Moldova-US relations and the National Guard’s State Partnership Programme

The programme has improved land power capability development, cyber defence, and military strategy implementation

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The Importance of the National Guard State Partnership Programme

“It’s a great programme. Both sides get a lot out of it, and to the degree that we can expand it, I think it makes sense to do so,” said Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Army, after I asked about the National Guard’s State Partnership Programme at the Atlantic Council, in Washington DC, in mid-May.

The partnership programme teams up a state’s national guard with a US partner international partner, such as the Republic of Moldova and the North Carolina National Guard.

Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Army at Atlantic Council 2019. Source: Lenin Nolly / Defence IQ

The US is Moldova’s major defence partner, and the Chisinau-North Carolina relationship has become the cornerstone of this evolving partnership.

Setting the Stage

The relationship programme was formalised in 1999 and renewed for another five-year period in May 2019. Policymakers in Chisinau and the North Carolinian state government have utilised this initiative to foster closer relations on non-military issues, such as education, health services, entrepreneurial activities, and humanitarian initiatives.

Quarter of a Century and counting

Within the past year, the two sides participated in a cyber-security exercise organised by the Moldovan Army’s Communications Staff, and also the Moldovan Amy’s Logistics Department of the General Staff ran a course called “Army Support Operations" which was organised in conjunction with the North Carolina guard. 

In August 2018, 95 Moldovan soldiers travelled to Fort Bliss, Texas, to take part in the  eXportable Combat Training Capability  exercise, XCTC, organised by the 30th Armored Brigade. “The [Moldovan] Soldiers were trained in their respective military areas of expertise so they could be embedded within all 30th sections critical to the exercise such as; logistics, operations, maintenance, medics, engineers, scouts and mechanised fighting vehicles,” the US Army explained.

Benefits for Moldova and the defence industry

Colonel Vitalie Micov, the Defence, Military and Air Attache at the Moldovan embassy in the US explained, “our officers, NCOs and troops are learning from our North Carolinian counterparts. For example, we are learning a lot about cyber security in order to improve our capabilities at home.”

"We [Moldovan military] are learning a lot about cyber security in order to improve our capabilities at home"

The officer added that “because National Guard troops are citizen soldiers, they have other professions, such as paramedics or firefighters, so our troops also learn other skills from our partners.” The idea is to continue to modernise the Moldovan armed forces, leaving behind Soviet-era styles of military thinking, including Soviet-era bureaucracy, to turn them into a 21st century force.

Colonel Micov also explained, “they offer us a menu of options, of projects and capabilities that they are subject matter experts in, and we select what we need to fulfil our own requirements and strategic goals.”

30 Soldiers from the Republic of Moldova boarded a West Virginia Air National Guard C-17 after a week of training with the National Guard. Source: North Carolina National Guard 

The officer highlighted defense transformation and reform, land power capability development, cyber defence, and military strategy implementation as areas in which this partnership has been helpful. He added that National Guard troops also serve as evaluators, at various level (battalion, company, or squad), to ensure that Moldovan troops are up to NATO’s standards – the first such evaluation occurred (Self-Evaluation Level 1) at the Bulboaca National Military Training Centre in Moldova in the summer of 2008.

A year later, a certification in 2009 comprised one infantry company and EOD squad from the  22nd Peacekeeping Battalion, the troops received help from North Carolina National Guard troops.  

It is a positive development, the troops have gotten along fairly well for the past couple of decades, and the language barrier has proven to be a surmountable obstacle. “Most our officers and NCOs are trained in the West, particularly in US military institutions, so they become fluent in English fairly fast,” Colonel Micov, who has attended such institutions, explained.

Moldova has found a good friend in Major General Gregory Lusk, Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard since October 2010. The commander of the NC NG has maintained a pro-cooperation attitude towards the state partnership with Moldova. “Through two decades of engagements our forces know each other and trust each other.

