The Importance of Mil-to-Mil Relationships

Mil-to-mil relations are important element of bilateral relationships with other nations. When the political context becomes complicated or unstable, a strong relationship between military leaders can help to create stability and a way towards future diplomatic options.

How does the US Miliary Build these Relationships?

There are many ways that the military and also civilians work to build trust and strong relationships with allied partners and coalition countries.  The US war colleges have programs for international students to come and learn about US culture.  This affords them the opportunity to develop a strong network of colleagues in the US whom they can call with questions as they ascend the ranks of their own military system.  It also provides an international perspective to the US military leaders who may not have had such rich give and take with leaders from another culture.

These types of mil-to-mil relationships are also built through bilateral and multilateral exercises and institutions such as:

There are many more exercises and initiatives building mil-to-mil relationships, and they all require the US Department of Defense to learn other cultures.

Additional Discussion

Mil-to-Mil Relations with Russia

In the period between 1941 and 1945 the U.S. sent $11.3 billion worth of war supplies to the Soviet people under the Lend-Lease Act. And for 20 years, until the closure of USAID’s Moscow office in 2012, America provided $2.7 billion for civil society building and health care. Defense relationships often have a cultural component and that, too, has begun to wane as the Ukrainian crisis heats up with more violence on the ground. Bridges were built and joint programs planned and implemented. There will be enormous work in both countries in what one hopes will be calmer waters ahead.

Mil-to-Mil Relations with China

The U.S. has long sought greater mil-to-mil cooperation with China on the belief that more frequent and frank exchanges would reduce distrust and the potential for conflict. For many years, however, there has only been very gradual progress on Sino-American mil-to-mil ties, and even this has usually been followed by a major setback over some intervening issue like U.S. arm sales to Taiwan. A month after Xi became president of China, when the new PLA Chief of Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui hosted his American counterpart, Martin Dempsey, in Beijing.  Since then there has been a seemingly never-ending number of senior military and defense officials traveling between Beijing and Washington for similar trips. In August of this year, for instance, China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan led a Chinese military delegation on a four-day trip to the U.S. The following month, Adm. Wu Shengli, the head of the PLA Navy, also traveled to the United States.