Small Wars Journal

Things that Partners Need to Know about Working with Americans

Sat, 05/03/2014 - 9:32am

Things that Partners Need to Know about Working with Americans

James Howcroft

Military partnerships in an alliance or coalition are the norm today. The nature of current international threats, coupled with global fiscal and political problems, makes it unlikely Americans will deploy unilaterally to address the security challenges of the 21st century. On the other hand, it is unlikely that multinational military deployments will occur without US participation, if not in a leading role, then often in the form of a unique niche or support capability that our partners lack, such as our intelligence support, targeting, communications, aerial refueling and strategic lift  - the Libya and Mali interventions are but two examples. The ability of Americans and our partners to coordinate and cooperate within alliances and coalitions will greatly influence how successful we are at addressing the international security threats of the 21st Century. We can all learn to be better partners.

On June 25th of last year Small Wars Journal published an article I wrote entitled “Things Americans Need to Know: How to be Better Partners” outlining ten points Americans need to keep in mind to work better with our partners in alliances and coalitions. The article generated a great deal of positive and informative discussion and feedback both from partners and Americans. Many who responded noted that “it works both ways” and suggested an article that examines the reciprocal side of the issue; in other words … what do Americans want partners to know about working with us? Based on the feedback and discussion from hundreds of individuals, I offer the following ten thoughts to help partners working alongside Americans understand us better in our future missions.

1. We plan for our people to be replaceable

The US military is a large force with multiple global commitments in support of our allies and alliances around the world. We train a Captain to serve in Korea and then be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq and be able to contribute immediately.   Our tours of duty are rarely more than 2-3 years, and we usually change jobs within this 2 or 3 year period. Career service members who stay in are used to being deployed, have varied backgrounds and worldwide experience. Our model is “arrive, make friends, work, transfer….. repeat”. Checklists, common formats and SOPs are designed to facilitate this interoperability. Checklists help tired people to do the right thing in stressful situations; they are not intended to keep them from getting the mission done or to impede flexible thinking. In poorly trained units it does. Units that strictly follow checklists and let regulations “keep them” from doing their job are our less successful units.  Our focus on short tours, being replaceable and globally deployable makes it harder for us to develop your level of in-depth knowledge about a region or problem set and discourages us from investing the time we should in developing personal relationships with our partners.

2. We believe there is a solution to every problem.

Americans believe in their ability to influence the environment around them. We find it almost impossible to consider that there are things that lie beyond our ability to achieve.  If something cannot be done, we don’t think it is fate or God’s will, but because we didn’t plan hard enough or insufficient effort or resources were applied. These notions are reinforced to us from our first day in the military. We are taught that “failure is not an option” and “admitting failure is impossible”. Closely tied to this notion is our belief that change is good, linked to progress, improvement or growth; while the more traditional societies in which we may work often consider change disruptive and destabilizing.   Americans will struggle with implementing or watching others implement an imperfect, status quo program.

3. We love technology…almost to a fault.

Historically, Americans have been successful in war because of firepower and our ability to apply overwhelming resources. We see technology as the crucial force multiplier to replace firepower, an advantage to be exploited, that will allow us to dominate and win on the battlefield with minimal casualties. Americans value newness and innovation; a newer system is by definition better than an older one. We implement new systems, regardless of the pain and turmoil involved in implementation, if there is even a promise of an improved outcome. Since 2001, we have invested heavily in technology, which has driven competing versions of systems of technology with seductive promises of easing decision-making, information dominance and bloodless victory to mitigate fears of casualties on the evening news.  Inevitably, technology will be imperfect in its performance and unable to meet our inflated expectations. Harsh environments and limited infrastructure can cause technology to fail. Because of our over-reliance on technology we may often forget how to operate without it. For example, few soldiers who entered service in the past decade have ever used paper maps. Use this as an opportunity to teach us your methods for operating.  Often, these methods may work better than our own and you will build tremendous credibility with us.

