Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You Show Me Yours, and I’ll Keep Mine A Secret

Foreign Policy Magazine of 3 December 13 featured an article “Army Investigates Itself” about the visit of Maj. Gen. Chen Dongdeng, the PLA's director of military engagement to the US Army Combined Arms Center (CAC)  at Fort Leavenworth. (See this link which is also the photo source The US Officer in the photo is LTG David G. Perkins, the Commander of the US Army Combined Arms Center.

The US Army routinely engages with other military organizations around the world. These military to military engagements, “mil to mil” in defense parlance are part of doing business. Of course, the nature of the exchanges, the content of the conversations and the materials viewed, exchanged or even talked about vary depending on the nation, timing, and the individuals.

From a personal perspective, I found my time at SFOR HQ in Sarajevo as one of the highlights of my military career because of the opportunity of working with NATO officers from all over the alliance. I gained appreciation for their nation’s military and gained a profound understanding of the common bond among most military personnel. Consequently, I view mil to mil exchanges as generally good thing.

Concern was raised in the Leavenworth matter because of “the aggressive way” that the Chinese were asking for copies of military manuals. While (according to the article) the manuals in question were unclassified and available to the public, the incident caused the Army to re-think about its administrative management of this particular mil to mil exchange and perhaps others.

An obvious question is: “if the manuals are unclassified and available – what’s the big deal?”. Certainly handing over the manuals would save the guests the time and bother of finding them, but there’s more to the story.

In my experience, those whose native language doesn’t use the standard alphabet need more time to translate English into say Arabic, Chinese, Korean or Russian. Also I have found that Asians in particular would much rather study a diagram to determine the nature of the subject matter and the nuances behind it than read volumes or consume PowerPoints. Consequently, providing a manual would be a significant time saver and foster learning.

Manuals of course are only part of the story. The key is often the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) that take the doctrine and put it into practice. Knowing the manual may actually be a handicap if the practitioner on the ground tends to ‘wing it’ as is often the case. For example in Bosnia US 1st Infantry Division CDR, MG David Grange was his own PSYOP Officer who created and distributed “PSYOP” materials as he saw fit.

Of course, these requests work two ways. By knowing which manuals were requested, the CAC should be more aware of Chinese interests and should be able to share the knowledge throughout the allied military establishment.

I suspect that MISO and IO were high on the request list, but of course that information isn’t mentioned. 

In thinking about mil to mil exchanges, it would appear that the sponsor of the foreign military needed to have a work plan that would state the purpose of the exchange, the benefits to the US military, the subjects to be discussed, materials to be exchanged and of course a security risk analysis. The risk analysis being the most important ingredients in the mix and perhaps the first step in the approval process.

In the case of MISO, I’m not convinced that such an exchange with the PLA is a good idea.

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