July 25, 2022

Want more capable military partners? Empower and promote Foreign Area Officers.

By Jonathan Lord

The National Defense Strategy (NDS) emphasizes the need to continually strengthen and reinvigorate US partnerships and alliances. To succeed, the strategy implicitly requires US security assistance and cooperation to extend beyond the simple sale and delivery of hardware to partner militaries. Security cooperation must result in the development of lasting and sustainable military partner capacity — otherwise, the US military will perpetually be required to back-stop failing partner-militaries, diverting funds and effort from recovering readiness and lethality and preparing for future conflict in priority theaters.

Those engaging in security cooperation on behalf of Washington must be able to develop diplomatic and military relationships with foreign political and military leaders to have influence, drive often-necessary security sector reform, and advise and assist partner militaries in planning and procuring military training and equipment that meets security needs in a sustainable way. Embassy-based security cooperation offices (SCOs) struggle with these tasks under normal conditions. We have seen time and again what this looks like when it goes wrong: When defense ministries in need of reform are left to their own devices, institutional weakness and corruption ultimately produces hollow armies. In but one notable example, the United States spent billions of dollars to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces, only for them to collapse before ISIS in 2014, requiring US military intervention that continues to this day.

When defense ministries in need of reform are left to their own devices, institutional weakness and corruption ultimately produces hollow armies.

To complete this challenging mission, which requires focusing partners on less-tangible, yet crucial aspects of military development (training, sustainment, logistics, planning, etc.), the Department of Defense should leverage the servicemembers best able to perform the job: Foreign Area Officers (FAOs), the only military professionals trained to perform defense ministry-level engagement and development with foreign allies and partners.

Unfortunately, at the very moment when FAOs should see increasing leadership roles in the department, critical defense diplomacy, general officer billets are facing the chopping block in a short-sighted decision by DoD leadership. The Pentagon, and the US as a whole, will be weaker for it.

Read the full article from Breaking Defense.

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