4. From our perspective… you don’t share well either.

Communication is a two way street. We want partners to candidly share the positives and negatives of their efforts and what their plans are.  Often partners can be hesitant to share where they have made mistakes and what they did to alleviate problems. This is certainly understandable, but it isn’t helpful either. When we arrive and begin our cooperation with you we will ask questions and probably inquire ‘have you tried a, b, or c?’  Don’t be insulted because we ask. We are not asking because we think you are not capable of doing the job.  Americans believe it is a virtue to be direct and straight forward when asking questions. (Although admittedly, we don’t enjoy being on the receiving end either!)   If you are not willing to inform us as to what is going on, what you have done, what hasn’t worked and how you intend to proceed, then do not become indignant when we ask you numerous direct questions.

5. We put great faith in the capabilities of our enlisted force.

We are quite proud of our enlisted force and actively strive to give them increasing levels of responsibility and authority throughout their career.  This is important for reasons of recruitment and retention and it also allows us to exploit the skills of an educated, tech savvy population. The frequent moves by officers and commanders previously mentioned means senior enlisted are often the continuity and group memory so essential to a good unit. When a Colonel defers to his “duty expert” it is usually an enlisted man or woman he turns to.  Admittedly, some services and some units do a better job than others of nurturing this valuable human resource. You can use this as a measure to assess the quality and capabilities of the American unit you are working with.  Sometimes we don’t realize that how you relate to enlisted ranks in your military is different than how we do it. Sending an enlisted man or woman to support you or deal with your request is not intended as a sign of disrespect… it is our norm.  When we send someone to do a job, we look at skill set, not rank, age, gender or ethnicity.

6. Don’t be surprised that domestic issues drive what we do.

US forces deploy overseas at the request of a partner nation or to carry out a mandate directed by a multinational body, usually NATO and/or the UN Security Council.   We prefer to work with the widest number of partners to share the burden and gain legitimacy, but yes, sometimes we do things based on our narrow national interests. Every nation does this. You do too…. when you can. Because of our size we get more publicity and scrutiny when we do it. We have public open debates widely covered by a robust and skeptical media in our democracy. We are a diverse nation of 330 million people with many competing and contradictory ethnic, political, economic and religious motivations that influence our decision-making about why, when and how to get involved in a particular international crisis. There is no clever American master plan that rationally calculates the pros and cons of competing courses of action, but rather a messy give and take of contradictory domestic interests that change over time.  However, once a decision comes out of this messy domestic debate, the military will execute it loyally, without questioning the more narrow political agenda.  Moreover, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are just that – not politicians. Whether or not we should be / should have been in Iraq / Afghanistan / Bosnia et al is not our decision. When our Commander in Chief says go - we go. Everyone has an opinion about America’s reach and our role in the world – whether it smacks of imperialism or prudence, but aggressively lecturing us  about where we have/have not been, done/have not done is not particularly helpful in building a cooperative work environment.

7. Don’t assume there is a single, well-coordinated “American” position or approach.

Despite our rhetoric and wishful thinking, we still have serious problems with designing, resourcing and implementing an effective interagency or “whole of government” national level approach to problems. We have a big government with dozens of agencies and departments, with competing budgets and incompatible communications systems and institutional cultures. For every American decision, position or perspective there are half-dozen others battling in the wings questioning the chosen decision. We are horrible about working together.  Don’t assume that an American you are working with represents anything more than the interests of the particular ministry or agency he is a member of.  American military units usually understand, coordinate and communicate better with foreign militaries than with American civilian representatives.  A decade of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has made us the best we have ever been in this regard. Unfortunately,  it will proabably go back to mutual distrust and miscommunication as we deploy less in coming years.  Most of the painful lessons we have learned will be forgotten.

8. It is tough to maintain long-term public support for overseas operations. 

For a number of reasons; to include our isolated geographic position, friendly neighbors and the size of our domestic economy, events overseas are rarely important to the average American voter. Domestic issues drive elections for political office in America. It is extremely hard for senior decision makers and politicians to justify to the average American why the USA should be spending billions of US taxpayer dollars or risking their children’s lives far from home. This is especially difficult if it is perceived that the partner nation is corrupt or unwilling to commit their own children or money to the fight. It takes a catastrophic event (like 9/11) to get us committed. Once committed,  we will try to get the job done as quickly as possible to go home.

