Following “You Can’t Surge Trust,” an event hosted by the Georgetown University Center for Security Studies, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs sat down with Major General Lawrence Martin Jr. to discuss contemporary security cooperation policies.
GJIA: What are the various ways in which the United States Air Force implements security cooperation abroad, and what are the biggest challenges the department faces in this process?
LM: The U.S. Air Force closely cooperates with our military partners in order to understand their airpower requirements. From there, we help partners train their airmen, strengthen their warfighting skills and interoperability through exercises, and procure the equipment that they need. The U.S. Air Force maintains a focus on building relationships that will result in increased political goodwill and greater operational cooperation between the United States and its allies.
The U.S. Air Force does face a number of difficulties. Currently, it is smaller than it has ever been in its history. Many of our partners express a desire to train with our airmen, but there just are not as many U.S. pilots as there used to be. Finding appropriate, affordable, and quality training for our partners remains a challenge.
GJIA: What are the most salient examples of both past and current security cooperation between the United States and its partners?
LM: Security cooperation is best built upon the long-standing relationships that the Air Force maintains with other countries. Right now, the coalition fighting against ISIL in the Middle East is comprised of some sixty nations overall, about twelve of which conduct air combat operations. Almost all of the countries conducting operations in partnership with the U.S. have a relationship with us with regard to how they train. The United Arab Emirates, for example, saw a relationship form with the United States Air Force in 1998, after purchasing multiple F-16s. Our relationship with the UAE is one built on procuring aircrafts, training airmen and aircraft maintainers, and conducting joint exercises. Our shared work in the military theater is based on trust. And it is this trust that enables the UAE to work with the United States, especially on shared objectives like defeating ISIL.
GJIA: Why is security cooperation important?
LM: Almost everything around the world is affected by the relationships that we have with other nations. The United States currently has working relationships with over 100 countries. We may be less active with some of our partners on a day-to-day basis, but with others, we maintain robust relationships. Relationships shift over time, particularly as the needs of our partner nations change. Keeping our objectives in line with those of our partner countries in terms of security cooperation is key to building strong connections.
GJIA: There seems to be a trend toward decreased defense spending among most countries in the world today. What is the most effective way to facilitate increased cooperation with other countries, while also incentivizing them to spend more on their own defense systems?
LM: The Air Force works together with its international partners to help them satisfy their own national objectives. We ask about their end goals and work with our partners to find solutions that will help them realize these goals. It is important to remain innovative, just as the U.S. Air Force does in trying to stretch every dollar at a time when the defense budget is not increasing, but rather staying flat. We make smart investments and also work with our partners to help them do the same.
GJIA: Are there specific means through which these limited assets can be maximized?
LM: We work hard to make the most of what we have, but there is a great deal of oversight. We strive to ensure that the relationship we have with our defense contractors is well executed and that the money is spent appropriately. Meanwhile, we also want to assist our partners in maximizing the security that they can get out of the investment that they put forth.
GJIA: Who or what is the biggest challenge to security cooperation?
LM: U.S. government oversight is one of the most sensitive items as we work with foreign governments – but it is a natural part of our government’s give and take. Oversight comes from both the executive branch and from Congress. Because of these dynamics, we feel the tension, as we always have, of how to best approach our national defense. Someone opposed to cooperating with some countries might be in favor of cooperating with another. This is grounded in the nature of the U.S. government as a democratic and balanced institution.
GJIA: Why is security cooperation necessary and not just an “added bonus”?
LM: As evinced by the tragic attacks in Belgium — in addition to concerns over rockets launched from the North Korean peninsula, growing tensions in the South China Sea and the Middle East, migrant issues affecting southern Europe, and climate change — the world has many challenges. Very few nations now have the ability to step up and invest more in security. The best way to move forward is to allow nations to come together and share the burden of addressing those challenges.
Major General Lawrence Martin Jr. is the current Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force and is responsible for Air Force policy with respect to political-military relationships. During his career in the Air Force, General Martin commanded at the squadron and wing level and has held headquarters-level assignments at Headquarters, Air Mobility Command, U.S. Pacific Command, and U.S. Transportation Command. He is also a distinguished graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and Marine Corps Command and Staff College.