Small Wars Journal

How can Multilateral and Bilateral security partnerships coexist, while advancing U.S. strategic goals?

Sun, 06/19/2022 - 4:40pm

How can Multilateral and Bilateral security partnerships coexist, while advancing U.S. strategic goals?

By Ahmet Ajeti

The United States of America is a unique example in the world’s affairs when it comes to having stretched its influence to every corner of the world. The U.S. has a great number of bilateral defense and security partnerships, as well as membership in many multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, etc. In addition to these partnerships, regional or “coalitions of the willing” are another instrument in United States’ arsenal in advancing its interests worldwide. These Coalitions are generally functional - meaning they deal with a phenomenon, such as terrorism - or regional specific issues, where they tackle a threat from/to a specific country, or region.


While these partnerships bring many advantages, they are not always easy to manage. In many instances, certain countries might be friends and partners with the United States, but they are rivals, or enemies with each other. Such cases make multilateral engagements difficult for the U.S. In some instances, it can damage the United States’ influence over an individual country, as it might be perceived that the U.S. is favoring the country’s enemy.


These challenges are more evident when it comes to the need to bring a bigger coalition together. The animosity between different U.S. partners makes it difficult to have the coalition function without friction. Depending on the operation, the U.S. has been successful in mitigating these differences in certain operations, at least in the theater of operations. Usually, this is done by physically deploying in separate AORs.


The value of bilateral partnerships in the multilateral environment

The United States has quite successfully used multilateral and bilateral partnerships ‘against’ one another, to advance its interests in respective partnerships. In the United Nations, apart from being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. can push its agenda by relying on the support of a close bilateral relationship with individual UN member states.


On the other hand, the weight of multilateral partnerships can be used to advance a bilateral partnership. Among many cases, the use of NATO in support of the Baltic countries and Poland, has advanced bilateral partnerships between the U.S. and the aforementioned countries.  


Bilateral partnerships can be both geographically, or regionally constrained (U.S. – Japan, or U.S. – South Korea partnerships), or can be global (United Kingdom, Canada). Among many benefits of such relations is flexibility. The U.S. can adapt a bilateral partnership to address a time or region-specific interest. This adaptation is difficult in a multilateral environment. These partnerships are constrained by the established rules, processes, and treaty agreements and changing them to meet the challenge is either too slow or cannot be done at all.


The best use of bilateral and multilateral partnerships is when they can be ‘dual-use’, or complementary to one another. The case of the U.S.-UK partnership works best for this example. The U.S. ‘uses’ its “special relationship” with the United Kingdom for both bilateral cooperation and action, as well as in the multilateral organizations and partnerships that they are both part of. On the bilateral side, the U.K. has stood by the U.S. in almost all of U.S. global engagement in pursuit of U.S. interests. It does help that the UK’s interests are nearly always aligned with those of the U.S.



The United States needs to try to find a balance between bilateral and multilateral partnerships. While both are important, the bilateral partnerships have been the backbone of the United States’ advance of its strategic interests. Multilateral platforms/partnerships are still relevant, but any success that the U.S. has achieved was mainly due to well-nurtured bilateral partnerships. Aside from Europe - where multilateral partnership through NATO has been a cornerstone for the United States’ ability to project its influence after WWII - in other regions in the world, like the Middle East and all of Asia, there is not yet another credible multilateral alternative for the U.S. to advance its interests, though the QUAD and AUKUS may be effective in the future. Similarly, in Latin America, bilateral partnerships should continue to be the main platform for the U.S. to project its influence and pursue its strategic goals.


While stressing the importance and credibility of the bilateral partnerships and alliances, the same ones should be used to advance the interest of the U.S. in multilateral forums.

About the Author(s)

Colonel Ahmet Ajeti is a graduate of the College of International Security Affairs at National Defense University, in Washington DC.

2014-2021 Colonel Ahmet Ajeti, has served as Kosovo Defense and Security  Attaché, at the Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo in Brussels.

While covering NATO political and practical cooperation with the Republic of Kosovo, and its institutions, Colonel Ajeti was the focal point of contact and coordination between all levels of NATO and Kosovo’s key leadership and institutions.

 Among key achievements during this period is the advancement of the practical and political cooperation between Kosovo and NATO, including involvement in negotiation and development of the Enhanced Interaction – the current framework of Kosovo-NATO cooperation. He has also developed the plan for further advancement of this cooperation and coordinated with key NATO national delegations to treat at the partner level Kosovo’s cell of the future Delegation to NATO.  Colonel Ajeti has coordinated tens of visits and exchanges between Kosovo and NATO leadership.

During his time in Brussels, Colonel Ajeti has also served as prime security and military advisor for the Kosovo Ambassadors to the Kingdom of Belgium and to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In addition to NATO cooperation, Colonel Ajeti was tasked with the responsibility to further develop bilateral cooperation with the Belgian MoD and Armed Forces, as well as the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
April 2009-September 2013 Ahmet has worked with the United States Department of Defense as Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Humanitarian Assistance Program Manager. In this capacity, Ahmet has coordinated and managed millions of USD worth of military equipment and training, and humanitarian assistance.

Before moving to the US Office of Defense Cooperation in 2009, Ahmet served as Deputy Commander, Professional Development Center, TRADOC, Kosovo Security Force.

 After moving to a new job with U.S. DoD, he remained part of the Kosovo Security Force Active Reserve component, appointed as Military Advisor to the Land Forces Commander.

2004-2008 He served as the Foreign Languages Branch Chief, Kosovo Protection Corps Training and Doctrine Command. During this period of time, Ahmet has also taught as a part-time lecturer at the New Age Foreign Languages School in Prishtina. 

During  2003-2004, as KPC Advisor to Kosovo Protection Corps Coordinator (Major General Andrew Cummings (UK)), Colonel Ajeti advised MG Cummings on a range of issues, from Kosovo security threats and challenges to Kosovo Protection Corps development, its personnel, training, and equipment.

2000-2003 Ahmet served in various positions at Kosovo Protection Corps Zone IV Search and Rescue Units.

Colonel Ajeti holds a degree from the University of Pristina, as well as various certificates and diplomas from the KPC, US Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management, Croatian Defense Academy and holds a Master’s of Arts Degree in Strategic Security Studies, from the U.S. National Defense University.

Ahmet is married with two children. His hobbies are football, hiking, and reading.