9. Our system makes it tough to formally show hospitality.

We really are open, informal and hospitable people, but our over-zealous regulations tie our hands in this regard.  Legalistic, over-interpretation of (no doubt) well - meaning regulations limit what we can spend or receive as gifts or do formally as hosts. Twenty five dollars is our limit on gifts. We are not allowed to give alcohol as a gift. That’s why you see invitations to bizarre things like “no-host” receptions or ice breakers.  You will get unit coins as gifts, not cool knives or bottles of Kentucky bourbon. A handful of well publicized episodes of drunken bad behavior over the years have led to misplaced, intense paranoia about alcohol. This has led to our outright ban on alcohol when deployed, even though we know it isn’t realistic or enforceable. We aren’t allowed or comfortable drinking in public or during the duty day and you will rarely see alcohol at events we host.  Sorry.

10. Our focus is on today and tomorrow not yesterday.

As noted previously in last year’s article, “Americans think it all started when you showed up”. We Americans have the shortest collective memories in the world. This can certainly be detrimental, but it can be a positive thing too - if you choose to use it in this light.  Our short memory helps us and hurts us. It helps because it allows us to be allies with the UK (who we fought two wars against) as well as Germany and Japan. It hurts us when we witness an aggressor nation invading sovereign states under the pretext of protecting ethnic kin and wonder if we should get involved, or wait until the costs are significantly higher.  But, our focus on today also means we don’t have several centuries of colonial bias to justify or work through.   Quite frankly, if your system worked, I wouldn’t have been deployed and be standing in a tent with you in a failed or failing state.  Similarly, our short term focus is on security and stability today and the immediate future, rather than on debating which ethnic group “rightfully” has ownership of land that has changed hands dozens of time over the last five hundred years. Yes, the background history and culture are important, please help us to understand it; just don’t be surprised if our focus and energy is on the future not backwards in time. Not having a long history or collective memory prevents us from being trapped by it.

About the Author(s)

James Howcroft serves as the Director of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center. Professor Howcroft retired as a Colonel after 30 years as an Intelligence Officer in the United States Marine Corps. He served in a wide range of Marine Corps tactical and operational intelligence billets, from Infantry Battalion up to the Marine Expeditionary Force level. His combat tours include duty with the 2nd Marine Division in Operation Desert Storm and tours of duty as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G2) with both the 1st Marine Division and then the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq.



Mon, 05/19/2014 - 1:21pm


I appreciate that your points are not exhaustive, but one is missing.

How do partners TRUST the American military?

Having trust and confidence in a partner takes time to establish, even when in a crisis or conflict.

Your article reminded me of the public revelation recently, about the role of the embedded US military staff working at the NATO / UK HQ @ Northwood, who remained in post throughout the 1982 Falklands Invasion crisis. Some may recall following the Argentinian invasion the USA wavered for several days although it has long been known that the DoD (under Caspar Weinberger) did not. Alas I cannot recall where I read this.

In November 1965 during the Rhodesian UDI crisis, a USMC helicopter pilot embedded with the Royal Marines aboard a commando carrier heading towards Africa wondered with his British comrades whether he was part of the team.

There have been numerous reports that the USA has a hierachy of nations it trusts, as illustrated by the French exclusion from much of the planning in Gulf War One - on 'security grounds'. New Zealand's policy on no nuclear weapons led to a long running dispute over visiting USN ships, even though it was a 'Five Eyes' member.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 3:51pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu--the link I posted for you is a really good starting place ---read the eight phases of the Russian UW strategy called New-Generation Warfare, then layer literally day for day developments in the Crimea against evenst on the ground and do the same for eastern and southern Ukraine. Match the events to each phase which is actually possible.

Russia is running one of the best global propaganda campaigns I have seen in over 40 years down to mihond being on the Ukraine catch all thread. There is a reason for the separatists to take TV stations.

Then use the Interfax statements not TASS layered against the Kiev Post running releases and then layered on the site and one gets a pretty good look and feel for what is happening day tor day.

