Panel Remarks at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis-USSOCOM Conference
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
As the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Regional Security and Arms Transfers, I’m charged with establishing policy, on behalf of the Secretary of State, with respect to the transfer or sale of U.S.-origin defense articles, services, and/or training to foreign governments. To achieve the core objective of that mission – to advance our national security, promote burden-sharing, build interoperability, establish new relationships, and balance regional security – we are required to consider rapidly evolving security dynamics with our partners in DoD. My bureau at State Department, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, or PM, is also charged with integrating diplomacy with defense. In other words, we are State’s principal link to the Department of Defense. So, it’s a great pleasure for me to be able to represent PM here to discuss such a relevant and important topic.
I’d like to focus my remarks this afternoon on three areas:
- First, I’ll lay out why I think U.S. Special Operations forces are uniquely positioned to contribute to today’s changing security landscape.
- Second, I’ll highlight the importance of an integrated approach to building the capacity of foreign partners, which spans the need for the interagency to coordinate on everything from establishing strategic goals to effectively utilizing legal authorities.
- Finally, I’ll discuss some of the challenges I see in that endeavor, and some thoughts on the way forward.
The Unique Capability of Special Operations:
Let me first discuss our Special Operations Forces.
Today, we find ourselves at a new cross-road. As we’ve concluded our military mission in Iraq, we continue to ramp down in Afghanistan, and we encounter fiscal constraints, we will be required to do more with less.
At the same time, we face a threat that is metastasizing. To paraphrase Admiral McRaven, nefarious actors are expanding and diversifying their networks. With this change comes the evolution of threats from a local phenomenon to a regional and, in some cases, global one.
The globalization of the problem makes it unrealistic and unsustainable to try to solve on our own. As former Secretary of Defense Gates noted, “strategic reality demands that the U.S. government get better at building partner capacity.” Thus, the task of training, advising and partnering with foreign military and security forces has moved from the periphery of a defense strategy to become a critical skill set across our armed forces.
When the United States – through our security cooperation efforts – enhances the military capabilities of our allies and partners, we inherently strengthen their ability to handle their own security. This potentially reduces the burden that falls on our shoulders. All countries benefit from a global environment that is stable and prosperous, and many could do more to take an active role in supporting it.
Building the capacity of our partners and allies reflects more than strategic reality, though. We are also acutely aware that in the age of sequestration, the U.S. government is looking for cost-effective ways to achieve its strategic objectives at home and abroad. In short, building partner capacity is a prudent investment which deepens our strategic ties and helps defend our interests in an era of diminishing resources.
There is no question in my mind that U.S. Special Operations Forces, or SOF, are uniquely positioned to contribute to today’s changing battlefield. But we should recognize that such a contribution may take place across a spectrum of activity.
High-stakes direct action may have made America’s Special Operators famous as “the tip of the spear,” but the reality is that’s just a single facet of their mission. The challenging, long-term effort to building indigenous security capacity has been in SOF’s DNA from inception.
- U.S. Green Berets have been training partners in unconventional warfare since the 1950s, playing a primary role in conflicts ranging from Southeast Asia to Latin America.
- In the jungles of Colombia, SOF helped Colombian forces increase security with specialized training to combat the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia).
- More recently, SOF deployed in Afghanistan were among the first to focus on building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces, building up partner units which are now the most effective in Afghanistan and which are leading the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda there.
- SOF-trained Ugandan People’s Defense Forces units, which form the backbone of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and are a key component of the fight against Al-Shabab there.
In short, Special Operations Forces are capable of much more than just pulling the trigger.
It’s clear that the challenges we face today can’t be solved just by military force, or just by economic actions, or just by diplomacy. We must continue to cultivate a whole-of-government approach to building partner capacity. The unique training, regional orientation, and language skills will make the special operator an essential player in this endeavor.
State Department’s Essential Role:
Let me take a step back and discuss State’s role in foreign policy, as we consider how to best integrate SOF into Security Force Assistance efforts.
As Secretary Kerry has said, today, there’s no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. How we conduct our foreign policy matters more than ever before to our everyday lives. It’s no longer just about the threats that we face, but it’s about sustaining economic growth and vitality that can promote peace and prosperity. Promoting these efforts is the mission that the 23,000 men and women of the U.S. Department of State undertake everyday here in Washington and at the 271 diplomatic missions worldwide.
Although security cooperation requires a whole-of-government approach, we must remember that as foreign aid, it is inherently act of foreign policy. Our security assistance programs can be a critical tool to support states trying to build their security capacity – which feeds into larger foreign policy objectives beyond achieving peace and security – such as promoting economic growth, democracy, and human rights. By helping our partners to take on greater security responsibilities, our assistance gives U.S. policymakers a greater range of options while reducing the likelihood of putting our military forces in harm’s way.
At the heart of this effort is the PM Bureau’s role in building and maintaining the Department’s relationship with DoD, in particular, ensuring that DoD efforts are aligned with broader U.S. foreign policy objectives. We’ve rebuilt the capacity of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs to have the technical expertise to interact with DoD on its own terms.
Today, the State-DoD relationship has never been better. We are engaged in an unprecedented level of cooperation beyond just Afghanistan to Iraq – with State Department civilians working side-by-side daily with their military counterparts.
Specifically as it relates to today’s discussion, State’s Pol-Mil Bureau and SOCOM have a long relationship of cooperation. We regularly work on the development, socialization, and coordination of training and operational plans.
