Regular readers of The Will and the Wallet will be surprised to learn that there are some things your Stimson analysts don’t know. Alas, it’s true. So today I’ll commit the consummate D.C. sin of asking a question that I can’t yet answer.
The perils of the Pentagon edging into security cooperation policymaking are nothing new. Just to name a few, there’s imbalance in military and civilian responsibilities; the messenger overwhelming the message; and the costliness of uniforms relative to suits. But do these critiques presume, at least implicitly, that the military arm in question is the Active Component? What, if anything, changes when it’s Reserves and Guardsmen?
Enter the State Partnership Program, an effort chartered in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War to partner select state National Guards with former Warsaw Pact countries under the authority of EUCOM, the National Guard Bureau, and the state outfits themselves. It has since grown to include 45 U.S. states and 62 foreign partners spread across all six of the geographic combatant commands. Today it has this mission:
Enhance combatant commanders’ ability to build enduring civil-military relationships that improve long-term international security while building partnership capacity across all levels of society.
Last week this Tar Heel was thrilled to be hosted by the North Carolina National Guard for a conversation on how this works in practice. One presumption seemed relatively well grounded, that the Reserve Components are competitive on cost since pay kicks in only when they’re called to service and because the benefits package is much more conditional. But things get much more muddled from there.
Guardsmen sit uniquely on the border of military and civilian and, priding themselves on that, they expect foreign partners to appreciate their uncommon position. But that can’t be taken for granted. It remains very hard to communicate civilian control over policymaking while wearing a uniform, even a National Guard one, and COCOMs’ role in diplomacy continues to be a chronic dispute.
And more than just structure and process is at stake. Ultimately the State Partnership Program’s future may ride on the larger issue of how the “building partners’ capacity” mission is prioritized in the face of tougher spending choices. In that debate, one about whether to do the work rather than how to do it, Guard advantages over the Active Component are likely to be much less decisive.