As we like to say in Miami at our headquarters for U.S. Southern Command, there's a new wind blowing through the Caribbean and Latin America—and it's a gusty sea breeze.
At our joint command, we are seeking to work with interagency groups, U.S. embassies, and even private humanitarian and commercial organizations to create strong linkages with our neighbors and partners to the south. This is a region with 450 million people, covering nearly 16 million square miles and encompassing 32 nations and 13 territories. This is not the "backyard" of the United States; frankly, it is not even the front porch. The Americas are, rather, the home we share together in this diverse and beautiful part of the world. By understanding the linkages and facing the challenges of the region, we can together unlock the promise of the Americas in friendship and cooperation. And much good work can be done from the sea.
Let me provide a disclaimer up front: this article focuses primarily on maritime activity. I am, in every sense, a joint commander, and well aware of the fine work of all the branches of the military in Southern Command. But for this Proceedings audience, I've simply chosen to home in on the particular efforts of our "marinaros," as we say in Spanish—our Sailors.
The Americas: to appreciate our linkages, you have only to look at a map. Of course, we benefit from our physical connection by numerous land, sea, and air routes. Our proximity lends itself to a very natural tendency to depend on each other. But we are also connected by so much more than physical means—we share environmental, cultural, security, and economic ties that inextricably link the fates of every nation in our hemisphere. In every sense, we share the same DNA in this region.
Trade in the area is growing at a record pace and has become an important aspect of building the conditions for broad-based prosperity. Fifty percent of Latin American exports go to the United States, 40 percent of our exports are destined for Latin America, and Latin America supplies more than one third of our energy imports.1 Trade in the region has increased 23 percent between 2004 and 2005 and is predicted to maintain this trend for 2006 when all figures are compiled. This trade will continue to grow as the nations of the community work together to increase their collective prosperity.
The connections are very human as well. Today, more than 15 percent of our population traces its roots to Latin America or the Caribbean. The United States probably has the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world today after Mexico when estimates of undocumented workers are added to official totals. And the number of American citizens of Hispanic origin will probably grow to well over one fourth of the total U.S. population by mid-century, perhaps approaching one third.
But beyond the physical, economic, and demographic linkages, perhaps the most important connection that we share is a common belief that democracy, freedom, justice, and respect for human dignity, human rights, and human values must be at the core of what we accomplish.
Today, civilian constitutional leadership chosen by competitive, participatory elections governs every sovereign nation but one in the region—Cuba. Even Venezuela—where Hugo Chavez's form of democracy has many in the international community concerned—still operates under a constitution and has a duly elected leader. Indeed, last year was a watershed year for elections. More general, presidential, legislative, and local elections were held in 2006 than in any other single year in the entire history of the Americas.2
All of this paints a rosy picture, but there is no shortage of causes for concern in the region.
The challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean are multiple and complex, including transnational terrorism, narcotics smuggling, illicit trafficking to include human trafficking, international crime, poverty, inequality, corruption, urban gangs, radical movements, illegally armed groups, mass migrations, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises. The challenges cannot be overcome by any one nation alone; they require transnational solutions. They cannot be overcome by the military alone; they require a truly integrated interagency and even a private sector approach.
These challenges to collective security, stability, and thus prosperity, have not emerged overnight, nor are they going to go away overnight. But those challenges that we can link to human endeavors, namely narcotics and human trafficking, international crime, urban gangs, radical movements, and illegally armed groups, are predicated on an environment conducive to their activities. They flourish where governments are either complicit or physically unable to govern effectively. These "ungoverned spaces," whether on land or in the maritime domain, are the result of geographic isolation, corruption, "weak states" or "failed states," or "accomplice states."3 Latin America and the Caribbean have a substantial number of these areas, some within the capitals of our partner nations themselves, some on the high seas, all posing a significant challenge to progress and a promise for security throughout the region.
One major challenge, narcotics trafficking, persists as one of the most pervasive threats to security and prosperity in the Americas, and its impact on the U.S. economy is equally corrosive. Well over 20,000 people die from drug abuse in the United States each year. And the illicit drug trade is a huge business that equates to a $65 billion per year industry. When you add the resources we use to address health and crime consequences—as well as the loss of productivity suffered from disability, death, and withdrawal from the legitimate workforce—the total societal impact cost to our economy exceeds $240 billion dollars and grows at the rate of five percent per year.
We are also concerned about anti-American populism that is flaring up in Latin America today, including particularly the current Chavez-led government in Venezuela. While we have historically enjoyed excellent relations with Venezuela on a military-to-military basis, today we are having difficulty connecting due to the approach of the current government, which is carrying over to other nations in the region, including Bolivia. This situation bears watching, and we must stay engaged in this important part of the world.
So as we face these challenges at Southern Command—virtually all require a wide variety of tool sets beyond pure military activity to solve—we are looking for creative solutions to approach partnerships across the region. One important set of tools for us is maritime engagements.
