In a world with increasingly complex political and security challenges, bridging the gap between diplomacy and defense is of vital importance to U.S. foreign policy. Global issues are increasingly interconnected with both political and military aspects, making it more important than ever to have an agile, adaptable approach to foreign policy that can quickly adjust to changing circumstances.
That is where the work of the State Department’s Foreign Policy Advisors (POLADs) is invaluable. Timothy Betts, Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, recently congratulated Andrew Ou, deputy POLAD to the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), and Kanishka Gangopadhyay, a POLAD at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), for their hard work and dedicated service as recipients of the 2021 Robert D. Murphy Foreign Policy Advisor of the Year Award.
The State Department has assigned over 75 POLADs to mid- to senior-level positions in the Department of Defense (DOD) from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to each geographic combatant command, with about one third serving in overseas assignments. POLADs help bring a State Department perspective to military operations and ensure that commanders and other military staff benefit from the diplomatic expertise of foreign service officers.
Kanishka was recognized as the mid-level POLAD of the year for his efforts to enable full integration of foreign policy considerations into all AFRICOM’s public messaging. Thanks to these efforts, AFRICOM is a public affairs leader among the Department of Defense’s geographic combatant commands, with foreign audiences and domestic audiences seeing AFRICOM and the State Department speaking with one voice.
Kanishka’s efforts have had positive impacts in AFRICOM’s work with both new and more established partners. When dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward Sudan opened the opportunity for engagement with AFRICOM, he ensured that public statements during visits to Sudan by senior AFRICOM leadership supported the top U.S. government diplomatic goal of emphasizing civilian control of the military. He also helped shape messages on high-level engagements by Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, AFRICOM, and the U.S. Navy in Kenya around shared commitment to fighting terrorism and making it clear that the U.S. sees Kenya as an equal, sovereign partner.
“Serving as a POLAD has broadened my perspective on how we solve critical national security problems. Defense and diplomacy work best when we work together,” Kanishka said.
Established in 2012, the Robert D. Murphy Foreign Policy Advisor of the Year Award recognize the contributions made by individual POLADs during their assignments to Department of Defense commands and offices worldwide. The award is named after the first POLAD, Robert D. Murphy, who advised General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II.
The award criteria include sustained superior performance which significantly enhanced relationships or the partnerships between the State Department and the Department of Defense; effective interagency engagement ensured the POLAD’s respective command’s exercises and activities promoted U.S. government foreign policy goals and objectives; and any action or contribution on a political-military issue with a direct, positive impact on U.S. national security.