Thursday , 17 October 2019

Integrating Diplomacy and Defense in the Indo-Pacific

By Du Tran
Originally posted on

In a world with increasingly complex political and security challenges, bridging the gap between diplomacy and defense is more vital than ever to U.S. foreign policy. Serving as a U.S. Department of State Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) to U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), I am proud to have one of the most dynamic and challenging jobs in the Foreign Service.

PACOM’s area of responsibility encompasses about half the Earth’s surface, stretching from the waters off the West Coast of the U.S. to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole. Or as my colleagues like to say, “from Hollywood to Bollywood and from penguins to polar bears.”

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, escorts U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson into PACOM Headquarters during a trip to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James Mullen

There are few regions as culturally, socially, economically and geo-politically diverse as the Indo-Pacific. The 36 nations comprising the Indo-Pacific region are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s population, 3,000 different languages, several of the world’s largest militaries, and six U.S. treaty allies: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Thailand. Two of the three largest economies are located in the Indo-Pacific, along with 10 of the 14 smallest.

Working as a diplomat at U.S. Pacific Command means a day in the office interacting with the most populous nation in the world (China), the world’s largest democracy (India), and the largest Muslim-majority nation (Indonesia). We also work to strengthen partnerships with smaller island nations that make up more than one-third of the region’s nations, including the smallest republic in the world (Nauru) and the smallest nation in the Indo-Pacific (Maldives).

As a POLAD, I help to bring a State Department perspective to military operations and ensure that commanders and other military staff benefit from the diplomatic expertise of Foreign Service Officers. At the same time, every day I find myself learning firsthand about the challenges and opportunities faced by senior military officers at higher headquarters within the United States and at forward-deployed commands around the world.

Nearly 90 POLADs from the Department of State like me are assigned to mid- to senior-level positions in the Department of Defense, from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to each geographic combatant command, with about one-third serving in overseas assignments. At the same time, a similar number of mid- to senior-level military officers are detailed as Military Advisors (MILADs) to bureaus throughout the Department of State, bringing a military perspective to diplomatic efforts while also learning about the processes and inner-workings of the Department of State.

A map of where the State Department’s nearly 90 Foreign Policy Advisors are assigned.

Back in Washington, D.C., the Office of State-Defense Integration in the Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs oversees this unique exchange of personnel between the departments of State and Defense.

These exchanges help to clarify how the departments of State and Defense intersect and how they can collaborate more effectively. They help both agencies find answers to the practical, real-world problems posed by day-to-day interagency cooperation so that they can respond more quickly and with greater agility in a crisis. Ultimately, POLADs and MILADs work to ensure that our foreign and defense policies are mutually supportive and find ways we can most effectively align our strategies.

Global issues are increasingly interconnected and cross-cutting, with both political and military aspects, making it more important than ever to have an agile, adaptable approach to foreign policy that can quickly adjust to changing circumstances.

The POLAD and MILAD exchange programs have been in operation for over 50 years and have grown from only a handful of individual exchanges to almost 200 State and Defense positions combined. Those individuals who are fortunate enough to be selected are on the frontline of interagency collaboration, advancing U.S. national security interests on a daily basis.

About the Author: Du Tran serves as a Foreign Policy Advisor at U.S. Pacific Command.

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