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NEWS | Nov. 24, 2010

Guard’s State Partnership Program: A possible tool for citizen diplomacy

By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, - A multi-agency roundtable has recommended using the National Guard State Partnership Program as a tool for citizen diplomacy.

“This incredibly powerful and successful network of state programs … has such tremendous potential,” said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. “We want to envision … a framework that … can grow from … the genius of the State Partnership Program and the impact it has had on emerging democracies.”

State and Defense Department leaders as well as academics and state representatives had high praise here Nov. 18 for the almost 20-year-old SPP that has paired 51 states and territories with 62 foreign countries.

“The National Guard’s SPP … we have seen at the [State] Department to be one of the best examples of sub-national engagement,” said Reta Jo Lewis, the department’s special representative for intergovernmental affairs, whose portfolio includes building relationships between state and local officials and foreign counterparts.

“The SPP has become an essential tool that’s been used by our ambassadors and our embassies … to achieve their goals,” she said.

A roundtable on the role of the states in global citizen diplomacy chaired by Lawton recommended enhancing the SPP – with federal and state approval – to increase individual citizen and institutional diplomacy that contributes to national security objectives.

“To date, the state has not taken a very active, institutional, formal role in connecting to and fostering citizen diplomacy, but we have big ambitions for what we can accomplish,” Lawton said.

The roundtable was part of the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy’s U.S. Summit & Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy held here Nov. 16-19.

Introducing his National Security Strategy in May, President Barack Obama envisioned a role for citizen diplomacy.

“America’s greatest asset is its people,” he wrote. “We must foster even deeper connections among Americans and people around the globe. Our long-term security will come not from our ability to instill fear in other peoples, but through our capacity to speak to their hopes. And that work will best be done through the power of the decency and dignity of the American people – our troops and diplomats, but also our private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and citizens. All have a role to play.”

At the 2009 Senate hearing that confirmed her as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “We must use what has been called smart power – the full range of tools at our disposal – diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural – picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.”

“When we use our smart power, we want to use all of the tools … in our arsenal,” Lewis said. “Over the years, through the SPP there have been numerous successful military and National Guard engagement activities including joint training exercises, disaster management cooperation and joint deployment, all of which contribute to meeting the objectives of the Defense Department’s combatant commands and [of] our embassies.”

A State Department survey of its embassies conducted in October about the SPP found 34 out of 45 embassies “strongly agree” with the statement that the SPP helps them meet their objectives, while another 10 “agree.”

“They provided numerous examples of success,” Lewis said. “Overall, the State Department strongly supports the SPP as a powerful tool for sub-national exchange.”

“We are trying to promote democracy,” said Jennifer Leigh Brush, director of the State Department’s office of South Central European affairs. “We are trying to promote free enterprise. We are trying to promote human rights. We are trying to promote our own national security. The [SPP] is critical to all of these goals.”

With a $3 million foundation grant, the SPP began in the Baltics in 1993, capitalizing on demographic links to partner former Soviet Bloc countries with National Guard states.

“It … built on a bilateral relationship that we had between the state of Minnesota and Norway, never officially part of our [SPP], but that bilateral arrangement has lasted 40-plus years,” said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The State and Defense Departments work with candidate countries that express an interest in the SPP. All states have the opportunity to compete for selection as a partner. The SPP furthers State and Defense Department theater security objectives and the Defense Department’s goal to build partnership capacity.

“The key to the success of this program is that it achieves U.S. strategic interests while being essentially community-based and state-based,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, the adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, whose SPP partner is Thailand.

“It’s based upon enduring personal relationships,” he said. “All of the other elements of the defense establishment generally engage with the partner country … with people who serve maybe two years in an assignment and that’s the last they see of them.

“The leadership of the Thai government at the cabinet level has been dealing with me since the partnership was formed in 2003 and those are personal as well as professional relationships that go on long after people leave public office … and contribute to their societies in other ways.”

The SPP also benefits the states, giving each state’s National Guard training and professional development opportunities without straining the Guard and at relatively low cost. The program’s entire budget is now $12 million.

At the request of the U.S. ambassador, Washington has focused on assisting Thailand with critical infrastructure protection. Thailand has the world’s 15th busiest port. One in three vessels leaving there is bound for Tacoma, Wash.

“We have seen very creative tactics and techniques and procedures that don’t require money but are just a smarter, better way of dealing with catastrophic emergencies that we have brought home and incorporated in our own exercises in Washington … that have enhanced homeland security,” Lowenberg said. “The partnerships benefit both partners.

“The partnerships are a source of pride and commitment from the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen. It really is a morale booster to be involved in the [SPP], and it’s a perfect retention tool,” he said. “The average cost of each one of those engagements is $27,000. That’s including commercial airfare to get from Washington to Thailand, 14 time zones away.”

SPP benefits to the states ripple beyond the National Guard.

“The states have found … tremendous commercial value to their state partnerships, as well as the value in developing their global profiles,” Lawton said. “There have been jobs created through the [SPP] because of the richness of relationships that have developed.”

States have also built on the SPP with their own initiatives, such as the Alaska Legislature paying for four Fulbright Scholarships to the University of Alaska for citizens of their SPP partner, Mongolia.

Generally, each state commits one full-time Soldier or Airman to the SPP. Bilateral affairs officers are assigned to the embassy in the partner country – a program that offers mid-grade officers a rare opportunity for joint experience overseas at the strategic level.

