DCAF Backgrounder

Defence Attachés 07/2007

What is a defence attaché (DA)? What is a defence attaché?
A defence attaché (DA) is a member of the armed forces
What are the origins of the who serves in an embassy as a representative of his/her
position, and how has it country’s defence establishment abroad and in this
evolved? capacity enjoys diplomatic status and immunity. DA is a
generic term that covers personnel from all branches of
What are the main roles of the the armed services, although some larger countries may
appoint an attaché to represent an individual service
DA today? branch, such as an air force or naval attaché.

How do different countries The DA is usually responsible for all aspects of bilateral
approach the DA position? military and defence relations. Some countries also
deploy attachés to work on other security issues, such as
migration or police and justice matters.
How have countries gone about
reforming the DA system? Members of a country’s armed forces may also serve
as part of a military mission to a regional organisation
Where is more information such as NATO, the EU, ECOWAS or the UN. These persons
available? are usually designated “military advisors” or “heads of
mission”. Such assignments are mainly multilateral in
nature, whereas the DA system centres on the bilateral
relationship between military establishments. It is
on this category that this backgrounder focuses. This
backgrounder also looks mainly at Western European
approaches to the DA position.

The Diplomatic Status of the DA

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18
April 1961 provides immunity to persons according to

D CA F their rank in a diplomatic mission. It defines the legal
status of the DA in article 7:

Subject to the provisions of articles 5, 8, 9 and 11, the
sending State may freely appoint the members of the
Geneva Centre for the staff of the mission. In the case of military, naval or air
Democratic Control attachés, the receiving State may require their names to
be submitted beforehand, for its approval.
of Armed Forces
Hence, under the Convention, DAs are considered
as members of the diplomatic staff enjoying full
This document is part of the DCAF Backgrounder immunity.
series, which provides practitioners with
concise introductions to a variety of issues in
the field of security sector governance and

a trend Defence diplomacy activities include: encouraged by the emergence of national defence establishments and the building of • providing military advice and assistance to countries reforming their defence sectors. As the century unfolded. By the nineteenth combined use of diplomatic and military tools. the rights and responsibilities of diplomats were codified in Defence Diplomacy emerged in large part owing the Vienna Convention. the DA may the role of the attaché in this regard.” This highlights the democratising countries. of intelligence gathering. at the time of the Thirty Years’ War when the Duke of Richelieu dispatched military officers abroad to liaise with allied powers. end of the Cold War have made the DA’s role The UK was an early champion of defence considerably more challenging and given him/ diplomacy. • establishing mixed civilian and military The twentieth century brought dramatic missions in conflict and post-conflict theatres. UK defence attachés are important • terrorism. changes in the number and background of DAs. After the now have to contend with issues as diverse as attacks of 11 September 2001. managed. but later came to play an important role in other Changes in the security environment since the regions as well. how the defence attaché is trained 2) represents his/her country’s military authorities for his/her duties as well as where and how and liaises with those of the host country. In Strategic Defence Review of 1998 and addressing addition to more traditional tasks. He/she Against this background. There is every reason to expect that today? these trends will continue in the future. most countries were using DAs. Western Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe. the increasingly complex nature of their measures. and the demands on his/her technical expertise and political skills What are the main roles of the DA have grown. In 1961. many countries are in the process of reviewing their DA systems. also mainly in response to the weapons systems and the enhanced importance demands of conflict and post-conflict theatres. In the eighteenth century. which can be considerable. importance of Defence Diplomacy in addressing the causes of conflict and terrorism as well as • complex peace support and civil emergency the benefits deriving from the broad approach operations. the need for attachés • developing new arms control.and confidence-building states. Defence Attachés What are the origins of the position. Through their role as Defence Diplomats. deployments are made. The main roles of the DA are as follows. 1) is an advocate for his/her country’s military and rethinking such matters as how the position is security interests. first mentioning the concept in its her a key role in national defence diplomacy. monitor military Defence Diplomacy developments and gather intelligence. and that is at its core. the UK revisited its Strategic Defence Review and developed what • defence reform and security sector reform in it termed the “New Chapter. 2 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces . players in their country’s counterterrorism policy. The challenge is to adjust and how has it evolved? the defence attaché system to contemporary requirements while at the same time observing The DA emerged during the seventeenth century budgetary constraints. and DAs were given the to the requirements of the countries of the same status. century. the practice of assigning DAs The main feature of defence diplomacy is the to embassies was initiated. The attaché’s range of relationships and task load have broadened accordingly. disarmament was reinforced by the growing number of and security. colonial empires.

