Andrew Shapiro, U.S. assistant secretary of state, political and military affairs (Thomas Brown / Staff)
Several years ago, the U.S. State Department had been relegated to afterthought status in national security planning, an agency whose budget was and is dwarfed by that of the Defense Department. The budget reality hasn’t changed, but the State Department’s influence has blossomed, with the agency playing a critical role in strategy and policy-making. Its Bureau of Political-Military Affairs — headed by Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state — is a bridge with the Pentagon, managing personnel swaps as well as arms sales to U.S. allies. Those sales are becoming increasingly important as U.S. defense companies look for ways to make up for the reductions in U.S. defense spending. Last year, the bureau reviewed 86,311 direct commercial sales licenses, a record, while keeping review time stable at under 19 days.
Q. There’s been a significant shift in cooperation between the State and Defense departments in the last four years, with a big increase in the role State Department experts play in military decision making. Why the change?
A. I think that coming off the Iraq war, and the shift in administrations, there was a desire to rebalance the relationship between the State Department and the Defense Department, to put the State Department in its rightful role as the leading agency for U.S. foreign policy. There had been, in the post-9/11 era, understandably a migration of some authorities and leadership to the Defense Department. This administration decided that it wanted to rebalance and put the State Department in the lead.
Interestingly enough, that was not just the President [Barack Obama] and Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, but it was [former Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [former Joint Chiefs chairman] Adm. [Mike] Mullen, who wanted a strong State Department and thought that it served U.S. interests, served the Pentagon’s interests. The Pentagon should be focusing on what its core competencies are — national defense, fighting the wars — and having the State Department have the capacity to take the diplomatic lead. The direction came from the top. When principals send those signals, it filters down through the bureaucracy.
Q. How do you maintain the improved relationship?
A. What we’ve tried to do, through the signing of the MoU [memorandum of understanding signed between the agencies in 2012], through the increase in the POLAD [Foreign Policy Advisor] program, through establishing the Global Security Contingency Fund, through our efforts to increase State’s role in planning, is to make those changes institutionalized so that they’re not just based on the personalities of the principals. This is an MoU that took over two years to negotiate. It will take a large effort to undo it. And so that has institutionalized the close working relationship. At the end of the day, why would you take that huge effort to undo it?
Q. Do you think that the experience of working with the State Department has been ingrained in military personnel, such that it is and will be an expected part of life at DoD?
A. It has to be taught over and over again in that it requires tending, but I hope that we have created the structures that will allow that tending to take place. A lot of military officers in their careers don’t come across State Department people very often. And so it’s just not part of their mission. And so then they are put into a role that requires that interaction, and they will look for guidance and examples of how they should interact, and we’re trying to create those models. I and my deputies have visited every combatant command, to establish those links and relationships, but at combatant commands, the leadership turns over every two or three years. So you keep having to go. It’s not a relationship where you can just say, “we’re done.”
Q. There’s been some movement on export-control reform, including changes to satellite exports in the National Defense Authorization Act and modifications to the Senate notification system, but this is still an area where industry has been skeptical
A. I know you hear from a lot of deeply cynical people on this, but it’s happening. It’s going to happen, much to their surprise.
We’ve talked about the four singles as part of export-control reform, which is a single list, a single IT, single enforcement and a single licensing agency.
We’ve got the changes to the U.S. Munitions List [USML]. We’ve made tremendous progress. We have published 10 categories for public comment. We’ve got another six that we’ve completed the drafting [on], and they’re just going through interagency review. And then we’ve got three that still need that interagency review, including the satellites that just passed.
This is being done on a rolling basis. You’re not going to see it all at once. So this year, you’ll see final rules published which will be moving items from the USML to the CCL [Commerce Control List]. And the first category, aircraft and military vehicles parts and components, those could be thousands of items that you see moving from the USML to the CCL. That will have a real impact on defense manufacturers this year. Obviously, we’ve got a few steps that we have to go through.
Q. Defense companies continue to push for increased sales to the Middle East. But that push can run counter to your responsibility to ensure that any foreign military sale is in the U.S. national security interests. There was pressure to make weapon sales
A. That’s what we do, and I have, as part of various interagency debates, had to take on other bureaus and other departments which have other interests to enforce the secretary’s authority. Ultimately, it’s about striking that right balance.
There’s a reason why that authority was put in the State Department, not the Defense Department. It was to make sure that arms sales support our foreign policy goals and national security. We want to make sure our partners have tools that enable them to provide for their defense, because if they can provide for their defense, it means that we don’t have to. As well as preserving our industrial base.
However, we don’t want our weapons, which are the best in the world, to feed fire into an unstable situation, or be used by governments against their own people.
That being said, if we do make the decision that it’s in the U.S. national interest for an arms sale to go forward, we go all in trying to promote the U.S. tender or bid. That’s been a particular focus of this administration’s efforts, and Secretary Clinton’s efforts on economic statecraft.
Q. When the agency determines a deal is in U.S. interests, it will promote the deal aggressively. But is determining what is and isn’t in U.S. interests more difficult in the current Middle East environment?
A. Of course, and we have to take into account the situation on the ground is changing rapidly. We have seen the challenges in arms sales to Egypt, Bahrain, and you mentioned there’s interest from some countries like Libya that are just not there yet. In times of great change and tumult, it requires monitoring it very closely to take into account not just the current situation, but you have to project out what will happen down the road.
But at the same time, our partners, given the greater instability, want the means to provide for their own security. We want to work with them to make sure that we’re filling their needs in the appropriate way. The demand for U.S. defense equipment is booming.
Q. Will you continue in your position during President Obama’s second term?
A. Obviously, it’s a time of transition. We’ll wait until the new secretary comes in, and then discuss his plans and vision of the future. The urgency to fill jobs is not quite as apparent as it would be if there were a change in administration. So at least from my perspective, no one has told me that “you need to leave.” So I’ll look forward to having that conversation after Sen. [John] Kerry’s confirmation.
Q. What would you target as your objectives if you stay on?
A. I think that we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in rebuilding the capacity of this bureau to add value to foreign policy and national security decision-making. So they’ll be the issues that we’ve been working on already: the response to the Arab Spring, export-control reform, the rebalance to Asia, the work with rising powers like India and Brazil, continuing the progress against piracy.
However, we need to leave room for the new secretary to give guidance on his priorities. I always ensured with Secretary Clinton that, at least once a year, I sat down with her and said, “Here are the things that I’m working on. Is there anything in particular that you’d like for me to focus on?”
Q. Did Secretary Clinton’s priorities change over four years?
A. Initially, it was very much about rebuilding the capacity of the bureau to make a significant contribution to the State Department and interagency in general — to have that technical competence and expertise and that global perspective. From the very beginning, there was an emphasis on protecting Israel’s qualitative military edge, as well as export-control reform, which was announced very early in the administration. As the rebalance to Asia took shape, as well as the requirement to react to the Arab Spring, those clearly took up a significant amount of time.
Q. There’s been a lot of success in the counterpiracy effort. One fear is that complacency will set in and piracy will regain traction. What are you doing to combat that potential complacency?
A. We need to keep up the pressure. That means prosecuting pirates when we capture them, keeping the military escorts through the internationally recognized transit area, as well as continuing to encourage industry to allow the use of private armed security teams.
We think that our focus on targeting pirate financiers and facilitators, or focus on prosecuting those who are captured, as well as allowing industry to use these private security teams, is really making a difference. Ë
Primary responsibilities: International arms trade, interagency interaction with the Department of Defense, intersection of foreign policy and national security
2012 foreign military sales: $65 billion
2011 foreign military sales: $35 billion
Source: Defense News research