What is interesting while Russia complains bitterly about proRussians being killed in Odessa--the Ukrainians have been able to publish a relatively good video documentation of what has exactly happened via

The core question is why has not the Russian army moved into the Ukraine---personally think Putin has not be able to get a solid "legal" reason to move even counting the Odessa fire. Legal is a Russian hang up for some strange reason when they themselves fail to hold to international agreements they signed.

Putins call to forego the 11 May independence elections toaday are a stunner to the proRussian Ukrainians and the not to subtle suggestion for dialogue is also a stunner for them---my question is why Putin doing this---is he using it to gain time for an intervention using his actions to support 2,3,4 and parts of phase 5 of their UW strategy because they still do not have a solid legal reason or is the sanctions regime starting to really bite---notice his comments started a Russian stock market/ruble rally.

I have said here and over on the Council thread side that once Putin sees the West is willing to hurt their own economies in the sanction process he will fold as he will understand that the West is intently serious in making him pay a price and price might be the collapse of the Russian economy. So does he park his ambitions until a later time? He felt after Georgia and Moldova that the West being so tied into globalization would not want to damage their own economies and businesses.

After seeing the EU change their legal laws on sanctions and indicating they are ready to expand to branch sanctions next Monday and the signals coming out of the WH indicating even tighter branch sanctions---he might just seeing the economic pain developing to the point that the man in the street will be starting to pay and then starting to ask why if Putin is so strong are they getting hit in their wallets and have to shift their vacations from Europe to say the Bulgarian beaches as in the old days.

By the way Putin stated the troops are moving back to their training areas-which everyone cheered about his statement then this came in this evening;
so again is he maneuvering for time or serious in de-escalating?

"Ukrainian border guards still see the Russian troops and hardware maneuvering along the border with Ukraine, the Ukrainian Border Service reported. "We still see Russia's military aviation, equipment maneuvering and troops moving not far from the Ukrainian border," the service told Interfax-Ukraine."

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 2:41pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Again, thanks for the reply. I can't embed links without my comment disappearing, but here is an excerpt from Pat Lang's site, Sic Semper Tyrannis. Before you all roll your eyes, I have been following many sites in tandem FOR YEARS. This site is great for a civilian trying to understand military culture. People here listen,engage, and respond. I love that.

However, the skulking difficult intelligence-type things? Forgive me, but this site is not the best to figure out what sneaky things are really going on behind the scenes. Over the years, his site has proved to be far more accurate although, of course, in this realm you can't be perfect. No one can. But I've been burned before by not taking into account stuff here and stuff there and reading more widely:

"Kremlin regrets approval of punitive operation in southeast of Ukraine - Putin spokesman"

“The Russian president is extremely concerned over the developments in Ukraine and the way it is interpreted in the international community, some countries of the international community,” Peskov said.

He also noted that the Russian president was receiving in a round-the-clock regime information about the developments in the southeast of Ukraine. “Intelligence and related agencies report to him,” Peskov added." itar-tass


IMO Putin is minimally involved in the unrest in SE Ukraine. It is asserted that Russian Spetznaz and the like are running the show. I doubt it. The Russians undoubtedly have some operatives in Ukraine but I do not think they are causative in the unrest. Putin knows how much Russia will lose if sectoral sanctions are applied. Russia can find other customers in the east for their oil and gas but the economic hardship while they are doing that will be impressive.

The NY times article linked below is illustrative of the number of former Russian and Soviet soldiers who are to be found in the population of eastern Ukraine. Many of them are combat men from Afghanistan. They have a lot of old equipment, but as many soldiers will tell you, the old stuff is often quite good enough. The lack of new "kit" is, as the commander of 12 Company remarks, indicative of a lack of Russian government support.

The US propaganda mill continues to sell the WH line that Russia is altogether to blame for unrest in Ukraine. What a joke! Do people really believe this? pl…;

I have learned to be very careful with many of the bloggers, writers, tweeters and so on related to this site, War on the Rocks, etc. I think you all are awesome,but the world's a tough place.