The Way Ahead: Maritime Opportunity
Our overarching strategy is formulated on leading collective partnerships to ensure security, enhance stability, and enable prosperity throughout the theater of operations, using all instruments of national power in the Americas.
At our headquarters in Miami, more than 1,500 dedicated people make plans and lead the military activities of roughly 7,000 military and civilians who fall under 1-star to 3-star component commanders from each of the services and the U.S. Special Operations Command. On any given day, nearly 5,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen are deployed in many countries throughout the region. In addition, hundreds more are routinely deployed in our Navy and Coast Guard ships throughout the maritime domain. It is worth knowing that Southern Command has historically been the least-costly geographic combatant command. With an operating budget of just under $1 billion, we have learned to function economically. We must be innovators and constantly strive to provide the biggest bang for the valuable tax dollars apportioned to us.
One of the key ways we maximize return on our nation's investment is through maritime cooperation with our partner nations. That's why our motto at Southern Command is "Partnership for the Americas." Through partnership, we gain international and interagency cooperation to support the establishment of security, promote stability, and set the stage for mutual prosperity.
Not Tomahawks' Ideas
As we always say at Southern Command, our job is not to launch Tomahawk missiles down range; we launch ideas. One advantage is that the common interests and inextricable political, geographic, cultural, and economic linkages we share with our neighbors to the south vastly decrease the likelihood that the United States will ever be engaged in conflict in this hemisphere. Instead, our primary means for achieving our mission becomes mutual cooperation based on the meaningful exchange of ideas and development of enduring partnerships. In the Department of Defense, we build partnerships using a wide range of security cooperation activities that include military-to-military exercises, humanitarian assistance, community relations projects, and professional education and training opportunities afforded to our partner nations, all of which are designed to help strengthen security on a global scale.
|President Bush greets a Guatemalan woman during his visit to a medical readiness training exercise in March. U.S. Army Soldiers are working alongside Guatemalan army troops to provide free basic medical and dental care to indigenous people of the region as part of SOUTHCOM's security cooperation strategy.
(photo by US Army)
A perfect example is what we've accomplished in the area of maritime security. Even with all the assets the United States might be able to muster, policing the global waterways or, more appropriately, denying criminal elements access to ungoverned spaces on the high seas, requires more capability than we as a nation have the ability to deliver. It requires partnership. Designing a global network of maritime nations, voluntarily committed to monitoring security and responding to threats against mutual interests, is the natural solution and the genesis of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen's vision for the Global Maritime Partnership Initiative or, as it's often called, the 1,000-ship navy.4
Within the Southern Command area of responsibility, a long history of bilateral and multinational naval exercises has provided the basic building blocks for the 1,000-ship navy. For example, the UNITAS (Latin for "unity") exercise series, started in 1959 and conducted every year since, has been instrumental in establishing enduring working relationships among U.S. and Latin American naval, coast guard, and marine forces. UNITAS is a unique opportunity to improve both readiness and interoperability among participating nations.
The annual PANAMAX exercise, started in 2003 with three nations participating, has developed into a robust naval, air, and ground exercise focused on defense of the Panama Canal. Last year 18 nations participated, and we expect more than 20 this year. During PANAMAX 2006, the United States played the role of the multi-national force commander, but all other primary leadership positions within the force were held by partner nations. The workup phase included training in formation movements, tactics, and, most important, maritime interdiction operations. The final exercise battle problem was a comprehensive scenario, including a Proliferation Security Initiative event, with the "Multi-National Forces Panama" enforcing a notional United Nations Security Council Resolution to establish peace and stability in and around the Panama Canal.
In addition to recurring exercises, the United States is increasing its naval presence in the region to facilitate the multiple exercise and training venues critical to our Theater Security Cooperation program. In 2006, the United States deployed the USS George Washington (CVN-73) carrier strike group to the Caribbean from 4 April to 25 May as part of the U.S. Navy's Partnership of the Americas exercise. This was the first time in several years that a U.S. carrier strike group made a dedicated deployment to the Caribbean.
In 2007, the Navy will again deploy a naval task force into the region under the auspices of the Partnership of the Americas. An amphibious task group, accompanied by a Chilean frigate and later by a Peruvian frigate, will circumnavigate the Caribbean islands and South American continent. This deployment will last approximately eight months, during which the units will conduct five major exercises, visit more than 20 nations, and conduct numerous community relations projects, port calls, and other engagement activities. The Partnership of the Americas deployment represents the epitome of the 1,000-ship navy concept, partner navies working in concert for the common good.
USNS Comfort and HSV Swift
In keeping with this theme, Southern Command has been chosen as the test bed for a concept identified as a critical enabler for the 1,000-ship navy. As recently announced by President Bush, the United States will soon deploy the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), and the high-speed vessel HSV Swift, for training and exchanges with our partner nations. These deployments are also part of the Partnership of the Americas program. The deployments are designed to facilitate theater security cooperation with our regional partners. The Comfort will deploy for a period of four months and visit 11 nations. Embarked will be medical teams from the United States and representatives from various nongovernment organizations who will provide much needed medical support to the Community of the Americas. This support will include medical, dental, and preventive medicine programs.
