The State Partnership Program: Vision to
In October 2005, forces from U.S. Southern
Command (USSOUTHCOM) traveled to Guatemala City, Guatemala, to support
local authorities inspecting damage from Hurricane Stan. The command
deployed a 58-person disaster response team and 8 helicopters to
the Central American nation as part of relief efforts. Among this
team, and among those back in the United States facilitating the
recovery assistance programs, were troops whose professional skills
and long affiliation with Guatemala's military, civilian, and business
leadership proved invaluable in helping the disaster-stricken region.
They were members of the Arkansas National Guard helping their colleagues
under the auspices of an international security cooperation effort
known as the State Partnership Program (SPP).
Unlike other combatant commands, USSOUTHCOM
is not currently engaged in combat operations. Its daily threats
and challenges, however, are no less significant to the security
of the Nation or its allies. These issues, and the approaches to
solving them, can be more subtle and complex than combat, and they
must be confronted in an atmosphere often marred by poverty, inequality,
With only 0.4 percent of the defense budget,
USSOUTHCOM must use its limited resources creatively to accomplish
its mission of conducting military operations and promoting security
cooperation to support U.S. strategic objectives in Latin America
and the Caribbean. Its tools are primarily those of engagement.
As a vehicle that allows for military-to-military, military- to-civilian,
and civilian-to-civilian interface, perhaps the most flexible instrument
in the command's security cooperation tool chest is the National
Area of responsibility
U.S. Southern Command is the unified command
responsible for all U.S. military activities on the land mass of
Latin America south of Mexico; the waters adjacent to Central and
South America; the Caribbean Sea, with its 13 island nations and
European and U.S. territories; the Gulf of Mexico; and a portion
of the Atlantic Ocean. Its area of responsibility (AOR) encompasses
32 countries (19 in Central and South America and 13 in the Caribbean)
and covers 14.5 million square miles. The region represents about
one-sixth of the land mass assigned to regional unified commands.
Although many nations in the AOR experienced
violent internal conflict and high levels of human rights abuse
in the second half of the last century, since the 1990s, all but
one have adopted democratic forms of government and are working
to strengthen democratic institutions, civil society, and political
Nonetheless, their military and security forces
face grave challenges to their ability to protect citizens from
street crime, gangs, international terrorism, transnational crime,
attacks by illegal armed groups, and other forms of violence, while
continuing to respect and protect the civil liberties and basic
freedoms on which their democracies are based. Military forces,
in particular, are increasingly called on by civilian governments
to perform nontraditional missions, such as supporting police and
other security forces in law enforcement missions, disaster relief,
humanitarian assistance, counterdrug and counterterrorism missions,
environmental protection, and peacekeeping and peace support missions,
all of which bring the military into close contact with civilian
Command vision and Theater Security Cooperation
The USSOUTHCOM vision is to be the recognized
partner of choice and center of excellence for regional security
affairs within a hemisphere of escalating importance by supporting
defense of the homeland and achieving regional partnerships that:
• promote democratic values and principles
• respect human rights
• secure territories and defend borders
• ensure regional and hemispheric security
• deter, dissuade, and defeat transnational
threats to regional stability.
Meeting this vision requires that the command
work with the U.S. Ambassadors and their country teams in the area
in support of their individual country plans. The command depends
on strong relationships with the country teams to integrate interagency
objectives into its operations.
The command's theater strategy- derived directly
from the President's national security strategy-is based on promoting
regional security and stability among partner democracies. The command
supports U.S. interests in four principal ways:
• building regional cooperative security
• developing military roles and missions
for the 21st century
• supporting the national counterdrug
• restructuring USSOUTHCOM for the future.
Besides the ever-present resource challenge,
meeting the vision requires that efforts have appropriate breadth
and continuity, traditionally weak points in a military-oriented
approach. In the former case, uniformed military personnel may lack
access (by law, custom, or opportunity) to law enforcement, civil
government, or private sector contacts, limiting the scope of their
activities. Regarding continuity, the typical 3-year tour of duty
for regular military personnel assigned to a combatant command or
shorter terms characteristic of downrange assignments are limiting
Breadth, Continuity, and the National Guard
One way to address the breadth and continuity
issues leverages the unique civil-military status of the National
Guard. Alone among Total Force components, the Guard has the flexibility
to engage partner nations on a military-to-military, military-to-civilian,
and civilian-to-civilian basis. While enjoying this unparalleled
access to key sectors of partner nations, Guard members also demonstrate
the professionalism and cost-effectiveness of the Total Force concept
and the Reserve components, share experiences and skills gained
through their civilian professions, and build personal and professional
links among all participants.