Dave: I did try and write something up for this place and Sean Kay wrote a paper at The National Interest that used a lot of the 90's era NATO stuff I had planned to use. I think Soldier No Longer in Iraq had it right, I need to take a break. I am in one of my crazy spells. This stuff makes me insane. I mean, I saw that interview with the Polish Foreign Minister and all I could think is, "no one ever makes Anne Applebaum disclose anything." A normal field of work with normal people with normal standards is just not this world, foreign policy military industrial complex wise....

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 2:52pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Thanks for the reply Outlaw. And only I would come up with such a silly theory regarding the Polish leadership and sanctions. But I stand by my early suspicions: short term and crisis management wise, okay, sanctioning Putin and people close to him. But long term, European and Russian trade supports the build up of the Russian military so how can the US be the best to titrate such a relationship? Go slowly with Europeans in the lead and American support seems better to me.

Isn't that what we are doing? Consulting with allies on sanctions. Stationing more troops in nervous nations to underscore our commitment to NATO. And who knows what we are advising the Ukrainian government to do. This whole mess is the result of lots of outside people playing in a very complicated place and expecting none of it to blow up in our faces.

I don't trust any of the narratives being presented. I am having trouble embedding links but here is an excerpt from a sometimes SWJ author from The American Conservative (Miguel Nunes Silva):

<blockquote>The Atlantic Council’s Ian Hansen made the argument last month that realists are wrong to identify NATO’s expansion as the source of tension with Russia. He argued that if only NATO had been enlarged even further to include Georgia and Ukraine, the entirety of Eastern Europe would have been made safer:

This theoretically sound conclusion fails to acknowledge that NATO expansion has actually ensured greater security against inevitable Russian aggression by consistently filling vacuums of power.

Hansen’s counterfactual advances the empirically grounded point that Russia has never attacked a NATO member, therefore NATO membership would have prevented the wars in Georgia and Ukraine. This assertion is predicated on what can only be called ignorance: both of NATO’s capabilities and interests, and of Russia’s.

In late April I took part in the NorSec ‘Nordic Security’ conference in Oslo, organized by the Norwegian Youth Atlantic Treaty Association. A number of distinguished scholars and practitioners spoke at the conference, and I truly wish Ian Hansen had been there to learn how those from Norway—NATO founding member and Cold War frontline state—think about the alliance. Unlike the Atlanticists in Washington D.C., Paris, or London, there was little talk of confronting Russia, with several panelists agreeing that in hindsight turning away Kiev and Tbilisi at the Bucharest summit had been very wise.

Norway, despite sharing land and sea borders with Russia along with competing interests in the Arctic, has always managed to preserve stability in the north. More to the point, a concept discussed in Oslo severely undermines Hansen’s world view: ‘membership +’. Norwegians believe NATO has become so bloated and incoherent that any state wishing to truly count on U.S. military assistance now has to do more than merely display their NATO membership card. Consequently, Nordic countries like Norway and Denmark have done their best to keep their defense spending high and do their part in such NATO operations as Odyssey Dawn in Libya.

Ukraine and Georgia also understood this very well, and dutifully sent what few troops they had to help in the war effort of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In spite of their volunteerism, however, the U.S. did not have their back when the Russian bear came out of hibernation. Which begs the question: would NATO membership have made much of a difference?</blockquote>

But how come Stan from Estonia and Fuch our resident German in the Council all seem so calm compared to the Americans who are freaking out? Dayuhan made that point around here too.

Anna Simons at FPRI (linked here at SWJ) made the point that there are other ways to do this, like why haven't we helped some of the smaller nations in NATO become more, in her words, "indigestible?" Aren't there a million ways to do this? And why don't WE ask someone like the Norwegians instead of assuming we have all the answers as the Americans?

As for not having people's back, well, that's what I hate about this. The American system is always making grand promises to people that it just can never fulfill. It's impossible. I hate that we created a sense of expectation just so we could have a global NATO for our adventurism. I feel bad for the soldiers in NATO that fought in Afghanistan and expected more.