“The state partnership commitment is not manpower intensive,” Lowenberg said. “Whether it is commercial ties, whether it’s professional ties between the largest hospital in Bangkok and the largest tertiary care center in the state of Washington, whether it’s connection between port authorities, … whether it’s an engagement by [non-governmental organizations] that are essential to citizen-to-citizen diplomacy the [SPP] at its core enhances the strength and the rigor and the cultural ties of the country with whom we’re partnered and creates a very receptive environment for the balance of this enterprise, this community of citizen-to-citizen diplomats, to freely and productively engage.

“What we do through the [SPP] is create a receptive environment for engagement by all other elements of citizen-to-citizen diplomacy.”

 “This is the kind of program that very directly has an impact on the large amounts of money that we do have to spend on national security,” said Doug Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. “This is small amounts of money that in so many countries mean we can think about reducing the amounts of money that have to go for the larger systems and the larger potential engagements and conflicts, because they are ways that we address conflict-prevention, they are ways that we address – not just trade, which it does;  not just increased visibility for states on commerce, which it does; not just understanding the values of who we are as Americans for people that don’t know who we are, which it does – but collectively the ability to ultimately reduce the billions of dollars that we are now spending on conflict engagement. … We’re investing seed money in conflict prevention.”

“The [SPP] has worked and works in a way that can be profoundly preventative,” Lawton said, calling such local relationships “the fabric which holds us together even when there are disruptions in international relationships at the top.”

“For my part of the world – South Central Europe – that’s a region that’s been prone to conflict and some parts of which have strong anti-American feelings still, this partnership has been critical to us,” Brush said, citing an example of a totalitarian regime that resisted dealing with the United States at a national level, but enthusiastically embraced an SPP partner.

“When ambassadors look at these programs, they see  … enormous strategic communications value of having folks in their countries think about the United States as a force of good,” said Paul Trivelli, political advisor to the commander of U.S. Southern Command and himself a former ambassador.

When the roundtable participants investigated state roles in citizen diplomacy, they found two existing institutions that are potential catalysts for a broader program – state universities and the National Guard’s SPP.

“We have an opportunity to … take this outstanding program the National Guard has led and the template that you have created and to take it now a step further in this 21st century world,” Wilson said.

President Dwight Eisenhower advocated citizen diplomacy in the 1950s. Lawton invoked Eisenhower, the post World War II Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps as she talked about new initiatives to expand citizen diplomacy.

“There [is] a hunger to find a way to participate and connect, as citizens, to our government and to our role in this world in a different way,” she said. “There is … a real need to find economies and for us in a time of scant resources to make the very best possible use of our resources and to power up what we’re doing that works and to collaborate in ways, perhaps, that we never have.”

An SPP enhanced with more citizen, state and federal resources beyond the military could compound the benefits for both partners, Lawton said.

Call it an enterprise approach in support of State and Defense priorities – using whole-of-society and whole-of-government to achieve strategic objectives.

“We need to export the success of [the SPP] and combine it with the mission of the State Department, the goals of the Department of Defense, and the goals of governors and say … the future of our economies, the way we’re going to grow jobs … is we have to look outside our borders either to facilitate trade or encourage investment,” said David Quam, director of the National Governors Association’s federal relations office.

“Trade … is not about bilateral agreements as much as it is about personal relationships. We have Citizen-Soldiers out there working with these programs or being deployed who are the grocers and the retailers and the heads of local commerce and the Rotary Club and they also develop those relationships and bring those back. It’s a multiplier effect.”

“The Citizen-Soldiers come from every county and every state,” Lawton said. “They are not just coming from urban areas or from one socio-economic stripe of our society. They go back to those areas and they become important reverse citizen-diplomats … helping alert a community and the people around them to their global citizenship and the deep public value of investing in strong healthy relationships worldwide.”

Earlier in its history, when it was a more ad hoc program paid for with grants, the SPP could draw on subject-matter experts outside the military more easily and civilian-to-civilian exchanges were less constrained.

“As the program has become more formal, we find ourselves more and more constrained to military personnel engagement only,” Lowenberg said. “There is a need to make it more flexible, so that we can be more inclusive of drawing upon the subject-matter expertise of those professionals within our respective states that do advance the Defense and State Department objectives on the exchanges that we’re executing really on behalf of the federal government, not the state government.”

The states act on behalf of the federal government and coordinate closely with it in part mindful of a Constitutional provision that reserves foreign affairs to the federal government.

“It’s the federal government, not the states, that control international relations,” Lowenberg said.

“Networks of state and local leaders can help the Department of State establish durable foreign partnerships by anchoring intergovernmental relationships at the sub-national level,” Lewis said.

“By working through these various types of partnerships and acting in a collective, concerted manner we enhance what we can achieve towards our shared goals while also promoting the strategic interests of our nation, states and cities together.

“Sometimes the personal relationships that are created through the SPP can have a stronger and more intimate connection than those we establish at the national and diplomatic level.”

 “It’s a brilliant program,” Lawton said. “There’s a genius to this, in its organic nature, in the way that it bridges Defense and 50 states, and to allow that to not function at the highest level is to create a litany of lost opportunities, and -- as a public servant – there’s enough of that in our lives.”