Central American Regional Leaders Conference at U.S. Army South
San Antonio, Texas | March 22, 2017
Good morning. KK, thanks for this invitation to drop by. To all our Central American partners present today, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to participate in this important work. I’m looking forward to our conversation, and I hope you are too.
I understand you’ve had a productive dialogue over the last two days. You’ve shared your views on emerging regional security challenges. You’ve exchanged ideas for improving information sharing.
You’ve done more than that, though. In every exchange, you’ve built trust with one another. And that trust is absolutely critical in the complex missions facing our security forces.
No matter where our men and women are serving, the security environment they face is unlike any we’ve seen before:
- Violent non-state actors can, and do, challenge the sovereignty of our nations, the integrity of our institutions, and the safety of our citizens.
- Border security has fundamentally changed. What was once confined to enforcing trade and immigration laws has been joined by an expanding new series of threats like criminal and extremist networks.
- For many nations, the line between internal defense and domestic security is blurring.
Keeping pace with these changes requires agile and adaptive leadership at all levels.
Keeping pace requires subordinates trained and empowered to exercise disciplined initiative and creative decision-making.
But keeping pace also requires more of us, as leaders. We need to tap into the talent and potential of all our men and women. And we need to build trust—with one another, and with our citizens.
Trust is like oxygen. We cannot exist without it. It is the bedrock of our legitimacy. It is inherent to the strength of our collective characters. It is the bond that connects us with those we serve.
And it is not a given. It must be constantly earned and preserved—especially in the face of change and challenges.
If we are to succeed in the complex missions before us, there are four areas that are ‘imperatives’ for our security forces.
These aren’t ‘nice to do’s'…they are ‘must do’s’ for a modern, effective security force to succeed against today’s security threats. They are interlocking and interdependent.
The first imperative is respect for human rights. Failure to do so jeopardizes mission success, undermines public support for our efforts, and endangers our democracies.
Respect for human rights provides the moral and ethical fabric of our professions.
Our citizens and civilian leaders must be able to trust that we legitimately exercise our authority. They must be able to trust that we protect innocent civilians.
They must be able to trust that we protect and uphold our core democratic values and meet the obligations of international laws.
This issue is increasingly relevant as security forces take on non-traditional missions like joint military and police operations to enhance citizen safety.
To reduce the potential for confusion and mistakes, human rights need to be at the forefront of our planning and operations. This cannot be an afterthought—but rather a guiding principle enshrined in everything we do.
The second imperative is the development of our non-commissioned officer leaders. For those of us in uniform, a professional, capable NCO corps is the backbone of our force. Our non-commissioned officers uphold and enforce our standards.
They ensure our subordinates have the skills and capabilities required to excel in any situation. They instill the ethos and values to ensure we never betray the public trust. They are the guardians of our future.
Investing in their development is essential to strengthening and cultivating our professions, and to meeting future operational challenges.
This brings me to the third imperative: embracing a joint and interagency mindset. Everyone in this room knows the security challenges we face can’t be solved by any one service, agency, or nation. They require joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational cooperation.
Strength and success lie in diversity. When we operate as a team, across services and agencies, our security forces gain the versatility they need to succeed in a variety of missions.
Integrating service cultures and competences, fostering trust and mutual confidence, and operating together as one ensures we can meet the demands of the 21st Century security environment.
Looking around this room, it’s clear that ‘jointness’ goes beyond a naval officer addressing a room full of soldiers.
And while this seminar is an excellent opportunity to deepen cooperation with one another, I encourage you to find ways to deepen cooperation across the entire spectrum of military services and governmental agencies.
The fourth imperative is integrating the full range of perspectives, talents, and skills represented in our security forces.
We’ve seen that military and police teams that integrate women effectively are better able to build trust with local populations in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and in peacekeeping missions throughout the world.
This trust helps us understand the operating environment. It improves information gathering and force protection. It enhances the legitimacy of coalition forces. And it improves operational effectiveness.
More broadly, there is a compelling body of research outside the military that demonstrates that diverse teams tend to be more creative and cohesive—even more so when led by leaders who value and encourage diversity of thought and experience.
Ultimately, excelling against complex security challenges like threat networks is not a matter of ‘being joint’ or ‘embracing diversity.’
It’s about the ideas we generate, the creativity we cultivate, and the problems we solve, together. It’s about the effective teams we build, and how we lead them.
It’s about trust.
Let me conclude with some final thoughts on trust. I said earlier that trust must be earned and preserved. It must also be protected.
Trust – by definition – requires faith in each other. It requires confidence in the character and strength of our partners. It exposes us to hazard or risk, because we must forfeit some degree of control and depend upon others to act in our common interest.
Our adversaries know the best way to undermine this trust between our security forces and our citizens is through corruption.
There is nothing more destructive of trust than an environment that places individual gain ahead of collective goals.
This is a vulnerability that threatens our institutions, internally and externally, at the strategic level down to the most tactical. And corruption can be frustratingly effective at destroying trust. A single act of dishonesty can unravel years of relationship building.
We must do everything we can to resist this, to strengthen our institutions, and reinforce our core values of integrity, duty, and honor.
It is our responsibility as senior leaders to champion these concepts, but words alone are not enough. We must live them, embody them—serving as role models for our service members at all levels
We must do these things, because the security environment demands it. Our mission success depends on it. Our countries expect it. And our men and women deserve it.
“New Requirements for New Challenges: The Military’s Role in Border Security.” Journal for the NPS Center of Defense and Security, October 2008. https://www.hsaj.org/articles/117
GEN Martin Dempsey, “White Paper: America’s Military: A Profession of Arms.” http://www.benning.army.mil/content/pdf/Gen%20Dempsey%20Profession%20of%20Arms%20White%20Paper.pdf