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Heidi Grant - Bio Photo

Global Threats Demand Global Partnerships

By Heidi Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the US Air Force, International Affairs

When I stepped into this job six years ago, the world was a different place. The US was in the midst of the Global War on Terror. We were in our ninth year of combat operations in Afghanistan and seventh year in Iraq. The United States and its Air Force valued coalition operations and its international partnerships, but they were chiefly born out of necessity. The present security environment demands a new sense of urgency about partnering and a proactive approach to tackling complex problems.

Today, resurgent and aggressive nation-states and violent extremism threaten global peace and stability. Additionally, natural and man-made disasters continue to pose significant dangers to populations all around the world.

Faced with these challenges, countries are increasingly inclined to seek out partners and allies. Many developing nations want to become more self-sufficient and contribute on the regional or international stage. They will likely need outside help acquiring capabilities, and guidance on building and sustaining those capabilities.

Each country has a unique set of security threats, but commonalities exist. Scarce resources for defense are one widespread challenge. No nation, even the wealthiest, can afford to fund all of their own security needs. Partnerships help share the economic burden among countries who can then direct those valuable funds to domestic needs.

I travel frequently to meet with international air force leaders, defense ministries, and other government leaders on behalf of the US Air Force. As it happens, I consistently hear that countries desire closer relationships with our Service and with the US Government. We are recognized as the most capable air force in the world, and demand for our support is high and growing.

The US Air Force is all in when it comes to building international partnerships. At the highest levels of my organization, and in the Department of Defense, international partnerships are more of a priority than they’ve ever been. In September, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford called efforts to build the air forces of developing countries like Iraq and Afghanistan “a core function of the United States Air Force.”

Especially for cash-strapped developing nations, airpower capabilities are one of the most practical ways to increase security. Relatively affordable as defense spending goes, airpower deters threats, expands a country’s reach, and provides invaluable support when humanitarian needs arise.

The US Air Force acts as a gateway for countries interested in working with the United States to build air and space capabilities and capacity. But more than providing equipment and services, we are in the business of providing countries with a trusted partner in the United States.  To be successful in these efforts, we must work with our partners to understand each other’s strengths and areas where we can cooperate to mitigate operational risks and respond to common security challenges.

We’re committed to maintaining relationships with our network of over one hundred partners and allies – something our Chief of Staff refers to as an “asymmetric advantage.” More importantly, we’re focused on expanding these partnerships and looking to build new relationships wherever we can. Some partnerships are decades-long and mature, while others are just emerging, but each contact has value in keeping lines of dialogue open, generating mutual benefits, and avoiding surprises.

The US Air Force has an exceptional ability to deter and respond to security threats on its own, but we are much stronger with our international partners. Much of the groundwork has been laid through decades of diplomacy and military-to-military engagement, but there is much more work to be done to strengthen partnerships. Only together can we counter global threats and achieve global security.

Ms. Heidi Grant will participate in a Concordia Leadership Series roundtable on Tuesday, November 29 in New York City.