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By C. Todd Lopez
Last September, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency marked its 50th anniversary. Due to COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time, commemoration events were muted at best. But agency leaders and employees, dignitaries, ambassadors, and representatives from U.S. military and allies and partner nations finally had the opportunity to toast the work DSCA has been doing for more than a half century during a June 14 event at Mount Vernon, Virginia.
"You lead the department's security cooperation enterprise, and you build up the capacity of our friends," said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in a pre-recorded message to attendees. "That helps us all respond together to shared challenges."
One such challenge, Austin said, was that of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. DSCA has done much work to ensure the Ukrainians have what they need to defend their sovereignty against the unjustified Russian invasion.
"We've all seen how crucial security cooperation is since Russia's unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine," Austin said. "I'm proud that countries around the world have rallied swiftly and surely behind Ukraine as it defends its citizens, its sovereignty and its democracy. I want to thank you for all that you've done to urgently get capabilities to Ukraine. I've spoken about moving heaven and earth to help Ukraine defend itself — and you are doing that every day."
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, DSCA has been instrumental in helping Ukraine's military to obtain critical equipment to help them defend their nation. Since February 24 — the date of the Russian invasion — the United States has helped channel nearly $5.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.
Included in that assistance are over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 6,500 Javelin anti-armor systems, 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems, 108 155 mm Howitzers with over 220,000 155 mm artillery rounds, and multiple High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems along with ammunition.
While DSCA is often thought of as the agency within the Defense Department responsible for helping partner and allied nations obtain U.S. military hardware, agency Director James A. Hursch said DSCA is about much more than just arms transfers. The DSCA mission, he said, also includes activities such as institutional capacity building, education and training, and humanitarian and disaster assistance.
DSCA's efforts to build relationships with allies and partners and help them to strengthen their own security, Hursch said, have been central to U.S. security for 50 years.
"Ingrained in our national defense strategy is the concept that ... mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength for the United States, and critical to achieving our objectives," Hursch said. "Security cooperation is not a standalone undertaking. We all need committed allies and partners to succeed in our mission."
Relationships with allies and partner nations matter, Hursch said, and DSCA is fundamentally about building and maintaining those relationships.
"At its core, DSCA is the defense-based olive branch from the United States to the world," he said. "None of us here wants to fight, but if we must, we want it to be triumphant. In the words of George Washington, to be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."
Colin H. Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told attendees that he believes the greatest strength the United States has is its partners — partners DSCA helps develop and grow.
"Our greatest asymmetric advantage in the entire world is our unparalleled network of allies and partners," he said. "DSCA plays a vital role in ensuring that that network of allies and partners is as capable as possible in meeting our common challenges."
The forthcoming National Defense Strategy, Kahl said, is a call to work more closely with allies and partner nations; and security cooperation, such as what DSCA provides, is a key tool in achieving that goal.
"Let me be clear, if we fail to realize this objective, we will have failed to implement our strategy," he said. "Our strategy cannot succeed without all of you. That means those of you that are helping to implement our security assistance and cooperation programs, but [also] all of our allies and partners who work every day tirelessly alongside us. To realize the NDS will first require employing the full breadth of the security cooperation toolkit and focusing hard on the impact of our systems."
Among other things, he said, that toolkit includes engagement tools, institutional capacity building, humanitarian assistance and professional military education — all activities where DSCA is the DoD lead.
"Security cooperation is a tool of first resort, building preparedness so frontline partners have the capacity to defend themselves when necessary, just as we have seen throughout the current conflict in Ukraine," Kahl said. "Put plainly, the work that DSCA has done in the past 50 years, and that I expect that they will continue to do in the next 50 years and beyond to support our allies and partners, helps DOD advance and safeguard vital U.S. national interests: protecting our people, expanding our prosperity, realizing and defending our democratic values, and protecting our allies and partners around the world."
DOD stood up DSCA on Sept. 1, 1971. After 50 years, it still focuses on its original mission to build enduring partnerships between U.S. and ally and partner nation militaries, making both participants stronger.
Security cooperation involves all the DOD interactions like the programs and activities carried out with foreign security forces and their institutions. This includes exercises, training, armaments cooperation, information sharing, collaboration, foreign military sales, ministry advising and humanitarian assistance.
When it was first established, the then-Defense Security Assistance Agency included the Foreign Military Sales Credit Program; the Military Assistance Program; the International Military Education and Training Program; and the Foreign Military Sales Program. Back then, the new agency had only 90 employees dedicated to security cooperation.
Today, DSCA has grown to more than 1,000 employees. And in 2019, DSCA stood up the Defense Security Cooperation University — a milestone for the agency and for the 20,000 security cooperation professionals across the security cooperation enterprise.
"For half a century now, DSCA has been bringing together the United States, our allies and our partners to build a unified front, to extend our strength and to deepen our security," Austin said. "We've needed that for the past 50 years, and we're going to need it for the next 50 as well. So keep up the great work. Congratulations DSCA. And thanks for everything that you do."