Ernst Stresses Importance of Iowa’s State Partnership Program with Kosovo

Continues to raise concerns over rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today at a hearing entitled “Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 and Onwards” questioned defense policy experts on the importance of budgeting for and maintaining a strong relationship with Kosovo through the State Partnership Program (SPP), noting the key role Iowa’s National Guard plays in Kosovo’s security.

Both Dr.Thomas Mahnken, President and Chief Executive Officer at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments as well as Dr. Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress agreed with Senator Ernst’s assessment of the critical need to budget for and maintain the State Partnership Program.

Dr. Mahnken noted: “in an era, when, for good reason many of those relationships have been disrupted, I think things like the National Guard Partnership have really filled a key role and I think going forward establishing and maintaining those relationship with not just our allies, but our partners, is going to be all the more important. So, I’m fully behind programs like that.”

While Dr. Korb reiterated that “this is very critical, we’re not in this alone. The threats that we face are global and we work with, you know, various countries at different times.” He also emphasized “the National Guard and the Reserves are not just strategic, they are operational, and I have fought that for years to get it funded. In fact, before this committee General Keane and I almost came to blows one time when he objected to my saying that, and I think that’s so critical because it is a total force. And as we found out during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even today, those folks can add to the capacity that we have.”

Additionally, Senator Ernst went on to stress the importance of countering the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia, and questioned Dr. Mahnken on how we can better prepare our forces to combat the growing threat.

Senator Ernst’s questioning today follows her efforts to strengthen the National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP) and her accomplishment in the FY2017 NDAA where she permanently authorized the program. It also continues her efforts to spotlight the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia.

Click here or on the image below for video of Senator Ernst’s questioning.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

SENATOR ERNST: To you Dr. Mahnken, I know that while you were serving as a Navy reservist you deployed to Kosovo, and I want to thank you for that service very much. Kosovo is important to me personally, but also to the state of Iowa as well. Iowa’s National Guard and Kosovo work together through the State Partnership Program—a program that was started to strengthen our security in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union. I believe it is a great, great program with a lot of impact in that area. Last year, I was pleased that my efforts ensured this program was permanently authorized, and going forward, I want to make sure that it is properly funded. To you then, Dr. Mahnken, would you agree that we need to ensure our budget properly funds programs like the National Guard State Partnership Program, and then if you could in regards to Kosovo specifically, can you talk about how important it is to have those relationships in that area for their own security?

DR. MAHNKEN: Thank you Senator and good catch on my bio, that seems like a lifetime ago but I do appreciate you bringing that back. Look, I do think that programs like that are very important and I do think they really leverage expertise in the reserve component and build enduring relationships. I think one of the problems we’ve encountered, one of the challenges that’s come with our operational deployment pattern over the last 15 years is a lot of habitual relationships have been disrupted. I mean, traditionally it wasn’t just National Guard Special Forces we relied upon to develop habitual relationships with partner militaries across the world, and in an era, when, for good reason many of those relationships have been disrupted, I think things like the National Guard Partnership have really filled a key role and I think going forward establishing and maintaining those relationship with not just our allies, but our partners, is going to be all the more important. So, I’m fully behind programs like that.

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you very much, and I know Dr. Korb you had stated we needed to involve more partners and I think this is a way of developing some of those partnerships with nations that really share a lot of our same values. Do you have any input on that?

DR. KORB: Well I do, and I think as Dr. Mahnken pointed out, this is very critical, we’re not in this alone. The threats that we face are global and we work with, you know, various countries at different times. At the beginning of the Obama administration, the United States worked with Russia to allow our supplies to go through Russia to go to Afghanistan, so there are areas that we can work on. We’ve had arms control agreements going back to the Nixon administration. The other thing that I think is important to keep in mind is that the National Guard and the Reserves are not just strategic, they are operational, and I have fought that for years to get it funded. In fact, before this committee General Keane and I almost came to blows one time when he objected to my saying that, and I think that’s so critical because it is a total force. And as we found out during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even today, those folks can add to the capacity that we have.

SENATOR ERNST: …You’re the author of a book entitled “Strategy in Asia,” and one of my greatest concerns is the Islamic State and its spread into Southeast Asia. If you could talk a little bit about our forces and how you would say we budget and prepare those forces to deal with issues like ISIS in Southeast Asia.

DR. MAHNKEN: Well I think that’s just one area where we have some very strong partners, and including non-allies like countries like Singapore, and Malaysia and others. But I think by and large, have been doing a very good job by bolstering the identity of their citizens and hardening their citizens against influence by groups like ISIL. So I think working with partners is absolutely key. I think we can play a role. I think largely that role is behind the scenes supportive, and I think that’s as it should be. But as I look at kind of the global campaign against ISIL, Southeast Asia largely still remains a success story and I want it to remain that way.

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you gentlemen very much. Thank you Mr. Chair.

Senator Ernst’s questioning today follows her efforts to call attention to the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia.

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