The effectiveness and professional links of
these personnel are magnified by the continuity and predictability
inherent in the National Guard. Not bound to the typical 24- to
36-month tour, Guard personnel may remain in a position significantly
longer. Even if key individuals are reassigned, they typically remain
within the same state organization and are a source of institutional
The State Partnership Program
The United States has faced similar challenges
before. Following the disestablishment of the Soviet Union and the
collapse of the Warsaw Pact, America was eager to engage the militaries
of Central and Eastern Europe in cooperative efforts to confront
the emerging threats and opportunities of the post-Cold War world.
However, it required supreme delicacy to not upset fragile democracies
or send a provocative signal to the new Russian Federation.
The State Partnership Program advances national
security policy through constructive military associations with
countries in a nonconfrontational setting. Within the context of
these relationships, a range of military, civil-military, and civil
activities are conducted in support of mutual national interests.
The partner nation has access to the National Guard's military capabilities
and other government and civil institutions such as business organizations,
fire and police departments, and universities. SPP is fully integrated
into the Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) strategy, and its activities
support TSC objectives and priorities and thus national policies
As a tool for security cooperation, SPP builds
military-to-military relationships, helps develop partner nation
security force capabilities and professionalism, promotes the exchange
of information, and affords U.S. forces opportunities to train with
potential coalition partners in peacetime and contingency environments.
Each program is tailored to meet the needs of the host country as
well as U.S. strategic goals and interests. Through these activities,
the SPP illustrates the value of military subordination to civilian
authority, assists in the development of democratic institutions,
fosters open market economies to bring stability, and projects U.S.
Since 1994, the SPP has grown from a regional
initiative to a global presence. There are currently 50 partnerships
worldwide and 17 SPP pairings within the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility
(see table). Florida is paired with both Guyana and Venezuela; however,
no events have been executed in Venezuela in the last 2 years due
to the current political situation there.
The Arkansas-Guatemala Success. In the aftermath
of Hurricane Stan in October 2005, Soldiers of the Arkansas National
Guard helped conduct a week-long assessment of Guatemala's hardest-hit
regions to address critical short-term relief and long-term recovery.
But cooperation had been building since 2002, when the Arkansas-Guatemala
SPP relationship began. Following an initial exchange of visits,
the partners launched a series of joint projects emphasizing humanitarian
assistance and disaster relief. Guatemalan military and civilian
personnel shared experiences and techniques with their National
Guard counterparts, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management,
the State Police, and other law enforcement and public service agencies.
When disaster struck, the knowledge and relationships were in place.
Pre-Stan instances of cooperation between Guatemalans
and Arkansans paying off include an elementary school, built in
2004 in part by Arkansas Guard troops, which provided civil engineering
training for the Americans and a needed facility for over 140 students.
The school was equipped with the help of the North Little Rock Chamber
of Commerce. A Guatemalan highway safety initiative modeled after
an Arkansas program is already helping motorists. Civilian efforts
are multiplying as well. Heifer International, an Arkansas-based
global nonprofit organization promoting self-sustaining efforts
to ease hunger and poverty, is working with Guatemalan farmers on
agricultural and economic development projects.
Mississippi and Bolivian Civil Defense. Since
1999, Bolivia and Mississippi have worked together to hone emergency
response skills. When Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast,
the Mississippi National Guard was called on to put those skills
to practice. Their colleagues from the Bolivian Civil Defense Agency,
armed with hard-earned experience from dealing with their country's
torrential rainy seasons, traveled to Mississippi to offer support
and further cement their relationship.
Wisconsin Support to Nicaraguan Police and
Firefighters. When Milwaukee found itself with a surplus bomb squad
emergency response vehicle, the SPP facilitated its use. The Wisconsin
National Guard coordinated its donation and delivery to the Nicaraguan
Police Anti-Terrorist Unit, where it will provide a much-needed
capability. Links between public service agencies provided several
fire trucks and ambulances now used by the Managua Fire Department.
