HASC Hearing: Engagement with Allies and Partners
By Michael Johns, - NDIA Junior Policy Fellow
Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, both countries have become the focal points of the most significant European security crisis in decades. United States policymakers seeking to respond to the invasion have rightly attempted to work as closely as possible with U.S. allies and partners to coordinate a full-spectrum response to the invasion that includes both punitive measures toward Russia and supportive policies toward Ukraine. While the strength of these alliances and partnerships are being tested in response to this crisis, it is of the utmost importance that U.S. policymakers continue to strengthen this collaborative network of allies and partners that form the basis of U.S. influence abroad.
To this end, Chairman Adam Smith of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) called a hearing last Tuesday titled “Engagement with Allies and Partners.” This hearing’s stated aim was to “evaluate the effectiveness of the departments’ employment of security cooperation, security assistance, and other programs authorized by Congress for such purposes.” There were two witnesses for the hearing: Dr. Mara Karlin, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities; and Ms. Jessica Lewis, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
Ms. Lewis’s opening statement openly acknowledged the relevance of the Ukraine context and suggested that it could be interpreted as a positive sign for the strength of U.S. alliances and partnerships, in which multiple countries – “bearing burdens together, with everyone doing their part” – successfully planned and implemented a thorough response to the Ukraine crisis. While affirming the administration’s readiness to engage in diplomacy, she specifically lauded the effort to “[supply] the Ukrainian military with significant lethal and non-lethal training and equipment to bolster its ability to counter Russian aggression.” Importantly, she also clearly affirmed that the U.S. military will never be sent to directly intervene in Ukraine.
Ms. Lewis also contrasted U.S. relationships to its allies and partners – true “partnerships” based on “traditional, and decades old, alliances in Europe and Asia … [bringing] to bear a global network of like-minded states” – against the approach of U.S. adversaries, who simply “seek to advance their own malign interests by co-opting and cajoling countries who are vulnerable to such advances.”
This theme of ‘American values’ as the basis for the strength of U.S. alliances and partnerships was present throughout the hearing; both witnesses specifically affirmed that all relationships should be based not just on U.S. interests but American values. Dr. Karlin herself differentiated U.S. security cooperation as that which has “some real standards,” noting in her opening statement that the U.S. sets “a high bar for human rights, gender equity and equality, humanitarian affairs, and rule of law.”
To improve U.S. security cooperation, Dr. Karlin noted that the Department of Defense is focusing on three priority areas.
The first is concerned with prioritizing “who and what we invest in,” acknowledging that “the way we approach security cooperation with states on the PRC’s and Russia’s periphery fundamentally differs from how we employ security cooperation elsewhere.” Although in most of the world the U.S. attempts to cultivate “select security partners” with regional influence, Dr. Karlin said, on the Chinese and Russian periphery the U.S. instead “emphasizes building resilience and capability to counter coercive or revisionist activity.”
The second priority area is sustainable impact, striving to incorporate longer-term strategic planning into U.S. investments with the goal of ensuring that allies and partners can properly sustain any capabilities the U.S. provides. Dr. Karlin noted that to accomplish this goal, “we are adopting rigorous learning, encouraging our workforce and partners to identify past pitfalls to draw out what success looks like in security cooperation and tailor it to the partner’s context.”
The third priority area is building a more holistic, integrated approach to U.S. security cooperation, which better considers “higher order questions of mission, organizational structure, and personnel.” Dr. Karlin specifically connected this priority area with the previous goal of sustainability, noting that the U.S. is attempting to ensure that “our partnerships are resilient to shocks and stresses and can endure well past the day when we are consistently investing in them.”
As U.S. policymakers attempt to leverage allies and partners to respond to the Ukraine crisis, the HASC hearing last week accounted strongly for the continued importance of those collaborative relationships, based not just on shared interests but also shared history and values, to maintain regional security. This network of alliances and partnerships is the U.S.’s greatest asset comparative to its adversaries. Future policy should carefully consider how these relationships were useful in responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and how they can potentially be strengthened in the hopes of responding more effectively to future security crises.
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