By Navy Rear Admiral Samuel Perez Jr.

In the post-Iraq/Afghanistan era, our military forces must adapt to a world in which cooperation and partnership drive success.

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, wrecking thousands of buildings and killing an estimated 300,000 people. The United States led the response by applying two of the most effective tools at its disposal: troops and diplomats.

The commander of United States Southern Command sent me to Haiti to lead an effort to rebuild and reopen the main port at Port-au-Prince to enable humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to arrive. Repairing infrastructure and coordinating the demands of donor countries required cooperation between the manpower and technical expertise of the U.S. Department of Defense and the diplomatic skills and prioritized focus of the U.S. Department of State. We spent as much time working with the U.S. Embassy—with economics officers, diplomatic liaisons and with the ambassador and his country team—as we did with our own chain of command. Our cooperation paid off. Within two weeks, troops and diplomats worked around the damage to enable aid to flow in from U.S. and international aid organizations.

This type of cooperation will be increasingly critical as we meet future security challenges. As Admiral (Ret.) James Stavridis said in his retirement address in May, “How do we best create security in this complex 21st century? In the end, we will not fully deliver security from the barrel of a gun.”

Of course, DoD and State work together on the battlefield, in the forward operating bases of Afghanistan, where Foreign Service Officers provide development assistance alongside American service members who provide security. But State-DoD cooperation goes far beyond the battlefield.

Future success will depend as much on our partners’ growing capability, capacity and competence as on U.S. military readiness and capability. Security cooperation, such as building the capacity of partners to secure and defend themselves, is an act of foreign policy. When we work with partner governments and security forces, we are making a powerful statement of alignment and affecting national and regional security balances, with political and policy implications.

Power is a multifaceted tool. Defense, diplomacy and development—the three Ds—must not only coordinate actions, but must inform each other’s thinking to apply what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “Smart Power.”

As the senior defense official assigned to the State Department, I see this cooperation in action every day. I am joined in the State Department by more than 100 uniformed officers working to coordinate and integrate policy with Defense Department operations.

Photo credit Army photo

Staff Sergeant Derek Renaud looks on as an Afghan national army soldier tries zeroing his weapon at Kabul Military Training Center.

And the exchange goes both ways. Though a fraction of the size of the military, the Foreign Service contributes almost 100 Foreign Policy Advisors to every major U.S. military command. These advisors serve as a bridge between the two departments and provide military leadership with advice and insight that only experienced diplomats can offer. There are few more telling indicators of a close relationship than the exchange of valued members and valued information. People are the core of the State-DoD relationship.

The institutional side is most visible in building partner capacity. The United States works with more than 100 countries, providing security assistance to help our partners ensure their security and to enable them to contribute to regional—and even global—security. This assistance—more than $6 billion annually in training and equipment—helps our partners contribute to peacekeeping operations, for example, or to the global alliance against piracy off the coast of Somalia, or to fight in Afghanistan.

Assistance goes through layers of coordination to ensure that it meets our national security interests and is conducted in accordance with American values. State and DoD vet and assess foreign forces before they receive U.S. assistance. Planners work together to identify opportunities for assistance and to assess how American resources can produce the greatest benefit.

The Defense Department implements programs for the State Department, such as Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training, as well as a limited number of its own capability-building programs, such as Section 1206, which grants the secretary of defense, with secretary of State concurrence, the authority to train and equip foreign militaries to conduct counterterrorism missions or stability operations.

Peacekeeping is one area in which this cooperation is paying off. When our partners share the burden of these missions, conflicts are less likely to spin out of control.

The State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) is a U.S. government-funded security assistance program intended to enhance international capacity to conduct United Nations and regional peace operations by increasing the number of capable military troops and police available for peacekeeping. GPOI’s training and equipping activities are implemented through a partnership between the Departments of State and Defense. In fact, DoD organizations implement nearly half of all GPOI programs, events and activities.

State-DoD cooperation also expands into counterterrorism and crisis contingencies. The evolving terrorist threat since 9/11 drives cooperation as security challenges have become increasingly dispersed and transnational, requiring a response that is as much based in diplomacy and international cooperation as in law enforcement and military operations.

Special Operations Command–Europe has contributed a Civil Affairs Knowledge Management Team to the State-led interagency Syrian Transition Assistance Response team in Turkey. Because Special Operations Forces are experienced in civil-military operations, they provide expertise to enable military organizations to work with civilians in conflict areas. Merging this capability into the interagency team is an example of how State and DoD effectively and efficiently leverage each other’s capabilities. Smart Power at its best.

Photo credit Army photo

A civilian role player holds his child and a box of food during a training exercise where a Rwandan platoon managed a United Nations distribution site as part of the Global Peace Operations Initiative program.

State and DoD also address emerging threats to determine long-term force postures. In the fall of 2011, President Obama announced the “rebalance” of America’s security focus to Asia and the Pacific. As a part of this, we enhanced efforts to support regional partners in the region, and the U.S. military footprint there is shifting.

The State Department, through the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, works with DoD to coordinate proposed changes in U.S. defense posture, reaching out to allies through bilateral and multilateral talks and other forums to explain our plans and lay the groundwork for long-term security relationships. And because so much of what DoD does involves foreign policy—whether in the form of humanitarian assistance to countries stricken by national disasters, or in planning to deal with potential threats from belligerent states—we frequently have a seat at the table when DoD begins formulating its plans, informing DoD decisions with foreign policy expertise.

Finally, State and DoD work together at the tactical level. Anyone visiting an American Embassy will notice the U.S. Marines. They are an icon of American security overseas. However, after the attacks on our embassies and consulates during the past year, we are working to ensure the U.S. government is enhancing our overseas security posture. For example, State and DoD are working with Congress to increase the Marine Security Guard detachments at embassies and consulates. When our diplomatic facilities are more secure, they can do more to protect and assist Americans in insecure parts of the world.

In this complex world in which security is not bound by national borders and cannot be addressed by armed forces alone, international and transnational responses to the world’s problems are important. At the heart of the United States’ approach to global security is a partnership between our nation’s warriors and our diplomats.

The overlap between defense policy and foreign policy—and the confluence between national security and international engagement—will demand that this relationship continues to strengthen. The challenges we face today—from building alliances to address failed states and transnational terror networks to coordinating humanitarian relief on a massive scale—indicate the need for an effective political-military partnership is stronger than ever.

–Navy Rear Admiral Samuel Perez Jr. is the deputy assistant secretary for Plans, Programs, and Operations in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.