We are also working to prepare future Interagency Leaders in a number of ways: The Special Forces Detachment Leaders course, hosted by PM, provides first-time SOF leaders with the contacts, context, and departmental familiarity required to ensure collaborative activities with deployed SOF and the Country Team. The Preparation of the Environment Operations Seminar (PEOS), also hosted by PM, enables one-on-one discussion and coordination with Special Operations experts and State geographic and functional experts. This level of coordination builds the foundation for interaction in the field.
We've made progress in increasing personnel exchanges. This relationship has been bolstered by a year-old Memorandum of Understanding which more than doubled the number of personnel exchanged between State and DoD. Currently, we have about 100 DoD personnel detailed to State, and about 95 State Department Foreign Policy Advisors, known as POLADs, assigned to DoD. POLADs are Foreign Service Officers that are assigned to serve with military commands to advise and act as a link between military commands and the State Department, making sure that the U.S. government speaks with one voice.
A testament to their increasing utility, POLADs are now posted to every Service headquarters, to every Unified Combatant Command, and to the majority of the component and subordinate commands. In fact, over the last two years, POLAD support to Special Operations has expanded to include the Joint Special Operations Command, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, and, most recently, the Special Operations Component for U.S. Northern Command.
With all of the progress the interagency has made in aligning efforts, there is much work to be done.
First we have the question of authorities: some have urged for the creation of separate and unique authorities for SOCOM to conduct long-term train and equip activities. I think it’s important to note, however, that there is a wide range of existing State and DoD security cooperation mechanisms out there, which can be used to build partner capacity without duplicating or substantially overlapping existing authorities.
I’m not suggesting that the legal framework that we have in place to provide security assistance is perfect – it needs to be constantly fine-tuned to adjust to the evolving landscape. But as policy makers and operators, we must be careful not to replicate efforts; unintentionally usurp provisions which protect human rights; and in an attempt to become more agile, substitute a deliberate process with inattention to detail.
In addition to the authorities question, we face a general challenge in coordinating and conducting security cooperation activities. While we applaud SOCOM’s goal to become “an increasingly flexible, agile, and ready command,” we also see the need for continued improvement in balancing and synchronizing SOF programs with broader U.S. foreign policy goals.
At the country level, failure to do so has potentially serious diplomatic consequences. Lack of coordination can seriously threaten the ability of State Department’s Chiefs of Mission to execute their primary mission on ensuring a unified message and representation of U.S. interests to the host country. Coordination is about more than just the Country teams though. It is equally critical that the State Department’s Regional Bureaus are in the loop, too, to ensure that broader strategic implications for regional diplomacy and policy have been fully addressed. For this reason we continually encourage more direct coordination among SOCOM, Theater Special Operations Commands, and the Department’s Regional and Functional Bureaus.
We appreciate SOCOM’s demonstrated commitment to keeping the lines of communication open. We see this through the work of Special Operations Liaison Officers in key U.S. embassies around the world and Special Operations Support Teams active at the State Department and several other U.S. Government departments and agencies stateside. I think, however, that we must continue to work to put in place formal mechanisms that not only require State Department concurrence, but force the interagency to plan together from the beginning.
The Way Forward:
I want to make clear that SOCOM has a willing, ready, and highly capable mission partner in State. We must continue to find smarter ways to use the numerous existing State and DoD authorities to provide security sector assistance to our foreign partners.
As an example of an interagency effort already underway, in early April, the President signed a Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) on Security Sector Assistance. This policy is meant to reduce redundancies and drive efficiencies by ensuring a whole-of-government unified effort towards security sector assistance. Such a policy recognizes that in an era of tough choices, we have to get the most from every foreign assistance dollar we spend. By focusing on building capacity and addressing common approaches to international security, this policy will help us share the burden of maintaining security with other nations.
The security sector is composed of military and civilian institutions that have the authority to use force to protect both the state and its citizens at home or abroad; to maintain international peace and security; or to enforce the law and provide oversight of those organizations and forces. It is clear that SOCOM capabilities and competencies will play an important role in helping the U.S. meet the tenets of the President’s directive.
Security sector assistance must be practiced as a shared responsibility across all parts of United States Government with a shared commitment to agility and effectiveness. Greater reliance on U.S. Government agencies with specialized expertise, like SOCOM, will help strengthen the quality of security sector assistance provided and will reinforce the connection between capacity building efforts and broader security sector policy objectives.
The President has reaffirmed the Department of State’s lead role in establishing foreign policy and managing the government’s process -- to include integration of interagency efforts. DoD is of course a key player as well. It is responsible for ensuring U.S. defense strategy and policy priorities are closely synchronized with interagency efforts, especially where a key objective is to strengthen the capacity and willingness of foreign security forces to operate alongside of, in lieu of, or in support of U.S. forces. This idea wholly supports SOCOM’s global SOF network concept as well as SOCOM’s approach to both Foreign Internal Defense and Security Force Assistance.
State is currently working on an interagency Strategic Implementation Plan, which will be submitted in early July, and once approved, the individual agencies will begin to draft their implementation plans. Implementation will accelerate and become more concrete in the coming weeks and months as strategic planning for specific countries and regions takes place.
In closing, we acknowledge that there may be some bumps along the road. We still don't always agree on every issue. But diplomacy is the business of building relationships and tending to them carefully. We certainly see the commitment SOCOM to continue working toward building a strong and successful relationship. And we welcome that.