More Global Readiness, With Less Cash: What Minnesota’s Nordic Exchange Says About Low-Cost Defense
Pentagon planners must now aggressively hunt for mechanisms to keep America’s warfighters ready and trained for global deployment without significant overhead. We believe that they don’t need to look “out of the box” before they’ve looked within for solutions. A textbook example of such a program already resides in the longest-running troop exchange within the U.S. Department of Defense.
The longstanding annual troop exchange between Norway and the
Minnesota National Guard (NOREX) could be a model for low-cost
partnerships that enhance tactical readiness and support long-term
strategic alliances at low-cost. This joint cooperation program may
also be an ideal model for enhancing relationships with many other
Exchange programs like NOREX teach our soldiers intercultural
communication skills which will be indispensable in a future when U.S.
deployments are increasingly elements of multinational forces. They
also expose junior leaders to NATO allies and create confidence in
both parties operational structure.
Our nation has entered an era of sequestration threats, planned
defense budget cuts, and manpower reductions in active duty U.S.
troop-strength numbers. We simply will not be resourced and ready to
fight as we have been throughout the past ten years of continuous war.
Meanwhile, the global security environment presents an increasingly
complex set of challenges to which elements of U.S. national power
must be applied in closely allied cooperation with foreign and
We’ve learned from the past decade of war that the National Guard is
a vital component of expeditionary U.S. joint force projection in
mission sets that range from conventional force to counterterrorism,
irregular warfare, deterring aggression, defending the homeland, and
humanitarian operations. Among the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan
were: 1) the necessity of maintaining globally deployable National
Guard forces (especially light infantry) for support of conventional
and unconventional warfare, and 2) the importance of working alongside
allied but foreign partner military organizations.
January 2012 guidance from President Obama and then-Secretary
Panetta on “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st
Century Defense” made clear that global defense readiness cannot flag
despite real budget cuts and smaller size. To succeed, joint readiness
will almost certainly rely increasingly upon specifically tailored
international security assistance forces.
Last month, the 40th annual NOREX troop exchange took place in both
Minnesota and in Norway. In recognition of the historic anniversary,
the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, the Norwegian Ambassador to the U.S.,
the Governor of Minnesota, the Norwegian Chief of Defense, a U.S.
Senator and a host of military and civilian leaders gathered on both
sides of the Atlantic to celebrate the longstanding union.
Emphasizing the span of the influential exchange, officers with
responsibilities from Denmark to Sweden also joined.
At the tactical level, young soldiers from each side trained for
infantry operations in cold-weather, rapid reaction to domestic
contingencies, and best practices for the defense of a homeland. Some
of those relationships forged at the individual level will be the
future of strategic national security cooperation.
To our point on individual relationships- an individual 1979 NOREX
exchange participant from Norway, now-General Kristin Lund, is
currently the commander of the Norwegian Home Guard . She took part in
in in the first year that female soldiers from Norway were allowed to
participate. She later became Norway’s first female general. Of note,
she also works with many other senior national security leaders,
including her Swedish and Danish home guard counterparts. Not
coincidentally, the Chief of the Danish Home Guard had been informally
viewing the exchange from afar. His participation this year was with
an eye to evaluate the creation of a similar exchange with another
state National Guard.
In today’s era of defense austerity, low-cost, high-payoff military
programs involving the Guard and Reserves will be vital to achieving
21st century national security goals. Programs like NOREX should be
investigated for expansion as a model for joint force readiness and to
facilitate international cooperation.
Andrew Borene is a member of the Truman National Security Project
Defense Council, an adjunct professor of national security policy at
Macalester College and a corporate executive. He is a former Associate
Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense and was a
U.S. Marine officer. Views expressed are his own.
Brigadier General Neal Loidolt is the Director of the Joint Staff of
the Minnesota National Guard. In addition to supervising the joint
staff, his responsibilities include emergency response operations,
strategic planning, and international affairs. These views are his own
and not official U.S. government policy.