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NGB State Partnership Program at 30: A Lasting Legacy of International Importance

NGB State Partnership Program at 30: A Lasting Legacy of International Importance

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2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). The SPP, a Department of Defense security cooperation program, pairs the National Guard of every U.S. state and territory to one (or more) partner nations. Initially created following the collapse of the Soviet Union to aid transitioning central and eastern European militaries, the program has now grown to 88 partnerships with 100 nations around the globe. Not only does the program build long-term strategic relationships which enhance the military capabilities of partner countries, it also provides unique training opportunities for U.S. personnel to foster understanding of global security and international cooperation.

The mission of the SPP is codified in U.S. Code and authorizes the secretary of defense to leverage the National Guard to conduct security cooperation with military forces and security forces of a designated foreign country, as well as foreign governmental organizations whose primary function includes emergency response/disaster preparedness. Activities are conducted to support both U.S. geographic combatant commander (GCCs) goals in all six GCCs, as well as State Department foreign policy goals. SPP simultaneously fosters critical relationships and increases capabilities, and includes activities ranging from emergency response/disaster preparedness to aviation operations and cyber defense at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. And the value of the program has widespread recognition both domestically and internationally. For example, Slovenia credits the SPP relationship with Colorado as a key factor in their ability to achieve NATO standards (and subsequently join NATO).

While there are countless examples of impactful SPP activities, perhaps the most visible today is the longstanding relationship between the California National Guard and Ukraine. The partnership was established as one of the initial 13 partnerships in 1993 and activities have steadily accelerated over the past 30 years, especially following the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. Following the 2014 hostilities, California National Guard played a key role in the establishment of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine (JMTG-U), which continues to train Ukrainians today. Through the SPP, the Ukrainian military has worked with the California Army Guard and Air Guard, as well as units from around the U.S. to conduct more than 1,000 training events, covering logistics & sustainment, military decision-making, and establishment of Joint Operations Centers. These legacy trainings continue to bear fruit. While the success in combatting Russian forces thus far in goes to the Ukrainian forces fighting on the front lines, the trust that has been built with the California National Guard has allowed the U.S. to be better informed and better positioned to provide rapid assistance. In fact, the California National Guard established a Ukraine Fusion Cell within 24 hours of Russia crossing the border, which enabled seamless communication and requests for aid and assistance.

Likewise, ongoing SPP activities will continue to play a vital role in great power competition. The Illinois National Guard has enabled Polish counterparts to increase their capabilities—a necessary development in the face of an increasingly aggressive Russia. And ongoing partnerships with the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia will undoubtedly play a role in any developments or operations in the South China Sea.

SPP also has several other benefits for U.S. national security. At the strategic level, SPP activities enhance strategic relationships worldwide, including in Africa, Latin America, and the Arctic, which provide a necessary foundation for integrated deterrence. And at the operational level, activities provide situational awareness of operating areas and improve interoperability and readiness—a crucial takeaway for the second largest force in the defense enterprise. With a cost of less than 1% of the $6 billion security cooperation budget, SPP also operates as a cost-effective, whole of society program that creates a lasting positive diplomatic and military legacy.

As SPP embarks on the next 30 years, the nation should be exceptionally proud of the investments made in both our National Guardsman at home and our partners abroad. Regardless of the challenges the future may bring, there is little doubt the National Guard and SPP will continue to be “Always Ready, Always There.”