In a rapidly changing world, the United States must defend its interests and values against new threats and new competitors, especially from China and Russia. But it can't do it alone. Instead, the U.S. must strengthen relationships with existing partners and allies while also building new partnerships.
Strengthening alliances and attracting new partners is one of three lines of effort central to the National Defense Strategy laid out in 2018. It's something Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper has been focused on since he took office last year. The secretary said developing a coordinated strategy for American allies and partners is among his top priorities.
"These like-minded nations are an unmatched advantage that China and Russia do not have," Esper said.
Over the past year, with encouragement from the United States, NATO has enhanced its readiness by continuing to secure pledges from alliance members to increase their defense spending. About two-thirds of NATO nations have pledged to increase defense spending to 2% of their gross domestic product by 2021, but all have increased spending to some degree already.
In the Indo-Pacific region, the department has strengthened alliances and partnerships by deepening interoperability, expanding deterrent networks, and executing maritime security and awareness operations.
Also in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. conducted a record number of freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea over the past year, more than any other year since 2015, to deter China's malign behavior. For example, in July 2019, the USS Nimitz conducted exercises with the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean. That exercise, Esper said, demonstrates a shared commitment between the two nations to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
In November 2019, the United States also participated in its first joint military exercise with India — a partnership Esper called "one of the all-important defense relationships of the 21st century."
In the Middle East, the United States has led a coalition of more than 80 partners to ensure the enduring defeat of the ISIS physical caliphate. And in September, the United States joined a group of nations to establish the International Maritime Security Construct, in which the U.S. partners with eight countries, Lithuania being the most recent. The goal of the group is to maintain order and security in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
When it comes to foreign military sales, the department has improved policy and practices by lowering costs and introducing competitive financing opportunities, which have increased U.S. competitiveness and improved interoperability among partners.
In fiscal year 2019, the department maintained sales of more than $55 billion for the second consecutive year, which increased the three-year rolling average for sales by 16 percent. Additionally, the department improved the time it takes to respond to partner nation requests by 17%.
Also, the State Department recently approved a possible sale of 105 F-35 aircraft to Japan and the sale of All Up Round MK 54 lightweight torpedoes to Belgium. And in Asia, the United States may also allow the sale of eight MV-22 Osprey aircraft to Indonesia.
Efforts involving arms sales to partner and allied nations not only increase interoperability between the U.S. military and the militaries of partner and allied nations, but also mean that the U.S. military and those nations will work together in ongoing training and technical assistance as part of the deal.