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Growing the State Partnership Program in Africa: A Strategic Imperative for Sustained Engagement on the Continent

  • Published
  • By Maj Kyle Bruckner

The 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) stresses that to achieve American interests and bounded success with African nations, “U.S.-Africa partnerships must adapt to reflect the important geopolitical role that African nations play globally.” Such 21st-century U.S.-Africa partnerships would enable investment, enhance health and pandemic preparedness, influence partner nations to support human rights, reduce corruption and other abuses, support African-led efforts to avert costly conflicts, and combat terrorism.[1] Perhaps no organization is more primed to provide the sustained engagement required to enable this strategy than the National Guard through its State Partnership Program (SPP), a program that should continue growing on the continent as a key enabler for the interagency; albeit, with its own unique operational and strategic challenges, roles, and opportunities.

The State Partnership Program

The U.S. Army and Air Force are comprised of three components: (1) Active Duty, (2) the National Guard (hereinafter referred to as “COMPO 2”), and (3) the Reserves. Both COMPO 2 and the Reserves are primarily composed of part-time soldiers and airmen who bring a diversity of civilian backgrounds and perspectives to monthly Unit Training Assemblies, Annual Training, and deployments. Unique to COMPO 2 though is the SPP — a joint U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) security cooperation program with the National Guard Bureau and Geographic Combatant Commands (GCC) sourced by U.S. state and territory National Guards.

The SPP was first created in 1993 as a program to partner states with freshly independent nations of the former Soviet Union.[2] By law, its mission is “to support the security cooperation objectives of the U.S.”[3] Through cooperative training, exercises, deployments, and other visits, it enables the U.S. National Defense Strategy by creating “[m]utually beneficial alliances and partnerships . . . crucial to [U.S.] strategy, providing a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match.”[4] These SPP activities include key leader engagements and senior leader visits, activities to promote interoperability, secure and maintain access, and foster or strengthen relationships, exchanges of expertise or best practices (e.g., subject matter expert exchanges), understanding and assessments of partner nation capabilities, and planning efforts with the partner nation for future security cooperation activities.[5] With the participation of 87 partner nations and all 54 U.S. states and territories, the SPP currently spans each GCC. Furthermore, many states and territories have multiple partner nations.[6]

The State Partnership Program in Africa

COMPO 2 has already been using the SPP to achieve operational and strategic objectives in Africa. One prime example is the state partnership between Michigan and the Republic of Liberia. Since 2009, the Michigan National Guard (MING) and Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) have partnered to conduct military-to-military engagements in support of the AFL’s support of defense security goals.[7] These engagements range from promoting the rule of law, counterintelligence, logistics support, and infrastructure projects, among others.[8] This partnership, as well as others, also “encourages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities as well as interagency engagement with the military, government, and social spheres.”[9] There is perhaps no better example of this than MING’s visit in April 2022, which focused on advancing the capabilities of Liberia’s 14 Military Hospital. This visit relied on collaboration with outside organizations such as U.S. African Command (AFRICOM), the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for success.[10]

Other states and territories remain heavily engaged on the continent because of the SPP as well. In October 2022, soldiers from the Massachusetts and Nebraska National Guards (partnered with Kenya and Rwanda, respectively) were in Kenya to plan Exercise Justified Accord, which is AFRICOM’s largest East African military training exercise with over 800 participants from 20 different countries.[11] Exercises, such as this or AFRICOM’s largest, Exercise African Lion, serve to enhance the capabilities of partner militaries. SPPs underpin the success of these exercises given the enduring relationships they allow amongst participating countries. While African nations struggle with a multitude of issues, including corruption and lack of political cohesion, weak national militaries have permitted the rise of terrorist organizations seen across Africa this past decade. Therefore, there is a great benefit from such partnerships and exercises.[12]

Growing the State Partnership Program in Africa

Despite these successes, there are still a lot more opportunities to expand the SPP in Africa. Indeed, with 54 countries and only 18 partnerships, AFRICOM has a smaller percentage of partner nations (29%) than most other GCC. Comparatively, U.S. Southern Command has the greatest SPP participation at 77%, while U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (52% if one excludes countries already allied to the U.S. or directly adversarial), U.S. European Command (45%), and U.S. Central Command (38%) also all have higher participation than AFRICOM. Furthermore, from the perspective of the COMPO 2, there certainly is excess capacity to continue building the SPP in Africa as approximately 30 U.S. states and territories currently only have one partner nation.[13] If Africa truly is “central to addressing complex global problems[,]” then the DoD should consider COMPO 2’s excess capacity in addressing AFRICOM’s disproportionate SPP representation.[14]

