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MD Guard leaders discuss SPP with defense officials, ambassadors

By Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg | Maryland National Guard | Feb. 4, 2020

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DUNDALK, Md. – Maryland National Guard leaders assembled at the Dundalk Readiness Center Feb. 1 to hear from key speakers about the importance of European security cooperation and its direct connection to the State Partnership Program.

Hosted by Army Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, adjutant general for Maryland, the seminar’s focus was primarily on the longstanding relationships between the Maryland National Guard, Estonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Gowen described how the SPP relationships were part of an initial outreach by the U.S. toward new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The SPP enables the state of Maryland, not just the Maryland National Guard, to come together with Estonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina through a range of military and civil-military activities.

“Last year, we conducted 84 combined SPP engagements with our partners,” Gowen said. “I intend to see that number grow, placing emphasis on strategic initiatives that are mutually beneficial and support our common goals.”

Maryland has a key role in the international civil and military cooperation initiatives, which foster democracy and encourage growth of market economies while promoting regional security cooperation and stability.

In 2017, Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford led a trade mission to Estonia focusing on e-government and cybersecurity – specifically, government information and communication technologies to increase efficiency, transparency and citizen participation.

In August, Estonia reaffirmed an agreement involving sister-state relationships with cities in Maryland and Estonia, such as Maryland and Harju County, Annapolis and Tallinn, Westminster and Paide, and Salisbury and Tartu.

“Marylanders are always the consistent face when we need advice or assistance,” Estonian Ambassador Jonatan Vseviov said at the seminar. “Whenever we have major challenges, we know that we can always count on our Maryland friends.”

Laura K. Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia and Western Balkans, told Maryland Guard leaders at the seminar how important the SPP is to the National Defense Strategy.

“Every day, what you are doing with the SPP directly supports our NDS,” Cooper said. “SPP is a fantastic tool to use in building partnerships and attracting new alliances.”

Cooper said false narratives from competitors and adversaries can threaten the integrity of positive initiatives between U.S. partners and allies.

“You are the antidote to the false narratives,” Cooper said, waving across the room. “The people in the regions need to know that and see that, and that’s where you come in.”

Cooper listed major opportunities for the MDNG to focus SPP efforts with the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, such as cooperative national disaster response, counterterrorism and cybersecurity. She encouraged using the US-Adriatic Charter, or “A5,” to come together to discuss regional and international security cooperation.

In April, the MDNG hosted the Adriatic 5+ Cyber Forum to share the latest in cybersecurity, establish common terms and vocabulary, and build out a plan to develop the Adriatic Charter countries’ cyber capabilities. During the A5 event, Col. John Harris, deputy director of the Joint Cyber Center, said he was looking to build capacity and interoperability and wanted to leverage the cyber forum.

“SPP is the engine of new ideas to look at larger assistance efforts,” said Cooper. “You are the glue that holds the program together.”

Other speakers at the seminar included Michael Allison, principal deputy national intelligence officer for military issues, and Kurt Volker, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

The MDNG continues its enduring partnerships with Estonia, since 1993, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, since 2003. The MDNG will lead a significant presence in Estonia this May during exercise Saber Strike, an annual combined joint exercise in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland involving about 18,000 participants from some 19 countries. The training prepares allies and partners to respond to regional crises and meet their security needs.