Political-Military Relations

“The world today.…no longer honors….our implicit institutional wish to see political/diplomatic dynamics and military matters as distinct and discrete fields.”

John Hillen, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, Department of State
(remarks at Joint Worldwide Planning Conference
in Garmisch, Germany, November 30, 2005)

In the 21st century the United States faces unique challenges in which political and military considerations are inextricably interwoven.  To meet these challenges, U.S. diplomatic and defense communities work closely together—overseas, in Washington and at major military commands in the United States.  Through such cooperation, the Department of State and the Department of Defense (DOD) are able to respond comprehensively and more effectively to such problems as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, regional instability, humanitarian crises and the phenomenon of failed states.

Many elements of the State Department work closely with DOD counterparts.  In addition to the defense attaches and marine security guard detachments found at most embassies abroad, more elaborate “country team” structures are typically employed in countries that host U.S. military facilities.  Political sections in such embassies will often have one or more Foreign Service officers (FSOs) working on a full-time “POL-MIL” portfolio.  As noted below, State Department officers often serve as political advisors (POLADs) at major commands, both in the United States and overseas.  In Washington the regional bureaus of the State Department—especially those dealing with Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia and the Pacific—are deeply engaged in political-military matters affecting U.S. foreign policy and its implementation.

However, it is the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) that carries out the primary day-to-day liaison with DOD on a wide range of issues.  Within the Defense Department structure, PM’s primary counterpart element is the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA).  PM itself is made up of seven offices, including the Office of International Security Operations (ISO) and the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC). 

Office of International Security Operations (ISO), Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM)

The crucial tasks of the Office of International Security Operations (ISO) include obtaining Department of State clearances for U.S. Navy ship visits to foreign ports, operations to confront unlawful maritime sovereignty claims, military counternarcotics deployments and activities funded by DOD’s Developing Countries Exercise Program.   Another major duty is participating in the negotiation and monitoring of Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs).  SOFAs, or some less-formal version thereof, are typically negotiated with the host government whenever U.S. military personnel are stationed in a foreign country.  The level of the agreement is determined by such factors as the type of relationship between the two countries and the length of time U.S. forces are expected to remain in the country.  The primary concern of a SOFA is civil and criminal jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel.  In addition, other issues covered include entry into and exit from the host nation, tax liabilities and locations of recreational and banking facilities.


Office of Security Negotiations and Agreements (PM/SNA)

The Office of Security Negotiations and Agreements (PM/SNA) is charged with negotiating Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs), Defense Cooperation Agreements, burden-sharing agreements and bilateral “Article 98” agreements.  The latter, which the United States has made with some 100 countries and are allowed under Article 98 of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC), prohibit signatory countries from surrendering U.S. military personnel and other U.S. nationals to the ICC without the consent of the U.S. Government.  Unlike SOFAs, which are focused primarily on protecting military and civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and their dependents, in a particular country, Article 98 agreements apply to all U.S. citizens.  Under the terms of the Servicemen’s Protection Act of 2002, military assistance may be provided only to countries which have signed Article 98 agreements with the United States.


Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), PM

The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) monitors the commercial export and temporary importation of defense articles and services covered by the United States Munitions List.  Its primary missions are to adjudicate license applications for defense exports, handle matters related to defense trade compliance and enforcement and report to Congress and the American public on trends and issues in its area of responsibility.


Office of Plans, Policy and Analysis (PPA), PM

The Office of Plans, Policy and Analysis (PPA) develops and manages programs that aim to encourage and maintain global political-military stability.  Every year PPA directs approximately $5 billion in military assistance to friends and allies, and provides input on U.S. foreign policy objectives for Department of Defense planning and activities.  PPA developed and manages a five-year Presidential initiative to increase the capabilities and availability of peacekeepers around the world.


Office of the POLAD Coordinator, PM

The Office of the POLAD Coordinator supports the 20 senior State Department officers assigned as political advisers (POLADs) to the U.S. military service chiefs andprincipal U.S. military commanders in the United States and overseas. POLADs advise these military leaders on policies regarding the diplomatic and political aspects of their military responsibilities.  The Office of the POLAD Coordinator is also responsible for the Department of State’s involvement in training and assignment exchanges with the Department of Defense.  Such assignments promote cross-fertilization and facilitate communications between the two institutions.  In addition to one- or two-year assignments to appropriate offices, State Department FSOs have opportunities to attend the National Defense University and military war colleges, while DOD officers participate in a variety of training programs run by the Foreign Service Institute.


Office of Weapons removal and abatement (wra), pm

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA) works to create conditions conducive to peace, stability and prosperity by curbing the illicit proliferation of conventional weapons of war, including light automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, and removing and destroying others, such as landmines and abandoned stocks of munitions, that remain and pose hazards after the cessation of armed conflict.  WRA develops and implements programs and public engagement efforts that contribute to the prevention or mitigation of conflict and to post-conflict social and economic recovery. 


Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers (RSAT), PM

The Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers (RSAT) is responsible for reviewing proposals for noncommercial sales and grants of U.S. government defense items, services and technical information to foreign countries.  It monitors and manages bi lateral political-military relations; advises the Secretary of State, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, and Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs on political-military issues such as arms transfers and security assistance programs, and develops policy initiatives on regional security issues including the transfer of defense goods, services and technologies.

Since 1995 RSAT has been in charge of handling arms transfers and third party transfers, disposal and changes in end-uses involving U.S.-origin equipment procured through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.  FMS is the government-to-government method for selling U.S. defense equipment, services and training.  It is not to be confused with commercial defense sales, which are handled by DDTC.  When a foreign government submits an application to buy military hardware through the FMS program, the U.S. Government operates as a middle man, sometimes negotiating with the arms company on behalf of the friendly nation or providing financing for the sale.  The goal of the program is to further U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, supporting coalition building, and enhancing interoperability between U.S. forces and militaries of friends and allies. 



Security Assistance

Certain security programs are administered using funds allocated to the State Department’s regional bureaus.  Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program fall into this category.

FMF is a critical foreign policy tool for ensuring that coalition partners and friendly foreign governments are equipped and trained to work toward common security goals and share burdens in joint missions. FMF provides grants for the acquisition of U.S. defense equipment, services and training, thus enabling U.S. allies and friends to improve their defense capabilities and foster closer military relationships between the .United States and recipient nations.  Congress appropriates FMF funds in the International Affairs Budget, the Department of State allocates the funds for eligible friends and allies, and the Department of Defense executes the program. 

Similarly funded through the foreign aid appropriations process, IMET is also overseen by the State Department and implemented by the Department of Defense.  IMET pays for the training or education of foreign military personnel at some 150 U.S. military training institutions throughout the United States.  Military assistance offices or defense attaché offices at overseas embassies typically coordinate with local governments on the selection of participants and the courses they will take. IMET’s traditional purpose of promoting more professional militaries around the world through training has taken on greater importance as an effective means to strengthen military alliances and the international coalition against terrorism.


bookClark, Wesley K. Waging Modern War; Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat.  New York: Public Affairs, 2001.

bookMurphy, Robert.  Diplomat among Warriors. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964.