HSV Swift, part of the Navy's Global Fleet Station program, will embark a cadre of trainers from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, tailored to meet the training needs of our partner navies. This tailored package will transit from port to port to deliver specific training based upon the requests of our partner navies, not the needs of the U.S. Navy. This critical asset will be in the Southern Command area for six months and will visit six nations. A true enabler for the 1,000-ship navy!
Southern Command plays a critical role in implementing our national counter-drug policy. The Joint Interagency Task Force-South (or JIATF-South), located in Key West, Florida, is the primary operations center and coordinating point for disrupting the flow of illicit narcotics, primarily cocaine, being shipped to the United States by air and maritime smuggling through a six-million mile area we call the "transit zone." JIATF-South is a model of interagency and multinational cooperation that has achieved record-setting cocaine seizures in each of the last six years.
Each day traffickers use more sophisticated communication, computer, and encryption technology to conceal their operations. Staying ahead of the traffickers and managing limited interdiction assets requires fast, flexible, and actionable intelligence that helps us pinpoint the locations where our partner nation forces and resources can do the most good, and that gives us sufficient time to get them there.
In essence, we need more relevant fusion technologies that allow all-source fusion, distributed dissemination, collaborative planning, and multiple-node sensor resource management. But we can't keep such a system to ourselves; we need a system for precision-guided intelligence that we can share with our partners.
Cutting Edge Communications
In order to foster interoperability with our partner nations and meet some of the challenges we face, such as counter-narcoterrorism operations, we are implementing cutting-edge technological solutions to the age-old problem of communicating across multiple languages and classification domains. In 2006 we started the process of updating legacy technology and are moving toward a Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS)-based architecture, which will enable creation of classified enclave whereby nations will have access to email, Internet-like Web pages, and a common operational picture of the air, land, and maritime domains. CENTRIX will be deployed at major regional headquarters and onboard vessels at sea. This advanced capability has proven its worth in the Middle East and Pacific regions and will significantly improve information sharing and situation awareness among our partners within the Community of the Americas.
As part of the U.S. Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) initiatives, Southern Command, in conjunction with our regional and global partners, is working to ensure we combine our capabilities to broaden our visibility of the high seas and coastal waters. This initiative is an interagency approach that leverages the latest technology, inherent capabilities of our navies and coast guards, intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the cooperation of the commercial maritime community to build a common operational and intelligence picture of the maritime domain. The foundation of the MDA effort will be an unclassified common operational picture available via the Internet to all participants in the initiative. An unclassified common operational picture is critical to ensuring all nations have cognizance of the maritime environs, thus guaranteeing a potential ungoverned space is not only governed but also secure enough to permit trade and foster economic prosperity.
A Look to the Future
This is hard and important work, done at very reasonable cost. It is a hedge to ensure Latin America and the Caribbean remain friends and partners with whom we will continue to engage productively and sensibly. The Navy and Southern Command are looking at enhancing the size of the naval component at NAVSOUTH to a larger staff commensurate with the high maritime component of our work in the region. We at Southern Command are also bidding for more ship days and engagement resources in the region, particularly from expeditionary strike groups with embarked Marines and Coast Guard vessels.
At Southern Command, we are also working with our partner nations to meet challenges to the Community of the Americas—whether they are international terrorism, illicit trafficking, international crime, poverty, inequality, corruption, radical movements, illegally armed groups, mass human migrations, natural disasters, or other humanitarian crises. It is critical to this endeavor that we also stem the tide of anti-U.S. populism and open the door for improved prosperity and security in the region. Through communicating to the people of the region our shared values, what in today's military is called "strategic communications," we are sending the message that we are collectively committed to the people of the Community of the Americas.
This is truly an exciting time to be a part of Southern Command, because of the key role that Latin America and the Caribbean will increasingly play in our nation's security interests and the security of the Community of the Americas as a whole. Southern Command will continue to strive to be the partner of choice as a leading combined, joint, interagency organization seeking to support security, stability, and prosperity in the Americas. As a critical enabler, the Navy is leading the effort at flank speed and setting the stage for future success. Our naval activities in the region will continue to increase, because the time is right to contribute to the 1,000-ship navy in Latin America and the Caribbean as part of a true Partnership for the Americas.
1. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), "USAID Budget: 2006," http://www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/cbj2006/lac/. back to article
2. U.S. Department of State, "Official Stresses Common Concerns of Western Hemisphere Nations", http://usinfo.state.gov, 31 January 2006. back to article
3. Julio Cirino, Silvana Elizondo, Geoffrey Wawro, "Latin America's Lawless Areas and Failed States: An Analysis of the New Threats," Naval War College Newport Paper 21: Latin American Security Challenges: A Collaborative Inquiry from North and South, 2004. back to article
4. ADM Mike Mullen, USN, "What I Believe: Eight Tenets That Guide My Vision for the 21st Century Navy," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2006, pp 12-16. back to article