Most AFRICA OSCs conduct a yearly country coordination meeting, but some don’t. What is the purpose of this meeting, and why does the USG spend around 20k to hold it? What is being coordinated, and what are the expectations and actual outcomes of that coordination? Who should attend, and what are their roles? What expectations does the partner nation have, and how does the AFRICA OSC manage them? Should an AFRICA OSC do a Country Coordination Meeting or not?
Country Coordination Meetings can be a crucial synchronization meeting for an AFRICA OSC. The meeting differs in each country, most are successful, but in some countries, it is probably a waste of USG funding. This blog will attempt to give helpful suggestions on how to execute a successful Country Coordination Meeting.
To do or not to do
The first question to ask is whether or not this type of meeting is required or necessary in your country. If you think this type of meeting might create too many expectations, then it probably is not something you should do. Some partner nations may see this type of event as a time to ask for the moon, which is not the intent of the event. In other countries, this type of activity might be the exact thing that is required to move a few of the many balls along on the playing field. If the event has always been done and is a standardized part of the planning cycle, then, of course, changing or eliminating it doesn’t make sense. If the event has been on, then off, then on then perhaps it is best to analyze why that has happened. Were the previous AFRICA OSCs too overzealous or too negative and suddenly a new overzealous or too negative AFRICA OSC arrived? The single key to deciding to do a country coordination meeting or not is – what are the desired outcomes of this meeting?
What are the desired outcomes of this meeting?
When looking at hosting a Country Coordination Meeting (CCM), there are desired outcomes on both sides of the aisle. From the Combatant Command and Components, it is a time for their representatives to travel to the partner nations country, gain an in-depth understanding of the situation you live with every day, and also a chance for them to represent their command and push whatever priorities their Commander has with your partner nation. On the partner nation side, it should be an opportunity for them to explain their preferences and ask and learn about the opportunities the Combatant Command and Components have to assist them. The three most significant desired outcomes of a CCM should be – more coordination, understanding, and agreements. If you are not getting this out of the CCM, you should ask yourself why?
How do you achieve more coordination? If your country is one that a lot of Security Force Assistance cases are executed, then this is the perfect time to have the component representative stand up and give a brief on the status of the case, the timeline, and what is needed from the partner nation. Perhaps the host nation has requested to be a new State Partnership Program member, so having someone give a brief on the program and the expected outcomes of it would assist in gaining more buy-in from the partner nation to request the program. Lastly, perhaps (depending on the partner nation’s willingness to take criticism) you could hold an AAR of the last year and highlight any long-running problems that need to be overcome, and also highlight the many successes that were accomplished.
How do you achieve more understanding? The CCM is a perfect time for you to ask your partner nation what questions they have (before the meeting) and then direct your Component and Combatant Command representatives to give a brief or talk about those questions. It would be best if you also planned some night time cultural events where your representatives get to know their counterparts. A beer or two watching some cultural dancing and talking can change things. Just make sure the overzealous representative doesn’t overpromise.
What agreements should be made? The French do an excellent job with holding their partner nations to agreements, mainly because they do everything in writing. There is nothing wrong with having a memorandum of understanding after a CCM. A memorandum of agreement takes on an aspect of an official diplomatic agreement and probably isn’t worth the hassle. The other option is to have both sides simple sign the minutes of the conference. These are simple ways to capture on paper what was agreed while having something with a signature on it. If in a Francophone country you’ll need a stamp or two on it, or it’s not worth the ink that signed it. A mon avis, we should do more of these.
What are the logistics required for a successful CCM?
The AFRICA OSC should always think about the time of year to conduct a CCM. Pre-RSWG, post-RSWG, pre-STRWG, post-STRWG, pre-SCETWG, post-SCETWG, before Ramadan, after Ramadan, etc. The key here is to understand the planning cycle of your partner nation. Some will have a more extended bandwidth than others. Some will only be able to focus on the next year. I’m a big fan of January through April. This allows you to synchronize all the Title 10 and Title 22 programs at the same time because the AFRICA OSC should not only think about the Combatant Command and its Components, but also the Embassy and its plans.
Who should the AFRICA OSC invite to the CCM and what are the expectations of them?
The AFRICA OSC is the leader of the CCM and should ensure that no single person takes away from that (to include the SDO!). There could also be distractors internally from the embassy or externally from the Combatant Command or Components. One should always be prepared for the time change or leadership change from the partner nation. Anticipating the ambush is something the best AFRICA OSCs prepare for, deal with, and manipulate on the spot to accomplish the overall mission.
The meeting should include at a minimum the CCMD desk officer and all the Component’s desk officers; however, this event is not a good time just to come TDY. If desk officers attend, they should come with answers from their commands, and be able to commit to certain things. If they are there to expand their perspectives solely, they don’t contribute to the three outcomes described above. If your cooperation is heavy with one component compared to others, such as certain countries that are section 333 heavy, a component SFA planner could be included. The AFRICA OSC should always think about a perfectly timed Senior Leader Engagement to seal a deal, or to smooth over a prior agreement that has managed to go sour. If you are having issues with this, talk to your SDO and your POL officer about the “optics” or “aspects” of everything.
The schedule: Should this event be in the embassy, or at another venue? Should it be one or two days? Should there be an opening and closing ceremony? Should there be a signed (some type) of agreement? The AFRICA OSC should think through all these questions.
The AFRICA OSC has zero funding for conferences rooms, coffee, or snacks, so it is easiest to ask the partner nation to do this; however, should you ask them to fund that much money? Every dollar spent on snacks for your conference is money taken away from whatever issue they are having. There are funds available for this type of entertaining for AFRICA OSCs; the key is asking the Combatant Command well ahead of time.
One day or two? How long should this event be? I suggest two days, and perhaps the third day for your desk officers so you can take them to visit somewhere, or a rap up day to confirm what everyone said and agreed upon. You could also spend the third-day conducting reconnaissance for an upcoming train and equip case. The key here is that the USG is spending funds to bring all these people together – use this time wisely.
The opening or closing day: Invite the big wigs or not?
It would help if you had an opening ceremony to the CCM. Let the Ambassador, Minister of Defense, and Chief of Defense or SDO have their speeches. Place a Facebook post or two up on the internet and fly the flag. These events are always times to promote our efforts, and you should always include your embassy PAO/PAS/PD. If you do a big opening ceremony, you should think about the closing ceremony. I would suggest not doing two big events. Either do a big opening or a big closing. With countries where the outcomes might be controversial, the big opening is better. In a country where the outcomes are important then perhaps the closing ceremony is more important where the senior leaders can be present to confirm and put a “stamp” on the outcomes of the CCM.
Try to stay away from the big asks
Manage expectations up front with your partner nation. Perhaps float around a schedule with the topics and expected outcomes. You could find that they are nervous as to the expectations of the meeting, so doing a pre-schedule might allow them to understand what is expected, and also not expected, out of the meeting. If you are in a country were the partner nation always uses engagement opportunities with senior officials to deliver a “big ask,” such as the donation of an Abrams tank battalion, then perhaps a Country Coordination Meeting is not something an AFRICA OSC should do. This is also the time to have someone of significance deliver a “yes” on a past big ask or problem. They are unlikely to deliver a big “no” in person.
Country Coordination Meetings can be the center of coordination between your partner nation, the embassy, the combatant command, component commands, and other agencies such as the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The meeting can also create as many issues for you that it solves. The single key to this meeting is to leave with mutually agreed solutions that are captured in a written and co-signed document.