The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs links diplomacy and defense to bolster U.S. national security. We bring the U.S. Department of State together with the U.S. Department of Defense, Congress, and the U.S. defense industry to deliver tools and training that strengthen the United States’ allies and partners around the world. We work worldwide: helping Iraq and our coalition partners make gains against ISIS; supporting nations across Southeast Asia to safeguard their territorial waters; and standing with our partners across Africa against terrorists like Boko Haram and Al-Shabab; among other challenges.
Security Assistance Builds Partnerships
The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs oversees approximately $6 billion in security assistance programs: grants under Foreign Military Financing help our partners invest in U.S. training and U.S. manufactured equipment; International Military Education and Training enables foreign military personnel to study beside their U.S. military counterparts; and Peacekeeping Operations funds help train and equip foreign forces to step up to the challenge of helping countries emerge and recover from war. We also work closely with the U.S. Department of Defense as they implement several security cooperation programs under their oversight, such as Iraq Train and Equip, the Maritime Security Initiative and the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund. Around the world, we work with our interagency and foreign government partners, using this important tool of U.S. foreign policy to further strengthen our national security and protect America.
Improving Foreign Military Sales
The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system is another essential U.S. foreign policy tool that allows us to transfer defense equipment to our partners worldwide. While countries that receive FMF grants often bring these funds to buy equipment through Foreign Military Sales, the majority of FMS cases -- valued at roughly $40 billion a year -- involve countries bringing their own money to the table, representing both a very real investment in our shared security and benefits to U.S. defense manufacturers across the country.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to FMS: each request is carefully reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Before approving a proposed defense transfer, experts across the U.S. Government must carefully weigh a wide range of factors, from regional security and human rights to securing sensitive technologies. All major U.S. defense transfers require congressional notification, which may involve significant discussions. This process, which may sometimes appear slow to some critics, is essential to ensuring that these transfers of often-sophisticated, top-of-the line U.S. manufactured military equipment are consistent with U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. Departments of State and Defense, in close consultation with Congress, U.S. industry and foreign governments, are continuously working to improve the FMS process. We continue developing new and better ways to formulate and develop FMS requests from our foreign partners. We have also established new approaches to FMS such as the Lead Nation Procurement Initiative, a pilot program that allows our NATO allies to retransfer equipment purchased through FMS to other NATO members, offering greater flexibility and cost savings while maintaining accountability. Together, these and other interagency innovations will enable the United States to remain the provider of choice for our foreign partners.
Protecting Defense Technologies though Export Control Reform
In addition to FMS, the Department also approves more than $100 billion a year in direct commercial sales of defense equipment and services from U.S. companies to our international partners. In recent years, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other U.S. Government agencies have worked together to improve this process, updating 1970s-era rules governing United States’ deliveries of defense equipment and services for the 21st Century, resulting in the transfer of less technically sensitive equipment, parts, and components to Department of Commerce’s Commerce Control List (CCL).
These reforms support U.S. industry and the defense industrial base, while making it easier for our allies and partners to buy U.S.-made defense equipment.
Forging New and Innovative Partnerships
Through Security Assistance, Foreign Military Sales, and Export Control Reform, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is forging new and innovative partnerships at home and abroad that advance U.S. national security objectives. These programs are one of the ways, as Secretary Tillerson recently said, that the State Department will “engage to advance U.S. interests in the world in cooperation with our partners and allies,” “continue to support policies and institutions that keep Americans safe,” and “work with allies to counter nations that threaten their neighbors or destabilize their regions.”
While we may not know what next major international security challenge may emerge, you can count on our continued commitment to taking action, strengthening our allies and partners, and safeguarding America.
About the Author: David McKeeby serves as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.