"Long-term relationship and trust is what the State Partnership Programme fosters"

The long-term relationship and trust is what the State Partnership Programme fosters and after all these years we continue to learn from our interactions to become more effective and stronger militaries,” said General Lusk in 2018. Hence, it is no surprise that just this past April, he received the “Cooperation” medal from State Secretary General Radu Burduja, during a ceremony in Chisinau.

The next major exercise in which Moldovan troops will take part, Agile Hunter 2019, in Fort Irwin National Training Centre, will involve approximately 104 Moldovan troops.

The Chisinau-Washington Defence Relationship and the defence industry 

The relationship between the Moldovan military and North Carolina National Guard has helped the solidification of Chisinau-Washington defence relations.
The US is reportedly Moldova’s major supplier of defence technology. In 2017, the US delivered up to 41 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles and trucks for the Moldovan army.

In addition, the US Navy is reportedly expanding Moldova’s military facilities in Bulboaca, southeast of Chisinau. The new installations will train Moldovan troops to potentially participate in UN peacekeeping operations.

33 pallets were donations from several NC organisations. Source: North Carolina National Guard 

According to UN statistics, as of April 2019, there are 11 Moldovan military personnel in UN missions: five in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), five in South Sudan (UNMISS), and one in Kosovo (UNMIK) – out of which two are female personnel. The objective is now to increase this participation to around a battalion of Moldovan blue helmets. The US has had some success in these type of training initiatives under the Global Operations Peace Initiative, since 120 Kazakhstani troops were deployed in late 2018, for the first time, to the UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL). 

"We need to show our foreign partners that we can also contribute something to the security not only of the region but of the European Union"

In a 2017 interview for Radio Europa, Minister of Defence Eugen Sturza stated that “we need to show our foreign partners that we can also contribute something to the security not only of the region but of the European Union, and in other areas.” Greater participation of Moldovan troops in UN peacekeeping missions, in addition to other multinational missions like in Afghanistan and Kosovo, will solidify this message.

The Moscow Factor

Besides Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, Russian troops continue to operate in Transnistria, a separatist region in Moldova. It comes as no surprise that Jane’s Defence Weekly reported in January that Beechcraft MC-12W Liberty aircraft, assigned to the US’ 137th Special Operations Wing, have reportedly been flying over Transnistria. The Beechcraft reportedly departed out of “Constanta airport in Romania and then [headed] north towards Ukraine.”

US support towards Moldova is part of a wider strategy to monitor Russian operations across the Dniester River – for the record, the Bulboaca facilities are close to said river, and  some 30 km from Tiraspol, the “capital” of Transnistria.

Final Thoughts

Moldova is an interesting case study. The country cannot apply for NATO membership given its constitution, which stresses neutrality. 

Nevertheless, nation’s armed forces have maintained a pro-Europe and pro-US attitude for the past few decades, which is best exemplified by most Moldovan officers, NCOs and troops regularly receiving training in US military institutions.

At the heart of this relationship we find the Moldova-North Carolina National Guard partnership, which is about to reach its one quarter of a century anniversary. It is successful partnerships like this that justify Secretary Esper’s statement that the NG state partnership initiative “is a great programme. Our National Guard has partners all around the world, from Africa to Europe, and Asia and in some cases some states have multiple partners.”

Moldovan troops board a transport. Source: North Carolina National Guard 

Moldova’s military has come a long way from 1992, when it fought a short-lived war against Transnistrian separatists backed by Russian forces – this happened a year after Moldova declared independence from the USSR. At the time, Chisinau’s forces were not prepared for an internal conflict with the participation of a foreign power, and while Moldova’s military will continue to rely on foreign help from partner nations for the foreseeable future, its level of training and capabilities have improved, as it continues to evolve into a 21st century army.

"Most our officers and NCOs are trained in the West, particularly in US military institutions, so they become fluent in English fairly fast"

While the sale, or donation, of military equipment is always important and newsworthy, the  relationship between Moldova and the US military, particularly the North Carolina National Guard, revolves around people-to-people relations, non-stop joint training and a constant exchange of knowledge. These are good pillars upon which two countries can build a defence partnership.