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Regional Centers Central to Security Cooperation, Agency Director Says

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency might be best known as a key player in the U.S. military's foreign military sales program. But the agency also has a role as executive agent for six regional security centers which are important to national security, said DSCA's director. 

Two men are seated on a stage.
Security Discussion
James Hursch, left, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and Andrew Michta, dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, speak at the Navy League's 2023 Sea Air Space Conference and Exposition in Washington, April 3, 2023.
Photo By: C. Todd Lopez, DOD
VIRIN: 230403-D-NU123-0066

"We are happy to be working with the regional centers because ... in many ways we feel like the regional centers are actually doing intellectual security cooperation, talking to our allies and partners, sharing ideas, and building future leaders," said James Hursch, while speaking Monday at the Navy League's 2023 Sea-Air-Space Conference and Exposition in Washington. 

The six centers include the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and the newly created Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies. Leaders from three of those centers attended the conference in Washington. 

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Randy "Church" Kee serves as the senior advisor for Arctic Security Affairs at the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, which stood up just last year in Anchorage, Alaska. The center focuses on Arctic defense education, research and collaboration with U.S. allies and partners in the Arctic. Strategically, Kee said, the center is part of the Defense Department's focus on integrated deterrence. 

"America has rising interest in the Arctic region," he said. "And we're honored to help contribute to the integrated deterrence of really protecting, defending and securing our national interests in the Arctic region and in complement to those of our allies and partners. 

The Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, Kee said, has been charged by the Secretary of Defense to advance Arctic literacy and to enable collaboration and cooperation on common problem sets of mutual interest with Arctic allies and partners. 

Andrew Michta serves as dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, which was established in 1993 and is the oldest of the six regional centers. The center, which operates in partnership with the German Federal Ministry of Defense, addresses regional and transnational security issues in Europe. 

The center initially stood up in 1993 as a way to help potential new allies in Eastern Europe, following the fall of the Soviet Union, make the transition from Communism to Western standards, Michta said. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the mission changed to one of counterterrorism on a global scale. Since 2014, he said, the focus has changed again to instead focus on one of great power competition. 

"We're now focusing essentially on the strategic dimension of that in terms of how our curriculum has been revised, and just completed the curriculum review," Michta said. "We're looking at the faculty skill set to make sure it matches and also we're looking at organizational optimization to make sure we can deliver on this Marshall Center 3.0." 

A big part of the Marshall Center Mission — as is the case with the other centers — is development of and maintenance of relationships with alumni who have attended courses at the center. At the Marshall Center, Michta said, a surprising number of those alumni are from Ukraine

"Some of the most senior Ukrainian military and government officials have gone through our programs and we've stayed in touch," he said. 

Ukraine isn't the only nation the center maintains partnerships with, Michta said. He said the center has reached out to other nations such as Georgia and Moldova, for instance, to assist in things like writing national security strategy. 

"This is about bringing allies and partners of the United States together," he said. 

At the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Wade Turvold serves as dean of admissions and business operations. The center addresses regional and global security issues, inviting military and civilian representatives of the United States and Asia-Pacific nations to participate in its program of executive education and workshops. 

"The Indo-Pacific region is the region to which the United States rebalanced 12 years ago, contains most of the world's population, most of the world's maritime space and the competition that comes with that," he said. "It's the world's economic engine. Half of world trade passes through the South China Sea alone. It contains all of the world's largest militaries, five or six of the nine world's nuclear powers — depending on how you count — and five of six active U.S. treaty alliances." 

The same region, he said, is where some of the world's greatest challenges now lie, including issues involving the Taiwan Strait, North Korea, the South China Sea, the East China Sea, illegal fishing and other transnational crimes. 

"Our unique mission is to maintain our relationship with allies, partners and friends and to advance U.S. interests in the region," Turvold said. "We do so, as has already been articulated, through the use of soft power. We're the DOD's non-kinetic arm." 

Turvold said the center employs about 130 people and works yearly to connect with more alumni and build relationships and partner capacity through partner engagement, executive education and workshops. 

While the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy are threat-based, Turvold said — that's not how partners in the Indo-Pacific see the world. 

"The majority of our partners in the region see the world through the lens of partnership — not through the lens of threat," Turvold said. "And it's there that regional centers, with a modest investment through our executive agent — the Defense Security Cooperation Agency — are able to advance U.S. interests, build partner capacity and maintain the peace in the region." 

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