With an annual budget of just $40 million too, the SPP is objectively a low-cost, high-impact program.[15]While primarily funded through COMPO 2 Pay and Allowance and Operations and Maintenance budgets, the SPP helps GCCs meet their emerging challenges. Furthermore, there is nothing prohibiting the GCCs from funding SPP activities within their respective areas of responsibility.[16] Additional funding, either through AFRICOM or Congress, would be a relatively modest cost for continuing to build the partner nation’s capacity, improve interoperability, and enhance U.S. access and influence. All of these are required for achieving such 21st-century partnerships envisioned by the NSS while also countering China’s interest in the continent. With calls for its expansion, such an increased commitment would only further bolster a program that has already been recognized for its historic significance, having recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.[17]

SPP should not, however, be viewed as the sole solution that can entirely solve every issue. African countries may face multiple difficult issues, such as complex conflicts complicated by locally rooted grievances, competition for resources, and the lack of government capacity.[18] With experience with national disaster response and Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), coupled with the variety of its personnel backgrounds, COMPO 2 is particularly well situated to address related issues through the SSP. While other issues are certainly more suited for other agencies, SPP is primed to support these partners in pursuit of coherent interagency cooperation toward achieving the strategic ends. For example, the persistent engagement and relationship building inherent to the SPP can be an important touch point or access for those agencies. Therefore, the SPP is most appropriately viewed as an important piece of a whole-of-government approach (WGA) for sustained engagement on the continent. The underutilization of SPP in Africa should highlight the enormous opportunity to improve WGA there. 

The State Partnership Program as a Strategic Imperative in Africa

Africa is as complex as it is vast. COMPO 2 is already playing a key role in supporting U.S. operational and strategic objectives there via its State Partnership Program, but there is certainly an opportunity to expand this role. The issues facing African countries present complex challenges that require a whole-of-government approach. Given its ability to create sustained engagement between the United States and the partner nation, the SPP should be viewed and invested in, by all stakeholders, as one important piece to achieving U.S. objectives. There is perhaps nothing more cost-effective for the purposes of achieving U.S. national security objectives on the continent.

Maj Kyle Bruckner
Maj Kyle Bruckner currently serves as Director of Intelligence for the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan. In this capacity, he is responsible to the base commander for all aspects of intelligence support to wing leadership and personnel. He recently traveled to Africa as a member of the Michigan National Guard’s (MING) Future Strategic Leader Program – a professional development program designed to equip select MING officers with comprehensive strategic-level experience within combatant commands.



[1.] White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: White House, 2022), 43-44,

[2.] “State Partnership Program,” US National Guard, last accessed 31 Mar 2023,

[3.] Jim Garamone, “National Guard’s State Partnership Program Marks 30 Years”, Department of Defense, 13 July 2023,

[4.] “State Partnership Program.”

[5.] U.S. Government Accountability Office, State Partnership Program: DOD Should Ensure Partner States Record Completed Activities and Clarify Appropriate Authority, GAO-22-104672 (Washington DC, 2022), 6,

[6.] “State Partnership Program.”

[7.] MSG Denice Rankin, “Michigan National Guard continues mentor mission to Liberian armed forces”, U.S. National Guard, October 26, 2015,

[8.] Capt. Andrew Layton, “Michigan and Liberia partner in promoting the rule of law”, U.S. Army, February 8, 2021,; MSG Denice Rankin, “Michigan National Guard Soldiers familiarize Liberian soldiers with counterintelligence measures”, U.S. National Guard, July 9, 2014,; TSgt Daniel Heaton, “Michigan Guard member helped pave way for partnership with Liberia”, U.S. National Guard, February 8, 2012,  

[9.] Rankin, “Michigan National Guard Soldiers familiarize Liberian soldiers with counterintelligence measures.”

[10.] Capt. Joe Legros, “Michigan National Guard medical team saves life while mentoring Liberian partners”, U.S. Army, May 2, 2022,

[11.] Capt. Joe Legros, “Planners travel to Kenya to shape exercise Justified Accord 23”, U.S. Army, November 9, 2022,

[12.] Alexandre Marc, “20 years after 9/11, jihad terrorism rises in Africa,” Brookings Institute, August 30, 2021,

[13.] “State Partnership Program.”

[14.] White House, National Security Strategy, 12. 

[15.] “State Partnership Program.”

[16.] U.S. Government Accountability Office, State Partnership Program, 10.

[17.] U.S. Congress, Senate, A resolution recognizing the historic significance of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Department of Defense State Partnership Program, S Res. 308, 118th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 169, part 128: S3526-3527,

[18.] Marc, “20 years after 9/11.”

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