Other cooperative efforts cover areas such as humanitarian demining,
emergency management, airport security, and urban search and rescue.
Louisiana-Belize Emergency Response and Search/Rescue
Activities. Louisiana's SPP was established in 1996 with two partner
nations, Belize and Uzbekistan. The Louisiana Army and Air Guard
have executed over 100 SPP events since then. As with many SPP relationships,
there is great mutual interest in emergency management, and state
authorities have forged strong links with the Belize National Emergency
Management Organization and associated local public safety organizations.
During 2003, Louisiana hosted the International
Workshop for Emergency Response, a joint, multilateral planning
and response gathering that used demonstrations and hands-on exercises
to show how local and state agencies react to industrial disasters.
Besides their Belize Defence Force and Uzbek counterparts, the workshop
was attended by representatives from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and several West Indies nations.
The Louisiana-Belize program has also focused
on search/rescue and law enforcement professional development. Subject
matter expert exchanges have paid great dividends to both sides.
In one exchange, a search/rescue exercise in Belize yielded a bonus
when the mock mission led to salvaging a potentially repairable
New Hampshire and El Salvador. Shortly after
New Hampshire and El Salvador began their SPP relationship, two
powerful earthquakes struck the Central American nation. Over 100
people were killed, and 1.3 million were displaced or left homeless-approximately
300,000 more than the population of New Hampshire. The skill and
professionalism of the Salvadoran military saved the day and left
an indelible impression on their U.S. colleagues. Their deft command
and control sped vital aid where it was most needed and helped save
lives. Today, New Hampshire and El Salvador average five major SPP
events annually, with emphasis on not only military topics but also
business development and academic exchanges.
Missouri-Panama. Missouri's relationship with
Panama comfortably predates their 1996 entry into the SPP. Since
1935, when Southeast Missouri State University adopted Panama as
a sister state, the Missouri public university system has been linked
to Panamanian counterparts. While the formal military relations
are somewhat more recent, they are certainly significant.
Beginning in 1985, Exercise Blazing Trails,
an engineer readiness drill, saw 9,500 troops constructing or repairing
42 kilometers of road over a 6-month period. Since then, Missouri
Guard members have participated in constructing or repairing over
200 kilometers of roads, 7 bridges, 27 schools, and 14 clinics in
addition to drilling 13 wells.
Today, the bonds between Missouri and Panama
reach far beyond those initial military links. On a recent trip
to Panama City, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder led a 16-person
delegation to assess and expand the pair's health, agriculture,
economic, public safety, and higher education ties.
The road Ahead
As the above examples illustrate, SPP activities
focus the attention and resources of a very small part of the Department
of Defense- a state National Guard-with a single country in support
of shared U.S. and partner nation objectives. This concentrated
focus allows for the development of long-term institutional relationships,
lasting personal relationships, and a mechanism to catalyze a broad
and expanding base of support from outside the Defense Department-in
particular, state/local governments and private industry.
The criteria for a successful SPP partnership
are few. First, shared U.S. and partner nation objectives must be
identified and programs tailored to address them. Second, both the
partner nation and U.S. state must be committed to a long-term relationship.
Third, the association must incorporate nonmilitary actors at every
level. Finally, activities must require minimal resources beyond
those the participants would devote to the effort acting independently.
In the war on terror, the United States has
been forced to adapt to meet the new and unique demands posed by
a nontraditional, amorphous enemy. The world situation has driven
us toward cooperating with other nations at an unprecedented level
and utilizing all instruments of national power. Successful cooperation
is built on a foundation of mutual understanding, trust, and respect.
In this context, it is significant that the four Western Hemisphere
countries that joined the U.S.-led coalition in Operation Iraqi
Freedom-the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua-are
Besides the challenges posed by the war on
terror, the nations of the hemisphere face a range of concerns-including
transnational crime, internal threats to democracy and the rule
of law, natural disasters, and mass migration-whose solutions lie
outside the traditional boundaries of a purely military approach.
To address these issues, USSOUTHCOM's ambitious vision and theater
strategy need the backing of flexible and powerful tools. The State
Partnership Program is one such tool.
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