March 27, 2019

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

By Loren DeJonge Schulman

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.
  • Reports
    • November 17, 2022
    Precision and Posture: Defense Spending Trends and the FY23 Budget Request

    This report examines the fiscal year (FY) 2023 defense budget request and assesses whether it sufficiently resources what was known of the Biden administration’s national defe...

    By Stacie Pettyjohn & Hannah Dennis

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • November 10, 2022
    Welcome to the New Age of Nukes

    Nuclear weapons are back, and in a disturbingly visceral way. Vladimir Putin’s saber-rattling—“this is not a bluff” he said, warning of nuclear use in Ukraine—has sparked conc...

    By Richard Fontaine

  • Commentary
    • November 2, 2022
    Sharper: The Future of Russia Relations

    While the recently released U.S. National Defense Strategy names the People's Republic of China as the greatest pacing threat facing the United States, Russia poses the most i...

    By Anna Pederson

  • Podcast
    • November 1, 2022
    The Biden Administration’s Grand Strategy in Three Documents, with Richard Fontaine

    Scott R. Anderson sat down with Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, who is himself also a former National Security Council off...

    By Richard Fontaine

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia