Travis L. Eddleman is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. He is currently Battalion Commander of the 875th Engineer Battalion, Arkansas Army National Guard. He earned his Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Civil Security Leadership, Management, and Policy from New Jersey City University. His research focuses on civil-military relations and the challenges of the traditional drilling guardsman. He can be found on Twitter @tleddleman. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessing the National Guard State Partnership Program and Possible Impact on U.S./Latin America Relations: Is the State Partnership Program Being Leveraged to Its Fullest Potential?
Date Originally Written: March 9, 2023.
Date Originally Published: March 13, 2023.
Author and/or Article Point of View: The author is a U.S. Army National Guard Officer. The author believes in the inherent strengths of the State Partnership Program and that the program should be leveraged to its fullest potential to strengthen security cooperation in Latin America, preserving U.S. influence in the hemisphere.
Summary: With continuous involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two decades, the United States has neglected relationships in Latin America. Several countries within the U.S. sphere of influence have been subjected to Chinese and Russian influence. The National Guard State Partnership Program has produced strong, long-term relationships that can be leveraged to strengthen continued security cooperation in Latin America.
Text: The concept of security cooperation involves developing and fostering defense relationships promoting specific U.S. security interests and “aligning security cooperation programs, activities, and resources with defense strategy and priorities.” Of the many programs encompassed under the umbrella of security cooperation, the State Partnership Program (SPP) directly involves individual states’ National Guard forces and provides them an avenue to assist in accomplishing strategic level objectives and policy goals for both the Department of Defense and the Department of State. Since its inception over 25 years ago, the SPP has increased to include 85 partnerships with 93 different nations across all Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs). The SPP does not seek to increase self-sustainment among partner militaries but to establish and maintain important security relationships between the U.S. and other nations with common interests and goals.
The Monroe Doctrine, originally issued by U.S. President James Monroe in 1823, established the western hemisphere as the United States’ “sphere of interest.” The subsequent Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine further instituted the U.S. intent to police the western hemisphere in defense and preservation of U.S. interests there. The Roosevelt Corollary was the first U.S. attempt to achieve global security for its own interests. Since that time, these policies have largely focused southward to Latin America. However, with the two-decade long involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States, according to some analysts, quickly turned its back on our Latin American partners.
The diversion of U.S. attention from activities in Latin America created opportunity for increased Russian and Chinese influence along with numerous concerning shifts in the countries of Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia. In a 2021 assessment, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence identified several concerning security issues ongoing in Latin America. Due to continuing sanctions against Russia, the Russian government has expanded relations with and in support of Venezuela, Cuba, and other Latin American nations to increase commerce agreements and offset the impact of U.S. sanctions. In addition, widespread frustration, and concern over economic woes in Latin America brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, further threatened regional security and stability.
As the first quarter of the 21st century draws to a close, security cooperation in Latin America has become more important than it has been in decades, and the National Guard possesses the ability to increase U.S. influence and strengthen continued security cooperation between the U.S. and friendly nations to the south though the State Partnership Program. As the United States looks to extend and fortify its strategic influence, policy makers would be wise to consider this currently existing, well-established program, as it could have a significant impact on the achievement of national strategic objectives. Currently the U.S. has 24 existing SPP relationships in Latin America, more than any other GCC. Yet, despite these 24 existing relationships, the SPP seems an afterthought at most and a completely missed opportunity at worst. The National Guard brings a key aspect to relationships with their foreign partners. Guardsmen tend to stay in place for years, sometimes even decades in the same unit. They initiate and develop long-term, robust relationships with their foreign partners that add a very personal dimension to these important security cooperation agreements. In many instances, relationships between National Guard forces and their foreign partners have become so strong the foreign militaries have deployed oversees with their National Guard counterparts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite a nearly 30-year existence of the SPP, the National Guard Bureau (NGB) only recently implemented new budgeting measures to allocate funding based upon the importance of a particular SPP relationship and how closely that relationship aligns with U.S. strategic goals and desired outcomes. The NGB allocated funding for fiscal year 2022 based upon assignment of each state partnership to one of three prioritized groups. More detailed management and budgetary alignment of resources of this sort will prove instrumental to U.S. security cooperation agreements as the U.S. turns its attention back to changing political environments in Latin America and concern about America’s standing there.
Doug Bandow, a Senior Fellow at the CATO Institute, suggested the U.S. needs to learn better ways to manage its own neighborhood: Latin America. The means to reassert the influence once enjoyed under the Monroe Doctrine and the subsequent Roosevelt Corollary and capitalize on existing security cooperation efforts already exists in the form of the National Guard SPP. Policy makers and senior leaders can continue to leverage the quality relationships the SPP has have built in those countries now buffeted by concerning influence. General Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the NGB, referenced the SPP as “a process among friends.” With rapid change and growing Russian and Chinese influence in Latin America, the United States would do well to remember its friends and capitalize on these long-standing relationships forged between U.S. citizen-soldiers and their foreign partners.
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