Among home country authorities. and the UK. The attaché reports back to the home country DA The scope and structure of each country’s office as well as to Military Intelligence at regular DA system varies as a function of its security intervals. country armaments industry and Locally. 4) acts as a military and/or security advisor to his/ After the field of DA candidates has been her ambassador and embassy staff. Switzerland. such as Austria. these is a representative from the Foreign Ministry. candidates often possess relevant language skills and country knowledge. employs a total of 17 attachés that level of proficiency in the local language conduct bilateral relations with 72 countries. Qualified computer training. The DA may recalled at any time if he/ priorities and available resources. A given she is judged no longer suitable for the position. In other countries. The appointment programmes such as NATO’s Partnership for may also be subject to the approval of Strategic Peace. the ambassador may directly assign tasks to the DA. of service. defence diplomacy France. and intellectual curiosity or reduced bilateral relations. however. of military outreach. in some instances. a single DA responsible for all military relations. the home DA will serve. The necessary other hand. recruitment takes place English) or as much as near-native fluency. or several What kind of training do DAs receive? attachés representing different branches of the DA training generally consists of three main armed forces. through open recruitment or through the • training relevant to his/her job functions. the Foreign Affairs Office and security cooperation. How do different countries approach the This is not typical. but neither is necessarily 3 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces . the final phase of selection begins. such nomination of candidates by their specific branch as defence and security policy. the DA is appointed by a selection 5) observes conditions in the host country with commission consisting of representatives from a bearing on security and reports on them to eight different government departments. intelligence. as the decision lies exchanges and through multilateral with the Ministry of Defence. on the from several months to a year. as most attachés DA position? receive their orders from the Defence Ministry. ranging from lieutenant colonel control. ranked position. whose input carries significant weight in the 6) oversees and manages activities in the area final decision. Social competence. which ranges operating in 135 embassies. capable of operating even in times of troubled professional competence. as conducting effective relations with the How are DAs selected. arms export controls and specialized or junior colonel to major general. country embassy may have no attaché. third-. In Switzerland. Defence Attachés 3) provides a security-policy and military network a prequisite for the position. In countries such as Austria. or fourth- response and relief efforts when crises arise. The latter is usually the case of the components: United States’ representation. depends on the country of deployment. with hundreds of attachés • specialised language training. and/or Military Intelligence. the structure of the armed forces. The military rank of a typical candidate protocol. arms varies by country. are highly valued. supervised and managed in recipient country’s military may require as little different countries? as survival-level skills (combined with advanced When a DA post opens. the DA is subordinate to the country’s 8) may play a role in spearheading emergency ambassador and fills the second-. both in bilateral wields little or no influence. Its DA system is the largest in the world. joint staff. and/or the relevant ambassador at the embassy where the 7) promotes. narrowed.

