March 27, 2019

To Remind You of My Love: Reforming the Impulsive Affection of U.S. Efforts to Build Partner Militaries

The movie Downfall, about the final days of Adolf Hitler, contains a scene that has been turned into countless memes with various subtitles. In the original, Hitler learns that the defeat of Germany is imminent and explodes at his senior generals. My favorite meme is titled, “Hitler Learns About Sequestration”: The madman is informed of the imminence of the enormous budget cut and laments the loss of military superiority, crying “What are we going to do, build partner capacity?”

In her recent book, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States, Mara Karlin explores America’s history with capacity building missions and considers how it fits a world of limited defense resources. In the eyes of policymakers I have worked with, efforts to build partner capacity lie somewhere between a magical antidote to all of America’s security problems and an inevitable — and less expensive — back-up date. Respected leaders have hailed building the security capacity of U.S. allies and partners as “a key and enduring test of America’s global leadership in the 21st century,” consistent with its history and ideological underpinnings. Put more bluntly, Karlin notes up front that “[t]he United States faces a long-term decline in defense spending going forward” and “U.S. direct military intervention [to bolster fragile states] is politically unacceptable.” Thus, America needs a way to pursue its security interests on the cheap, and “building partner militaries is one key way to do so.”

Read the full article in Texas National Security Review.

  1. “Hitler Finds Out About Sequestration,” Youtube, Fiscal Cliff, Nov. 28, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zCDDYVTjLI.
  2. Robert M. Gates, “Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates,” Nixon Center, Washington, DC, Feb. 24, 2019, http://archive.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1425.
  3. Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 4.
  • Commentary
    • Defense News
    • April 8, 2024
    Stock Buybacks in Defense: What Drives Them, and How That Can Change?

    Lack of capital is not a problem hindering investment at the largest defense primes. The issue revolves around the capital allocation decision....

    By Mikhail Grinberg, Jerry McGinn & Lloyd Everhart

  • Video
    • April 8, 2024
    Ukrainian president has stark new warning as war rages on

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warns that Ukraine will lose the war with Russia without US assistance. Franz-Stefan Gady of CNAS explains why US military aid is crucia...

    By Franz-Stefan Gady

  • Commentary
    • Sharper
    • April 3, 2024
    Sharper: Maritime Security

    The importance of securing the maritime domain is rapidly increasing. From the South China Sea to the Red Sea, the U.S. and its allies are experiencing escalating challenges t...

    By Anna Pederson & Charles Horn

  • Commentary
    • War on the Rocks
    • April 3, 2024
    Innovation Adoption for All: Scaling across Department of Defense

    The Department of Defense does act quickly when properly motivated and catalyzed by effective leadership....

    By Robert O. Work, Michael Brown & Ellen Lord

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia