2020 was uniquely challenging for our nation and the world. As we faced the complex challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we adapted and found new ways to continue meeting our mission to strengthen U.S. allies and security partners worldwide. I am proud of our achievements last year on many fronts in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM), and, as we embark upon the first quarter of 2021, I want to share some of the ways our bureau leveraged security cooperation, defense trade, and other tools of American diplomacy to help shape the security environment for this year and beyond.
PM’s Response to the Global COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of PM’s portfolio in 2020, from defense trade and security assistance to peacekeeping and conventional weapons destruction. Despite these challenges, we found new ways to help our allies and partners meet urgent security needs and to support the U.S. defense and aerospace industry’s adaptations to working in the age of COVID-19. The U.S. government and industries were able to honor commitments to partners, while our defense industry fulfilled contracts and completed timely deliveries even in the face of persistent challenges.
Throughout 2020 PM worked with others in our Department and partner countries by authorizing the temporary utilization of PM-funded equipment – originally provided for peacekeeping and/or counterterrorism purposes – for domestic COVID-19 responses. This equipment, including field hospitals and/or ambulances in Chad, Ghana, Mauritania, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, and Mongolia, helped boost the global response to treat the infected and slow the spread of the virus. Additionally, PM led the United States’ review of new medical screening requirements before granting diplomatic clearance to foreign state/military aircraft and government/naval ships seeking to transit through U.S. territories or visit U.S. airports or ports.
Meanwhile, PM’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) issued new temporary regulatory flexibilities under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to promote teleworking and social distancing for employees across the U.S. defense and aerospace industry. We bulked up measures to safeguard national security and protect sensitive defense technologies and other types of controlled technical data. We did so while keeping up to one million American workers safe, healthy, and producing equipment and services essential for strengthening U.S. allies and partners worldwide.
As the challenges to the international free flow of goods mounted, U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) and the State Department’s Foreign Policy Advisors (POLADs) worked with the Department of Defense (DoD) to meet these critical challenges. In addition, U.S. Southern Command POLADs helped augment information in military channels with expert advice from U.S. embassy sources. The POLADs took proactive action, working through the Department’s Office of Central American Affairs and Embassy Panama, to ensure that Panamanian authorities gave permission for an aircraft to leave on an urgent medical evacuation mission. The POLAD exchange program, in operation for more than 75 years, has grown from only a handful of individual exchanges to almost 200 State and Defense positions combined, allowing for effective and quick cooperation to fight the pandemic.
Strengthening Allies and Partners Through Defense Trade in 2020
Even with the many difficult challenges that came along with 2020, our bureau was still able to accomplish our core mission and strengthen our security partnerships. Last year, American defense sales rose by 2.8 percent from $170.09 billion to $175.08 billion, sustaining and even adding thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy.
The three-year rolling average of State Department-authorized government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases implemented by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency rose to $54 billion in FY20 from $51 billion in FY19. Additionally, the dollar value of potential FMS sales formally notified to Congress rose by more than 50 percent from $58.33 billion to $87.64 billion.
In the commercial sector, the value of Department-authorized commercial export licenses via Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) totaled $124.3 billion in FY20, up from $114.7 billion in FY19, representing an 8.4 percent increase. This included several multibillion-dollar sales to partners like India, Australia, and Japan, as well as the United Kingdom and other NATO Allies. This increase in demand reflects our partners’ longstanding national security requirements and demonstrates why the United States remains the security and defense partner of choice for nations around the world.
In July 2020, President Trump updated our policy governing the sale, transfer, and subsequent use of U.S.-origin Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). The U.S. government invoked its national discretion on the implementation of the Missile Technology Control Regime’s (MTCR) “strong presumption of denial” for transfers of Category I systems to treat a carefully selected subset of MTCR Category I UAS. The United States remains a committed member of the MTCR and holds it as an important nonproliferation tool to curb the spread of high-end missile technologies to countries such as North Korea and Iran. In addition to these and other innovations, the release of the new Defense Export Controls and Compliance System (DECCS) registration system shows our continued commitment to modernizing and streamlining regulations, to the benefit of the U.S. national defense industry in 2021 and the years ahead.
Support for Peacekeeping Efforts
Peacekeeping was a top issue for our bureau throughout this past year, as I addressed on several occasions. The U.S. government and PM remain deeply committed to United Nations and regional peacekeeping as a critical tool for promoting international peace and stability and the protection of civilians.
In December, I spoke on the importance of peacekeeping, and particularly the role that women play in peace and security around the globe. Although conflict has disproportionately affected women and girls, women remain under-represented in efforts to prevent and resolve conflict and have not been included in post-conflict peace-building activities commensurate with their capabilities. I am proud the United States recognizes the relevant roles women play as agents of change in preventing and resolving conflict, countering terrorism and violent extremism, and building post conflict peace and stability. Women peacekeepers in conflict-affected regions served by UN peace operations have achieved significant success in stabilizing societies by enhancing the effectiveness of security services, peacekeeping efforts, institutions, and decision-making processes. Under the United States’ Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), partner countries increased the number of deployed female peacekeepers by 109 percent. To build on this progress, we will continue to train and enable the integration of females into deploying peacekeeping units.
Through GPOI, the world’s largest peace operations capacity building program, the Department of State, in collaboration with our colleagues at DoD, works with 55 partner countries around the world to enhance international capacity to conduct UN and regional peace operations. Despite COVID limitations, we sustained the presence of our long-term advisors and resumed our pre-deployment training support, particularly to our African partner countries. Moreover, ongoing training facility refurbishments and the provision of equipment packages continue, as does PM’s commitment to working with our partner nations to embolden and support peacekeeping efforts.
Success with U.S.-Poland Defense Cooperation
Throughout 2020, the United States bolstered its defense cooperation with its European allies. In August, the United States and Poland signed the U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which provides the framework for both nations to work together to strengthen NATO and increase Transatlantic security for decades to come. The EDCA supplements the 1951 NATO Status of Forces Agreement and establishes a modern framework for implementing U.S and Polish efforts to enhance and modernize our capabilities in support of collective defense of the NATO Alliance. In addition, the EDCA provides the necessary authorities for U.S. forces to access specific Polish military installations as well as to conduct activities for the mutual defense of the United States and Poland.
Poland’s in-kind contributions under the EDCA will offset costs for the United States and will also directly benefit the Polish economy. Additionally, the United States will continue to bear the greater costs of training, equipping, and deploying U.S. forces to Poland. These combined efforts provide improved security and stability for our nations in a cost-effective way.
The United States values our strong bilateral relationship with Poland, and we applaud Poland’s ratification of the EDCA. This step will permit us to implement fully the enhanced defense cooperation envisioned by Presidents Trump and Duda.
Strategic Advisors Add Value
The United States’ role as the “partner of choice” for our security partners was underscored by the success of the Global Defense Reform Program (GDRP). In 2020, GDRP funded 21 strategic-level advisory engagements in 22 countries. These engagements focused on key U.S. foreign policy and national security goals and objectives including cybersecurity; maritime security; strategic planning, including development of national security strategies; force restructuring; budget formulation; and acquisitions. The deployment of eleven strategic advisors who were embedded in the top levels of key ministries in nine of the 22 countries led to key successes in the realm of great power competition.
Successes with Weapons Removal and Abatement
Many countries around the world continue to struggle with the challenges of deadly unexploded ordnance and illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons that can fuel conflict. Although COVID-19 disrupted many of PM’s Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) programs worldwide in 2020, our NGO partners found creative ways to continue their lifesaving demining work while also using their substantial logistics capabilities to get medical supplies and personal.
Despite disruptions to the CWD programming, there were bright spots as we adapted to overcome challenges, such as an innovative social media risk education campaign in Iraq, and helping partners across Africa succeed in tackling small arms proliferation. These are only two examples of a multitude of efforts that showcase what our nation has been doing abroad in 2020 to help our partners in need to bolster human security and combat the drivers of conflict.
Furthermore, our support for conventional weapons destruction programs in Sri Lanka, DRC, Yemen, Colombia, Lebanon, as well as a win for people in Angola, helped set stage for stabilization, reconstruction, and new opportunity, where we hope to see continued growth in 2021.
PM in 2021: The Road Ahead
While 2020 was a year of unique challenges, I remain very impressed with our bureau’s various accomplishments worldwide. I applaud the incredibly hard work of everyone in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, across the Departments of State, Defense, and in the defense industry for making this another excellent year in being the security partner of choice, the preferred partner, for our allies and partners. Managing COVID-19 conditions into 2021 is an operational reality, but given the performance of our bureau and industry in 2020, I am confident America will continue to deliver for our partners in 2021. I look forward to another excellent year in defense and security cooperation for our bureau.
About the Author: The Honorable R. Clarke Cooper is the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.