military attache

What is a Military Attaché and What Do They Do?

What is a Military Attaché and What Do They Do?

A military attaché is a military expert who is attached to a diplomatic mission, often an embassy. This type of attaché post is normally filled by a high-ranking military officer, who retains a commission while serving with an embassy. Opportunities sometimes arise for service in the field with military forces of another sovereign state. The attaché has the privileges of a foreign diplomat.

The main duties of a military attaché are to advise the ambassador on military matters, act as a liaison between the armed forces of the host and sending countries, gather and disseminate intelligence, and promote military cooperation and goodwill. Military attachés also observe and report on the military activities, capabilities, and developments of the host country and other countries of interest in the region.

Military attachés are selected based on their qualifications, experience, and language skills. They undergo specialized training at the Joint Military Attaché School (JMAS), which is run by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, D.C. The JMAS provides world-class training and performance support enabling people to excel in the Defense Attaché Service (DAS), which is the organization that manages the military attachés around the world.

Military attachés serve in over 160 countries, covering every region of the globe. They work closely with other members of the diplomatic mission, such as political, economic, and public affairs officers, as well as with other defense and intelligence agencies. They also maintain contacts with local military officials, defense industry representatives, academics, journalists, and other sources of information.

Military attachés play a vital role in advancing U.S. national security interests and fostering mutual understanding and trust with foreign partners. They provide timely and accurate information to support decision-making at the highest levels of government and military leadership. They also facilitate military-to-military engagements, such as joint exercises, training, education, exchanges, and visits.

A career as a military attaché can be challenging but rewarding. It requires adaptability, professionalism, cultural awareness, and interpersonal skills. It also offers the opportunity to experience different cultures, languages, and perspectives while serving one’s country.

Some examples of military attachés who have made significant contributions to history and diplomacy are:

  • General Edward Stopford Claremont, who served as the first British military attaché (at first described as “military commissioner”) based in Paris for 25 years from 1856 to 1881. Though based in the embassy, he was attached to the French army command during the Crimean War of 1853–1856 and later campaigns.
  • Ernesto Burzagli, who was an Italian naval officer and later admiral. He served as a military attaché in Japan from 1904 to 1906, during the Russo-Japanese War. He observed and reported on the Japanese naval operations and developed a close relationship with the Japanese navy. He later became the chief of staff of the Italian navy and a prominent politician.
  • Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson, who was a U.S. Army officer and a military attaché in East Germany. He was killed on March 24, 1985, while photographing a military installation in East Germany 160 kilometres (100 mi) northwest of Berlin. He was reportedly observing from a point not marked off-limits, though near a place that was. His death sparked a diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The role of military attachés has evolved over time, reflecting the changes in the international security environment and the technological advancements. Today, military attachés face new challenges and opportunities, such as cyber threats, terrorism, humanitarian crises, and emerging powers. They also have to deal with complex issues such as arms control, non-proliferation, human rights, and environmental protection.

Military attachés are an essential part of the U.S. diplomatic corps and a valuable asset for the U.S. military. They represent the best of both worlds: the professionalism and expertise of the military and the diplomacy and cultural sensitivity of the foreign service. They are the eyes, ears, and voice of the U.S. defense community in foreign lands.

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