MUSCAT, Oman (3/14/23) – A relationship formed almost two centuries ago – when the Sultanate of Oman became the first Arab Gulf state to sign a bilateral accord with the United States – deepened this week, with the signing of a security cooperation agreement with the Arizona National Guard.
With a formal signing ceremony here Monday, Oman joined the 100-nation Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
“The relationships established between Omani troops and Arizona Guardsmen will endure across time and distance,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau. “It is the foundation of better readiness for our Guardsmen and our partners, better interoperability between our forces, and a better understanding of the global environment in which we operate.”
The State Partnership Program is managed by the National Guard Bureau and executed by the National Guard in the states, territories, and District of Columbia. The SPP celebrates three decades of security cooperation this summer.
Hokanson joined Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs; U.S. Ambassador Leslie Tsou; Air Force Maj. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck, adjutant general, Arizona National Guard; and a delegation of Arizona Guardsmen for Monday’s signing ceremony with Vice Adm. Abdullah Khamis Al Raisi, chief of staff of the Sultan’s Armed Forces, who said the event “culminates the efforts of both countries’ leaderships to enhance the long existing bilateral cooperation and the strategic partnership between the two countries.
“It reaffirms the importance of strengthening the joint military and security efforts to reinforce common strategic and national interests of both friendly countries,” he added. “It also paves the way for more cooperation in the field of joint defense and security in pursuance of common interests and objectives.”
With SEA Tony Whitehead, his senior enlisted advisor, Hokanson wrapped up his two-day stop in the Sultanate of Oman today with visits to institutions central to the nation’s religion, culture and history, including the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the Royal Opera House Muscat, and the National Museum of the Sultanate of Oman.
Opened in 2001, 2011 and 2016 respectively, the stunning architecture and decoration of the three institutions bear testament to a continuing, half-century period Omanis call their Renaissance.
The vision of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died in 2020, this Renaissance saw the Sultanate transformed: When Qaboos took the throne in 1970, life expectancy was 50 years, healthcare was negligible, there were three schools, about six miles of paved roads, and an ongoing pro-Soviet violent uprising in Dhofar, the largest of the country’s 11 governorates.
Today, life expectancy is about 77 years; everyone has access to healthcare, ranked the world’s 8th-best by the World Health Organization; more than 1,000 state schools and multiple post-secondary institutions contribute to a 96% adult literacy rate; more than 3,720 miles of roads are paved; and the nation is at peace.
Hokanson’s delegation also visited the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum. After a period that saw Oman spend more per capita and a higher percentage of gross domestic product on defense than any other nation in 2019, the Sultanate has a modernized armed forces with about 47,000 of its 4.5 million citizens serving in uniform. Joining the Sultan’s Armed Forces is highly sought-after and competitive, negating the need to offer recruiting incentives.
“Oman has long been a treasured partner in regional security and stability, commerce, and trade,” Hokanson said, noting that Oman was the first Arab Gulf state to sign a bilateral accord with the United States, in 1833. “With the partnership between Oman and the Arizona National Guard, we celebrate our continued collaboration – shared values, mutual support, and common respect and understanding.”
Arizona and Oman already have strong ties: The majority of the Royal Air Force of Oman’s F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole fighter aircraft pilots have trained in the state, and there is cooperation between universities.
“This is a unique and exciting time for the State of Arizona,” Muehlenbeck, the adjutant general, said. “Together, our capabilities will grow and strengthen our forces, communities, and countries we serve.”
America’s National Defense Strategy calls mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships an enduring strength.
“The State Partnership Program has solidified over decades because of the trust we’ve established and the security capabilities we’ve helped develop,” SEA Whitehead said. “We have to do this not only for the strategic advantages, but for the trust it builds – and for the global security and peace it fosters.”
Hokanson said Arizona and Oman share similar capabilities, challenges, and goals.
“By working together, pooling our resources, and learning from each other, we enhance readiness and interoperability. We deepen enduring friendships and further understanding. We invest in ourselves, and we invest in our shared future.
“That’s what makes the State Partnership Program one of the best, most valuable security cooperation programs in the world.”
-- Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Times of Oman newspaper contributed.