As the Army continues the perpetual assessment of challenges and opportunities it will face in coming years, one thing is certain: If U.S. policy is to lead first with diplomacy, in a whole-of-government approach to national security challenges, it is important to remember that a strong military and a strong Army are what make successful diplomacy possible. Yet the Army cannot, does not and will not fight alone.
The Army is the keystone component of a strong joint force. Just as important, the Army is a critical partner in a global land power network that relies on allies and partners to achieve collective security objectives. As Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville has written, “Alliances and partnerships are crucial to U.S. success.” National alliances provide the U.S. with decisive advantage against peer competitors, particularly as they relate to integrated, strategic deterrence. However, for trusted alliances to be resilient and enduring, they must be consistently and continuously developed, and mutually beneficial.
America’s allies are not preordained; neither should they be presumed. Decisions to withdraw from international leadership roles erode America’s reputation abroad and weaken confidence in America’s reliability as an ally. Additionally, nationalistic or isolationist policies give allies cause to question U.S. resolve. This creates opportunities for peer adversaries to challenge U.S. global leadership and exploit perceived U.S. weakness in what McConville describes as the “narrative competition.”
For the Army’s part, McConville states, “The Army contributes to narrative competition by being a lethal, competent, credible force and being recognized as such by … allies and partners, as well as adversaries.” Winning the narrative competition creates a foundational dynamic that assures allies and partners, while deterring malign action by adversaries. A fundamental challenge the Army faces, however, is its ability to improve allied integration and interoperability, particularly at the strategic level.
When crisis and conflict develop, barriers to allied integration are quickly overcome. However, in the future joint operational environment where the velocity of war is exponentially increased, waiting for conflict to occur and delaying the removal of barriers and hurdles to allied integration will have catastrophic consequences. National, institutional and bureaucratic policies that prevent integration with allies during times of relative peace cripple and undermine the ability to work together as international crises arise. Obstructions to allied integration and interoperability must be overcome before international crisis and armed conflict.
As national strategies continue to develop, there are strategic opportunities the Army and DoD should champion and pursue. To revitalize America’s alliances and partnerships, the Army should advocate for and pursue policies that build partner capacity while removing barriers and hurdles to allied engagements. Specifically, policies that ease restrictions on information-sharing should be carefully considered.
Information-sharing barriers that prevent or overly constrain allied integration come in all shapes and sizes. Granted, there are legitimate concerns related to the classification and protection of sensitive information and data. However, it is imperative that the puzzle of policies that prevent information-sharing be navigable, if not solved. With the rapid evolution of adversary capabilities and U.S. aspirations of decision dominance, maintaining relevant policy has fallen behind, leaving exploitable gaps and seams in multidomain environments. This requires a top-down, departmentwide and servicewide directed effort that aligns information-sharing policies with allied integration priorities.
The Army must ensure that formal agreements, interactions, shared systems and capabilities are not overly encumbered or unnecessarily stymied by archaic policies and processes from a bygone era. Failure to remove hurdles to allied integration in the future operational environment will prove to be disastrous and cannot wait until conflict erupts to be addressed. Specific opportunities for this effort exist with individual and collective groups of allied partners working toward integrated air and missile defense policies, initiatives and architectures.
Regionally, the Army’s air and missile defense commands lead several efforts on behalf of combatant commanders. These efforts focus on advocating for and building allied and partner capacity, and removing barriers to integration and interoperability. The commands work tirelessly to build strong relationships with allies and partners, conducting tactical and operational training events that build trust among allies in common weapon systems, while assuring partners of U.S. strategic commitments to collective security.
Globally, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense leads multiple initiatives to train and educate allies and partners in the domain of integrated air and missile defense. In 2018, the Joint Ballistic Missile Defense Training and Education Center, a component of the Joint Functional Component Command, was certified as the first Joint Center of Excellence in DoD. Each year, the training and education center trains numerous allied personnel during thousands of hours in the classroom on the principles and capabilities of missile defense. Teams from the center travel the globe to provide world-class, tailored training to allies in person and, over the past year, have validated the capability to provide missile defense training and education virtually.
At the strategic level, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense leads the Nimble Titan war game series, the military’s premier integrated air and missile defense international engagement initiative.
Nimble Titan is an experimental campaign focused on national military policy related to integrated air and missile defense. The series provides mutual benefit to both the U.S. delegation and the 24 participating allied nations by identifying policy roadblocks and capability gaps in integrated air and missile defense scenarios. Studies have found that the mutual benefits of these integrated air and missile defense initiatives increase multinational interoperability, build partner capacity, reduce high demand on low-density U.S. resources and leverage allied capabilities through burden-sharing.
Strengthening alliances and building partner capacity are strategic priorities with threads interwoven through the Army’s enduring priorities of people, readiness and modernization. Alliances are not an abstract concept but are built on concrete personal relationships developed and maintained over time. Enduring alliances, strengthened through consistent and routine combined joint training and operations, are fundamental to strategic readiness in the face of major conflict.
Finally, alliances enabled by policies that promote integration and interoperability are a critical component of modernization in a global land power network.
As the Army continues to develop policies, concepts and capabilities to contribute to and execute joint force operations in a multidomain environment, it must ensure that integration of allies and partners is a top priority. Combined joint operations must be routine. Integration and interoperability with allies cannot be accomplished if they are an afterthought. Peer competitors will persistently challenge the U.S. and the Army across all domains, searching for and exploiting weaknesses in an attempt to fracture and disintegrate alliances and coalitions.
Achieving a relevant global land power network that contributes to integrated, strategic deterrence means having a clear understanding of the allied relationships that must be persistently fostered and consistently nurtured to advance U.S. national security interests. Additionally, mutually beneficial allied integration should be a priority, not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end—decision dominance and overmatch against adversaries and collective security with U.S. allies and partners.
Because allies come with their own national interests, resources and capabilities, Army senior leaders must be able to engage with individual partner nations. Policies, regulations, guidance and instructions should enable senior leaders, providing them with delegated authorities to collaborate, experiment and conduct deliberate planning and exercises related to real-world friendly and threat capabilities. Discovery learning in times of crisis and conflict may cost lives and precious resources.
The Army must relook and optimize its allied relationships and build partner capacity. However, national strategic successes of the past cannot lull the U.S. into advancing old protocols into the 21st century. Leading with diplomacy is a correct approach to international relations. But diplomacy must be supported and backed by a strong, credible military force, supporting and supported by America’s allies and partners.
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Col. Todd Schmidt is director of plans, policy and allied integration for the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Strategic Command, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Previously, he was a battalion commander and a U.S. Army Goodpaster Scholar. He holds a doctorate in international relations/political science from the University of Kansas.