Switzerland . but are flag officers falling under a assets. These multilateral officers safe gathering points. Military Operations in 2006 The main shifts that can be identified in the reform In crisis environments or emergency situations.France. How have countries gone about reforming their DA system? Traditionally. others.htm). the attaché exercised perform many of the same duties as bilateral direct command over French troops and other DAs. index. the French DA in Lebanon reduced bilateral posts and increased was the interface between the French Embassy. the DA usually has deployment. the Lebanese Army and French military staff missions of the EU. through periodic meetings with defence staff in the home country and through attendance at yearly defence attaché conferences. The position is usually not seen opportunities for further language training. there carried out on a strictly national basis. but rather as a one-off Additional learning opportunities also emerge opportunity in a military career.gcsp. During the Israeli military campaign military advisors: some countries have of summer 2006. this aims to between the militaries of EU and NATO strike a balance between the need to become countries have greatly reduced members’ need to exchange bilateral attachés. or NATO or at their as he implemented security and evacuation headquarters. In efforts to and information exchange takes place in locate isolated individuals and bring them to these contexts. have taken a gradualist approach. multilateral positions in the regional military the authorities of other Western countries. For example. Defence Attachés • cultural training to acclimatise the DA to the acquainted with the situation on the ground. in some countries need to feed lessons learned back into the system . like Switzerland.ch/e/ countries are in this category. Some countries. as a career path in itself. become available in recent years. Second. these are not the norm in DA After settling into the post. are countries whose DA systems have remained some multilateral training programmes have largely unreformed since the end of the Cold War. relying on an ongoing review process. He was also in charge of establishing separate division within the Ministry of logistical supply points for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Defence. French Embassy in Beirut in coordination with Lebanese staff.this can include the and the need to ensure that the DA does not “go spouse and other family members. training/Short%20courses/DA%20Module/ like Austria. strong links As in the case of civilian diplomats. While there is the possibility of extensions and second tours. importance. The four-day session brings together focus has predominantly been on reviewing and DAs from more than twenty countries (more reshaping their DA systems. training for DAs tended to be Two main approaches can be identified. have attempted to overhaul the DA The DA’s Role in Lebanon during Israel’s system in one go. the country of assignment. One example This includes countries that tend to continue to is the annual Defence Attaché Training Module use the system first and foremost for intelligence- conducted by the Geneva Centre for Security gathering. as a great deal of cooperation plans for the civilian community. Most NATO and EU information can be found at www. However. Western European countries are thus establishing 4 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces . First. efforts of this second group are the following: DAs may be directly involved in operational management tasks such as non-combatant • from bilateral attachés to multilateral evacuation. • from the developed world to the developing world: some countries have moved from traditional deployments in How long do DAs tend to be deployed? neighbouring countries to deployment in countries that have assumed new strategic A DA’s deployment typically lasts three years. native”. there are countries whose Policy. UN.

issues.5 to 2 years. 1-year extensions possible with approval What kind of No standard Language Language course 11 months of Standard education and training proficiency followed by 5. reserve and experienced attaché staff position in and/or officer from deployment? the higher in-country and private industry command intelligence structure experience How long is the 4 years. with an Accompanied DA's the option of option of a 4th tours are 3 years deployment? two more. reports Office go to the MoD What is the Lieutenant Lieutenant Senior Career officer. depending on country of deployment 5 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces . language year of language on social including some training ranges training with six protocol for training for from survival months of spouses spouses skills to security policy specialist level. Attaché Office. pre-deployment package for all training does programme as of course. course all aspects of with security combine one 1-week course training. 3-month to 6-month training attachés to the DA receive? yet. a new course on defence attaché encompassing familiarise them course will security policy. with 3 years 3 years 3 years. year while extension if unaccompanied replacement (a small number cannot be found of countries. but A commission Director of appoint(s) the General Staff Staff accredited by representing 8 Defence DA? Ministry of different Diplomacy Foreign Affairs governmental (a military departments officer) and the head of Policy and Defence Relations (PDR) in the MoD (a civilian) Which office(s) Chief of Deputy Chief of All reporting Operational PDR directorate does the DA Defence. Defence Attachés Austria France Germany Switzerland United Kingdom Which office(s) MoD and MoD and Joint MoD. No typical career situation Colonel to Colonel to Major Lieutenant or reserve background. Joint Staff for goes first reports go to for professional report to within Directorate for International through the the Defence issues. Department of and Defence. but of an applicant Brigadier General with Colonel to officer officers must be before the first General from Joint Staff Brigadier employed by the well-rounded defence MoD position or experience General MoD. Military then to other intelligence Defence Attaché Division Intelligence offices information goes Diplomacy for Agency (DRM) to the Strategic administrative Intelligence issues. the MoD? Security Policy Relations and ambassador. or in case of such as Iraq) are emergency 1.