You all may know the military world. But I keep pretty close track of some of the US politicians that grandstand on these issues. They never meant it.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 2:17am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu---something left out by the author and is extremely important is for Americans to slow down---I have heard that coming from NATO militaries all the time---we tend to be in a hurry and while we want the partner to carry the load and or do something we tend to then get tired of waiting for action/results and attempt to do it ourselves just so it gets done.

This apparent impatience is viewed then by others to be overbearing/demanding--- but reference the current Ukraine issue---in some aspects part of the core problem with NATO is that it requires virtually a 100% consensus on just about any decision made and the same goes for the EU.

Example---recently in a NATO doctrine publication it took a little over three years just to get two sentences and three words changed so that all could agree.

Right now the issue is the US must led for the simple reason that yes it might be viewed as European issue but it comes back to the simple old term "real politik" a clash of a superpower and a second wanna be superpower who is suffering from a dramatic loss of power within weeks (PTSD) and months not years and who is trying to reestablish themselves in the club of superpowers.

In that case someone has to led the 28 or they will never get to the end point.

What will get Putin's immediate attention as he is playing the globalization game with the EU meaning you cannot hurt me without hurting yourselves is to actually make sanction decisions that hurt the EU as a whole--then the sanctions by the EU have a meaning-- yes we are willing to even hurt ourselves in the defense of our perceived common values---then and only then will Putin pull back for awhile.

What is interesting though is the following link which refers to Russia's New Generation Warfare being practiced currently in the Ukraine which is really built on a strategic UW strategy---neither the US/NATO/EU has an answer for it because they did not see it coming and or it's development-although after Georgia, and Moldavia they had strong hints of it's existence--but again globalization ruled meaning it is back to business as usual.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 12:08am

Okay. Listening is a two-way street.

You all really are hurt that you perceive an ally being threatened and can't help. I will try and be more understanding.

But what do I do with this?


It was a month ago. We told him we were not doing it.

Europe has enormous business relationships with Russia and is dependent on Russian gas.

Poland’s relationship is bigger than most. We trade with Russia as much as the U.S. does. But our economy is smaller, so you can imagine that it is a bigger part of our economy. Seven percent of our exports go to Russia. That is why we are reluctant to impose sanctions on Russia. We would rather Russia stop doing what is giving rise to the need for sanctions.

<strong>What would you like to see the United States do?</strong>

The U.S. is in the lead on sanctions and hopefully can tell it like is to the Russians. And the U.S. is helping Ukraine, too. A $1 billion loan has just been passed in Congress.</blockquote>

Many of these allies are calling for sanctions but wish the Germans or the US or others to take the lead. They have little intention of doing anything.

You won't find these things in Dr. Deni's article at War on the Rocks.

Help me. Help me to understand.

I find this stuff all the time. I don't even put my best stuff on here. I don't understand how analysis leaves these things out.…

PS: I copied and pasted some of that out of order. The link is from Peter Hitchens site.

I know the idea is to work with partners because the military is not responsible for these things. But any strategy should understand the nature of these complicated connections, shouldn't it? There are reasons for a softly softly approach by our allies. Do we enable more reckless behavior when we ignore the obvious or show our eagerness to help? When I read some military strategy around here I feel sometimes as if I am staring into a fun house mirror. Nothing that really matters is ever discussed. It always feels to me like people are hiding things, perhaps from themselves.

This happened all the time during the Cold War, that special favors were granted to NATO countries even as we guaranteed their security. It was noted by other nations. Many other nations. At its extreme in Afghanistan, this behavior caused us to pay for both sides of a conflict. And this is how you became desensitized enough to think it was okay.

Well, that listening lasted about half a second, didn't it?

Help me to understand.

PPS: A friend emailed me and said I didn't get that right. EU membership and all that. What is he saying in that interview? That they will follow the US? Is this what Outlaw is talking about? But there is enormous pressure by various groups NOT to do some things behind the scenes.

Again, help me to understand?


Mon, 05/05/2014 - 7:15am

In reply to by Bill M.

Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of my ten points. As you correctly note, there could have been more, but I wanted to keep it succinct, and these were the particular issues that have been the most meaningful to me throughout my interactions with our partners. James

I think James's article is valuable if for no other reason it forces us to look at ourselves with a critical eye. Understanding ourselves, who we really are instead of who we want to be, is just as important as understanding our allies, partners and adversaries when crafting strategy and plans. We have all seen unrealistic plans, models, and strategies that perhaps could have been executed by an ideal U.S. government, but didn't stand a chance with our current form of government and military bureaucracy and culture.

His comments apply to conventional forces, interagency partners, and in some cases to special operations forces. He missed several key points related to careerism, the impact of the GAO mentality, the ineffectiveness of excessively relying on partners, etc.., but I'll only focus on his points.

1. We plan for our people to be replaceable: We do and for many good reasons. This is a reality that we simply must live with, to include SOF. What can and should be fixed is ensuring the replacement units are on the same plan (unless it is broke and needs to change) as their predecessors. In Iraq when Special Forces units switched out the new unit would often pursued different priorities and ways which confused those they were assisting. I assume the same happened with conventional forces, but SOF started to address this issue late in the war. Even where we're not at war we experience this challenge. I recently spoke to a partner nation SOF soldier from the Middle East who was receiving security assistance from the U.S. and while very much appreciative he said it was very confusing each time the teams of advisors switched out, because each team had their own tactics and way of teaching, and although there was a persistent presence with rotating teams, they weren't making forward progress to the extent they could if they all were working off the same plan. For partner forces just getting their sea legs they need to learn a basic doctrinal way of doing things that is appropriate to their country. Once they're proficient you can introduce new ideas and approaches.

2. We believe their is a solution to every problem. So true and so important. We spend billions foolishly trying to change conditions that are enduring (conditions are not problems), and ignore the actual problems we can solve.

3. We love technology to a fault. Yes, and unfortunately there is too much focus with our security assistance programs in selling U.S. technology instead of developing culturally and financially sustainable capabilities appropriate to that country and the threat they're dealing with. The Army's attempt to develop partner capacity will largely fail in developing nation military capacity if they insist that those partners have high tech command posts. It is long past time to break out some old Field Manuals on how to run a CP the old fashion way with map boards, overlays, and radios.

4. From our perspective, you don't share well. This is true in some cases, and this is where the cultural preparation for our forces comes into play with recommendations for best practices from the gray beards who learned from their mistakes over the years. Work on the relationship first, then on advising. Once you have a relationship based on trust you can share some direct comments/thoughts, but not before hand.

5. We put great faith in the capabilities of our enlisted force. As we should, but we can't assume other nations can do so for reasons of base line education, culture, etc. In SF we all learned the game, NCOs don't need officers with them to train their counterparts but they do need them to convey messages with credibility to the partner nation security forces. Experienced NCOs tell the CPTs what to say. Shouldn't have to be that way, but it is and we just need to live with it. Their culture is a condition we won't change, but over a period of many years they may change it based on their exposure to us. I seen it happen in a few countries.

6. Don't be surprised that domestic issues drive what we do. I think James is off track here, and our partners will continue to lecture us on what they think we should and shouldn't have done with regards to Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. As uncomfortable as it may get, listening to it is all and then sharing your views is all part of building the relationship.

7. We lack a consolidated U.S. position. One would think we would be able to fix this, but the fact of the matter is the National Security Staff is incapable of doing this, and each agency and to some extent each service has their own position. Until Congress leans forward with sweeping reforms (they can't even agree on a budget) that effectively addresses interagency fusion and national security reform we'll have to live with it. In some respects just recognizing the problem valuable, and amazingly at the tip of the spear our action figures seem to work well together, especially when they limit their communications with higher that they are doing so to prevent damaging their careers.

8. It is tough to maintain long term support for overseas operations. Depends how much we're sacrificing, why, and if we're making progress. Americans didn't see much in the way of justification or critical national interests being served in Iraq. I don't think it was the length of the conflict, but the inability to demonstrate we were making progress and that the sacrifice was actually in our best interests. We have been in Columbia and other nations for decades with no to limited push back. Author seems to be artificially conflating the issue here. Long term operations have always been possible, long term wars where progress can't be demonstrated is another issue altogether.

