My son graduated from kindergarten last week, completing a year where some of his greatest lifelong friendships may have been formed. Two of those friends are from other countries, the Netherlands and Australia. Their parents serve in their respective countries’ militaries and have been studying for the last year at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. They graduated last Friday.
One of them was quoted in the local paper talking about how much he had learned in a short amount of time. I asked him how many military contacts he has now. He said he has an address book full of them. He said you really get to know people in a program like this because you go to class with them, study with them, and see them at barbeques or have a beer with them on weekends. And I’m sure he would be comfortable calling them when he gets back home.
Of the 520 Naval War College graduates, 120 were international students from 68 countries. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage spoke in his keynote address about China and his concerns about its lack of transparency and potential risks. These risks grow immeasurably the longer China closes off its military from the rest of the world by no longer participating in military-to-military relations with the U.S.
General Joseph Ralston, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote the following in a Wall Street Journal piece titled “Why the Pentagon Needs Friends in Beijing”: “Military-to-military contacts help us build relationships of trust in peacetime that we rely on when tensions rise. Such relationships can potentially mean the difference between war and peace when a crisis arrives.” To prove his point, he refers back to the Pressler Amendment created in 1985 to terminate all military-to-military ties with Pakistan if the president could not certify that Pakistan did not have a nuclear program. It was passed by Congress in 1990, when President George H.W. Bush could not verify as much and was forced to cut off military ties with Pakistan. As a result, an entire generation of military friendships between the two countries were never created—friendships that could have helped us after 9/11 in gaining Pakistan’s military assistance in fighting al Qaeda.
While serving as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Ralston received a diplomatic note from a foreign government with intelligence that it faced an imminent threat of attack by a squadron of jet fighters from another country. Two of the highest-ranking military leaders in both countries happened to have been classmates of Ralston’s at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. He called one of the classmates, telling him about the note, and was immediately assured that all fighters were accounted for and no attack was planned. He then called his other classmate to relay the news, which was accepted as fact on the spot.
The importance of military-to-military contacts is immeasurable because trust is not something that’s gained overnight—and because of that trust, conflicts are avoided. It’s time for China to participate in military-to-military relations.