creation. In the 1960s, State noticed that as our global defense posture was expanding, DoD was finding itself in new and more remote parts of the world. And the State Department felt that civilian oversight of DoD policy was eroding. In response, State decided that it not only needed a bureau to focus on security from a global perspective but it also needed one that could serve as a dedicated link with DoD. Working to link our diplomatic efforts with our global military efforts is not an easy task, but it is one that had to be done. And it is one that you will take on every day.

As a POLAD, you are now part of an emerging cadre within the Department of State of political-military experts that can easily interact with other national security agencies. The most senior levels of the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government take a keen interest in you and what you do. And I urge you to take advantage of every opportunity to improve your skills and broaden your areas of expertise. We also expect to hear from you about to learn how we can improve the program. Tell us what works, what doesn’t and tell us how to make interagency coordination better.

These are exciting and dynamic times to be embarking upon duty as a POLAD. I know that you are up to the challenge, and I especially look forward to hearing from you as your tours progress. I thank you for your service to our country, and I especially thank you for the service you are about to perform.