Moreover. While these particular. overview. relations with both or all three countries. constraints on the DA’s availability. Germany. security sector issues.dcaf. Bringing together different countries’ more attachés may be based in one country attachés as well as the officials who manage in order to conduct bilateral relations with six and train them could offer important benefits. The main advantage of this system DCAF is preparing a policy paper that will offer a is cost savings. itinerant DAs operate out of their home countries. the system entails more detailed comparison of the defence attaché numerous disadvantages. two or in isolation. a less-specialised switched from a system of separate attachés “security attaché” may prove incapable of stationed in two or three different countries ensuring quality relations with members of to one in which a single DA conducts bilateral the defence establishment.ch. Schweizer Verhältnisse. as-needed basis when an emergency situation arises. Similarly. • from permanent to temporary: some countries have moved from permanently stationing DAs in the recipient countries to deploying them on a temporary. but it is impossible for Africa. as he/she is required to perform additional duties at home. acting or countries of accreditation. France. and Asia while eliminating posts in one person to deal with the entire range of neighbouring countries. The distinction is that while Stellung mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der the resident attachés are based regionally. This document will be available online the network of contacts as well as possible at www. The attaché is based in one country in the region The approach to the DA system has traditionally and travels frequently to the other country been developed by individual countries. The only full-length study was published resident attachés with itinerant attachés that in 1959. they can limit the DA’s country awareness and range of contacts. However. of the sending state. seine völker. Where is more information available? • from in-country deployment to home Publications dealing with the DA system are county base: a few countries have replaced rare. including a lack systems of Austria. In or seven countries in the region. it could provide a forum for sharing best approaches make efficient use of scarce practices and exploring new ways to tailor the DA’s resources and can help provide a regional role to contemporary security priorities. a Swiss doctoral thesis entitled Der conduct bilateral relations with more than Militärattaché. Defence Attachés new DA attaché posts in the Middle East. This approach also reduces the attaché’s knowledge of local circumstances and personalities. as a DA’s effectiveness correlates directly with his/her • from bilateral accreditation to multiple ability to establish bilateral military relations accreditation: some countries have with the receiving country. of regional awareness and a lack of depth in and the UK.” This may more accurately reflect the broad security-policy approach 6 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces . Switzerland. • from “defence attaché” to “security attaché”: parliaments in some countries have requested that the DA position be renamed “security attaché.und landesrechtliche one country. and can severely diminish his/ her effectiveness.

intelligence agencies. encourages the development of appropriate norms at the national and international levels. civil society.ch/publications/backgrounders Available Backgrounders • Private Military Companies • Child Soldiers • Sending Troops Abroad • Contemporary Challenges for the Intelligence • States of Emergency Community • Vetting for the Security Sector • Intelligence Services • Military Ombudsman • Multiethnic Armed Forces Forthcoming Backgrounders • National Security Policy • Defence Reform • Parliamentary Committees on Defence and • Democratic Control of Armed Forces Security • Post-Conflict Peacebuilding • Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Services • Security and Gender • Parliament’s Role in Defence Budgeting • Security Sector Reform • Parliaments & Security Sector Procurement • Transitional Justice The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) promotes good governance and reform of the security sector.dcaf. THE DCAF BACKGROUNDER SERIES on Security Sector Governance and Reform DCAF Backgrounders provide concise introductions to contemporary issues in security sector governance and reform. The Centre conducts research on good practices.ch Material for this Backgrounder has been contributed by representatives of five countries who met in Geneva on 15 May 2007 to discuss their national approaches to the DA position. Other Backgrounders are available at www.dcaf. parliaments. border security services and the military. DCAF’s partners include governments. The series is designed for the use of practitioners and policymakers. Your feedback is encouraged. Visit us at www. Please send comments and suggestions to backgrounders@dcaf. Katie Meline and Oksana Myshlovska assisted with the preparation of this meeting and have provided editorial assistance with this document. makes policy recommendations and provides in-country advice and assistance DCA F programmes. David Law is the editor of the Backgrounder series. international organisations and the range of security sector actors such as police.ch . judiciary.