WASHINGTON - The National Guard’s State Partnership Program is the crown jewel of the Guard’s international engagement, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said Wednesday at the 2011 National Lieutenant Governors Association federal-state relations meeting.
“We believe it’s easier to stop a war by being friends with someone than having to fight a war with people we don’t understand,” Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley said.
McKinley spoke to the lieutenant governors about the history of the State Partnership Program, the role it plays in international diplomacy and what they can do in their states to take the program and make it their own.
The State Partnership Program was formed in the early 1990s amidst the collapse of the former Soviet Union, McKinley said.
On Monday, Iowa and Kosovo announced the program’s 63rd partnership.
“[The program] started as a practical military modernization, interoperability subordination to civil authorities and development of democratic and free-market institutions science project,” he said.
When creating this program there became a moment in history by which the U.S. could partner states with foreign nations and build military-to-military relationships as these countries were emerging into the 21st century, McKinley said.
At the beginning stages of the program it was determined that building the program from the ground up would give it the most success.
“Instituting American humanitarian values … started with building a strong noncommissioned officer corps, because in most of those countries, their noncommissioned officers were relegated to being servants to the officers,” he said.
“Once you build a strong noncommissioned officer corps, you put it together with the value that our American military brings, and you’ve got a great partnership capacity that has endured for now almost 20 years.”
McKinley added that over the last 20 years the State Partnership Program has been very successful on a relatively small budget, which in fiscal year 2010 was only $12 million of the Department of Defense’s almost $664 billion budget.
“The $12 million plus some monies that come from the states, go far to do so much,” he said.
Working with the geographic combatant commanders is another way that the State Partnership Program has become so successful, McKinley said.
“We have 10 combatant commanders around the world, and so with the State Department and the ambassadors in the nations, we form these alliances and partnerships,” he said.
“We focus on the civilian military dialogue, transparency in defense budgeting, defense support for civilian agencies, crisis management, border and port security, interagency emergency planning and other core competencies that the National Guard has in our dual capacity of working for the governor and working for our federal military.”
The state partnership has evolved into a cornerstone of the United States military in a number of nations, because it’s a low dollar, high impact program, he said.
Success of the program is also dependant on the relationship the National Guard has with state leadership, he said.
“To have successful civil-military relations includes involvement of civilian leaders and is very essential,” McKinley said.
“I am so proud of the relationship that we in the National Guard Bureau and the Department of Defense have with your states, territories and the District of Columbia.”
An important element to the relationship between the National Guard and the states is one of President Barack Obama’s new programs signed into effect last year, the Council of Governors, he said.
Quarterly, 10 governors who serve on the council meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to express the states’ and territories’ interests and needs from the National Guard perspective.
“The Council of Governors is very important to us,” he said.
Working along with the adjutants general and the Council of Governors, McKinley urged the attendees to take this program and develop it into a new program in their states to build not just military-to-military relationships, but military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian.
“As we see in the world today, the real challenges confronting us often are at the seams, at the intersection of different worlds where state meets federal, military meets police which then meets the civilian government then the civilian society,” he said.
“I would encourage all of you, in your meetings with National Guard leadership, ask them about their State Partnership Program.”