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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | May 12, 2024

Guard Bureau Chief Promotes Partnerships at Defense Services Asia Exhibition

By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely, National Guard Bureau

KUALA LUMPUR – Alliances and partnerships underscored the National Guard Bureau chief’s participation in one of Asia’s largest defense and homeland security events on May 6. 

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the Guard’s top officer, told international military leaders and officials at the biennial Defence Services Asia conference maintaining the international rules-based order requires a collective, cooperative effort. 

“Ours is a shared world, with shared challenges and opportunities,” Hokanson said. “We are not just connected; we are intertwined. And we must be united in the pursuit of security, stability and peace across the globe.”

The CNGB joined Gen. Tan Sri Mohammad Ab Rahman, Malaysia’s chief of Defence Forces, and Dr. Su Wai Mon, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, on a panel to discuss emerging technologies—like unmanned aerial systems and artificial intelligence—and confronting non-traditional threats—like cyber, mal-information and disinformation, climate change, food security and energy crises. 

“As emerging technologies intensify and accelerate both the risks and opportunities before us, the relationships between nations—between allies and partners—have never been more important,” Hokanson said. 

In his remarks, Hokanson expanded on the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program. What began in 1993 with 13 former Soviet-bloc states has grown to 92 partnerships with 106 nations that are paired with the National Guard of every U.S. state and territory—an enterprise the general describes as one of the most productive, cost-effective security cooperation programs in the world. 

“The National Guard builds relationships,” Hokanson said. “Those relationships bolster capability and capacity for our allies and partners, and we learn much from them. Enduring personal connections helps promote security, stability, peace, and prosperity.

“There are so many benefits to our cooperation: stronger diplomatic relations, greater prosperity, advancements in science and technology, improved resilience in the face of adversity, and a stable, more peaceful world for generations to come,” he said.  

As part of the SPP, the Guard is linked with 17 nations in the Indo-Pacific region—an expanse that is home to half the world’s population, accounting for 60% of the global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. The United States' Indo-Pacific Strategy names this area the most dynamic and fastest-growing region on earth and an essential driver of America’s future security and prosperity. 

The SPP pairing of states with nations is not random. Demographics, economics, and military size and composition are all factored in. Washington State and Malaysia have close diplomatic ties through substantial two-way trade and similar economic, security and infrastructure considerations. Seen as a natural, mutually beneficial fit, Malaysia and the Washington National Guard formalized an SPP agreement in 2017. 

Focus areas incorporate U.S. Indo-Pacific Command objectives: supporting maritime security, defense professionalization, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Washington Guardsmen and their Malaysian Armed Forces counterparts also work together in defensive cyber, defense modernization, maritime domain awareness through air defense sector modernization and interoperability of forces. Women, Peace, and Security activities began in 2023.

2023 was the busiest and most consequential year of the Washington Guard’s partnership with Malaysia and included several key leader engagements, subject matter expert exchanges, bilateral meetings and participation in named exercises. 

Earlier this year, the Washington Air National Guard and the Royal Malaysian Air Force signed a sister squadron agreement between the RMAF’s 320 Squadron, Control and Reporting Center 1, and the 225th Air Defense Group, Western Air Defense Sector at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Tacoma, Washington.    

The continuous, two-way communication and engagement enabled through the SPP contributes to providing INDOPACOM with access to, influence with, and insight from regional partners.

Some Guard partnerships in the Indo-Pacific are nascent. 

Just last month, the U.S. Territory of Guam formalized a partnership with the Republic of Palau. Although Palau has no military, the SPP fosters a whole-of-government approach. Opportunities include exchanges in law enforcement and border security, cyber protection and resilience, medical and civil engineering community engagements, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Other partnerships are more established. 

The National Guard of Guam and Hawaii have shared an affiliation with the Philippines since 2000 and the Washington Guard has also been paired with Thailand since 2002, to name a few.