10. Our focus is today and tomorrow not yesterday. True for some, but I don't think this applies across the board. I think SF, at least the SF I grew up in, has an appreciation for the local history and their perspectives. I also met many conventional officers and men who studied the history of the areas they were deploying to, so this criticism may be over played by the author. History is only a start, learning local perception of that history will often vary considerably from the history books we read, and we need to understand those perceptions to ultimately influence the populace.


Mon, 05/05/2014 - 7:20am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09,
You are right on the money regarding sharing. In this particular article I address partners sharing with Americans, in the previous article I focus on how Americans can share better with our partners. Thanks for your insights.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 3:38pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---which is where I was headed with the comments.

One of the most critical items that we do not do well and I have seen repeated over and over---we do not share---we ask and we sometimes demand---but we are not great sharers.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 2:30pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw o9: some of that was covered in the author's first article on partnering:…

And yes, many of those with whom we work know us better than we know ourselves. In reality although this article says it is for foreigners so that they can know us better, i believe that most foreigners know all this about us and the real target audience for this article is ourselves so that we can better see how we appear to foreigners.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 1:26pm

What I miss the most here is the concept of show up, pay extreme attention to the host country personnel, listen, watch, and then engage.

What is also missing is that many of the countries we currently support/work with on a number of global exercises have already worked with US personnel in the past and they tend to know us better than we know ourselves and pass on their previous experiences with us to their fellow personnel when they hear that they will be on a particular joint exercise.

While it is nice to say what they should know about us---what about what is it we need to know about how to engage them? Man even in 2010 we were still after 7 years of being in Iraq we were still teaching how to get along with Iraqi's and how to engage and work with them---we are doing the same for the AFG engagement and are still getting killed by Blue on Green.

Could some of the "issues" noted in both articles by Mr Howcroft be addressed/ mitigated by establishing permanent "coalition" units that ensure that we Americans develop & maintain a "coalition" mindset.....a "Pacific Brigade" made up of US, Australian, & NZ battalions; an "Atlantic Brigade" made up of US, UK, & Canadian battalions, etc, etc....? We (US) can routinize down to the lowest levels working with coalition partners, maintain familiarity with how others do things, share our methods, & have forces ready for "actions" that ensures a multilateral response..?

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 9:41am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I am not sure why there needs to be comments about SOF and "SOF-like" in regards to this essay. This essay provides very useful analysis of the American military in general and applies to all American units working with foreign militaries in combined organizations such as NATO, ISAF, the ROK/US Combined Forces Command or on exercises such as Cobra Gold, Balikatan, Bright Star, Flintlock, or Foal Eagle and the many more in which US forces participate. I do not see this essay as recommending anyone be "SOF-like" (but I do agree with you that there is false logic in trying to make non-SOF organizations SOF-like). I think this essay is pure common sense and my experience in both SOF and conventional forces leads me to believe that this essay is a very accurate description of the US military and would provide our friends, partners, and allies some understanding of the US military.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 05/03/2014 - 8:59pm

This is ABSOLUTELY not the SF Perspective on this topic; highlighting very well why we need to be very cautious of buying into the attractive false logic of "SOF like" organizations attempting to conduct SOF operations...


Mon, 05/05/2014 - 7:29am

In reply to by ScipioX

Thanks for your comments and insights. You are right, programs like the NG State Partnership Program can help to mitigate the issue of our short assignments. I was the US Defense Attache in Tbilisi, Georgia in the mid-1990s and I witnessed the value of the enduring longterm personal relationships developed between "my" Georgians and those from the Georgia National Guard from Atlanta. James

I have a passion for (and some modest experience with) foreign military partnerships, and I found this short essay excellent. My one frustration is that the article makes no note of the National Guard State Partnership Program and how it mitigates the problems with continuity and trust aptly remarked in Item #1. Perhaps this was not to the point of the audience--the foreign partner--but I think the United States readers should be aware of the SPP in this context. Some of the partnerships between individual National Guard States and 66 foreign militaries have reached their twentieth anniversary, and solid and abiding personal and professional relationships have been formed up to the Adjutant General-Minister of Defense level.