The U.S.-China relationship is “the” most consequential bilateral relationship in
the world. As the U.S. and China engage, even if both sides do not see eye-to-eye on all issues, it is extremely important to find areas of cooperation that are able to have a
positive influence on the world. In its role as a superpower, the U.S. is constantly taking
on problems that are global in nature, and there is an increasing need for China to play a greater role in addressing global issues.
There is an undeniable element of asymmetry in the U.S.-China relationship
where the Chinese seem to have the upper hand when it comes to trade, educational
exchanges, and ultimately, the amount of information flow from one country to the other.
This asymmetry can never be overcome by quantity. The only alternative is for the U.S.
to focus on quality. This focus on quality will result in the need to develop individuals
who are trained to understand, appreciate, and interact with Chinese counterparts at an
advanced level. Constructive and stable military-to-military ties between our two
countries is vital to our relationship’s success and could be the key to alleviating some of the asymmetry in the relationship. This means that the U.S. military needs the vision to develop many of its operators and leaders not only to possess “expertise” in their
respective military career fields, but also to be able to function with “expertise” in
Chinese language and culture while practicing their individual careers.
The preponderance of our Chinese language-trained military members serve in the
“intelligence community,” but there is a group of military members known as Foreign
Area Officers (FAO) whose focus is developing language and cultural expertise that
might ultimately aid in national security efforts through direct engagement with Chinese
The Department of Defense (DoD) wants these FAOs to function as our “experts”
and to conduct the necessary face-to-face interactions with Chinese counterparts.
Currently, the DoD focuses on a form of assessment created by the Defense Language
Institute Foreign Language Center, called the Defense Language Proficiency Test
(DLPT). This test is used worldwide, throughout government agencies, and is the only
official measurement for a member’s language proficiency in listening and reading. This
project shows how the DLPT focuses on “proficiency” without the ability to capture what
a member can “do” using the language. Ultimately the DLPT drives the foreign language program in the DoD since all goals, decisions, and projections are based upon DLPT results.
This project draws heavily upon the author’s personal experiences and those of
other military members, in order to make the case that the U.S. military needs to shift
from “proficiency” to “expertise” with our FAO force in order to be truly effective. The
concept of a “3rd space” is introduced and operating in the “3rd space” is recommended as the goal for our FAOs in the U.S. military. Furthermore, crucial to this concept is the fact that the ability to operate in the “3rd space” is evidence of “expertise” and that “domain” is the key concept for developing this “expertise.”
Currently, FAO accession does not occur until the seven to twelve-year point in
an officer’s career. This project aims to show that we not only lose the opportunity for
the FAO to deliberately practice Chinese for the seven to twelve years prior to accession, but also lose the opportunity to utilize the officer during his/her approximate three and a half years training needed to become a FAO.
The experiences of the author as an Air Force pilot, coupled with graduate studies
and the research in this project, have created the concern for lack of an effective China
FAO program. This project proposes a new concept for FAOs, involving a deliberate
pipeline, a career-long language developmental focus, and the crucial concept of linking
military specialties to the language. If implemented and managed properly, this course of action will be more cost-effective and will produce FAOs able to operate with language, regional expertise, and culture skills which have previously not been attained.