President-elect Donald Trump's call to our allies to contribute more to our mutual security interests can be achieved with a new "Trump Doctrine" that prioritizes building partner capabilities through the export of US defense products. On Day One, President Trump should direct the departments of State, Defense and Commerce to develop a National Security Cooperation Strategy and ask for the resources and support from Congress to successfully execute this strategy.
The United States is the global leader in defense sales and has made record numbers of foreign military sales (FMS) in recent years. So why does this enterprise require reform, let alone the attention of the president? The truth is we no longer have the funds, capacity or political will to be the world's policeman. If we want to advance our interests against threats ranging from near-peer adversaries to terrorist cells, we need allies and partners that can shoulder the burden with us.
Outlook 2017: Perspectives from global thought leaders
These countries have a choice about who to buy from and work with. The quality, sophistication and aggressiveness of our global competition has grown significantly. Our partners will hedge against perceived weakness in US commitments to global security and are courted by the highest-level political leaders supporting our foreign competitors.
This competition is a zero-sum game, and every defense export establishes our influence through ongoing partnerships that can last decades with training, sustainment and upgrades after the initial export of a system. We should win as often as possible.
Ensuring these exports are consistent with US foreign policy, while protecting the battlefield technology edge of the US military, should remain top of mind. However, we have to consider the policy, security and economic risks of denying or delaying these exports. For instance, with emerging technologies like unmanned aircraft systems, we can either define and shape the future market and use of these systems or leave a vacuum for others to fill.
The current security cooperation enterprise is also not designed and resourced for the volume, pace, scope and complexity of the global threat environment. There are important initiatives in the Defense Security Cooperation Agency's Vision 2020 and the interagency underway to manage these requirements under austere conditions. In the recent National Defense Authorization Act, Congress further supported these efforts by streamlining budget authorities and FMS contracting while creating professional development opportunities for security cooperation experts. These reforms are foundational, evolutionary steps that must be accelerated and expanded upon, especially to ensure we have the right bandwidth and training in the security cooperation workforce.
Revolutionary change can only happen with political leadership at the presidential level to get the interagency to identify and act on priorities for security cooperation. An effective National Security Cooperation Strategy will ensure our allies are ready with full spectrum and sustainable capabilities to serve as a deterrent and to fight with us against common threats.
Significant advance preparations (e.g., foreign policy, advocacy, technology security, capacity building) are needed for this kind of partner capability. The threats are not waiting and our partners are not either. We need a "Trump Doctrine" and a National Security Cooperation Strategy to guide the whole of government and ensure Congress is in support with the necessary oversight and resources.
So where does the defense industry fit in? Every defense export helps our companies deliver cost savings to our military and fund innovation and high-wage, high-skilled job growth in the defense industrial base. Our companies can no longer waste time and resources running through policy, technology and contracting reviews like a game of chutes and ladders where almost any office in any department at any level can set you back. The clarity of a National Security Cooperation Strategy would help the defense industry align and partner with the US government in the security cooperation enterprise. If the Trump administration is prepared to lead the way with security cooperation enterprise reform, the US defense industry is prepared to follow.
David F. Melcher is the president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, which represents more than 300 companies in the aerospace and defense industry.