U.S. Southern Command Commander, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser; and regional leaders listen to country-specific briefings during the IV South American Defense Conference July 25 in Bogota, Colombia. (Courtesy U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia)
BOGOTA, Colombia — Senior military and civilian leaders from 11 nations as well as representatives from U.S. Northern Command, the Inter-American Defense Board and Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies actively participated in executive-level, face-to-face discussions concerning regional threats and transformation efforts during the IV South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) in Bogota, Colombia, from July 24 – 26, 2012.
United States Southern Command Commander, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser
and Colombian Armed Forces (Fuerzas Militares de Colombia) Commanding General, Gen. Alejandro Navas Ramos co-hosted the fourth annual SOUTHDEC conference with meetings, discussions and briefs focused on this year’s theme – “Military Transformation to Meet Evolving Threats.”
Participants arrived July 24 to begin discussions regarding lessons learned, new threats and opportunities to collaborate as plans to unify approaches to evolving, complex challenges facing the region continue. Fraser helped direct the flow of the conference during his opening remarks July 25.
“From Ellesmere Island in Canada to Islote Águila in Chile, nations throughout the Western Hemisphere face an array of non-traditional security challenges and emerging opportunities,” Fraser said as he addressed the audience. “Several threats have evolved in complexity, such as illicit trafficking, the spread of transnational organized crime and the continued threat of narco-terrorism; new concerns, such as cyber security and energy security, have developed; and others remain perennial, such as natural disasters and humanitarian crises.”
“One of the objectives of the conference is to promote dialogue aiming to establish solid, enduring paths against all criminal groups, especially those involved in narcotrafficking and all related illegal activities,” Navas added during his opening remarks. “There is no other way [to defeat threats] than to unite together; as the criminal organizations that work with narcotraffickers evolve, we need to look to technological methods to be better and more efficient; we must … share our experiences.”
As briefings kicked off a common challenge from participants quickly became evident – threats are no longer confined within borders and developing strategies must unify nations as well as military, civil and legal authorities to face quickly evolving, transnational threats.
Colombia has developed and recently implemented such a plan and briefed the process of development and lessons learned thus far.
“Our Sword of Honor War Plan, coordinates Colombian military forces with the Colombian national police and other state institutions to conduct, sustain and develop offensive military action against narco-terrorist organizations in the national territory, to defeat the enemy’s fighting will, force their demobilization and reinsertion, therefore contributing to end conflict and build peace,” said Navas.
The plan incorporates a strategic goal to accomplish the final objective.
“Our final objective is to weaken regional threats militarily, by dismantling 50 percent of their structures, enabling their demobilization and reintegration; destroying their organization pivots, logistics and financial systems; and creating proper conditions for consolidation,” Navas continued.
Chilean Joint Staff Chief, Lt. Gen. Hernan Mardones Rios, highlighted similar efforts in unifying national approaches to threats and establishing “a new constitutionality of defense” to provide more efficient responses to evolving threats and make better use of resources. Many participants highlighted the need for restructuring to trim spending, including looking to technology and natural resources to support military, civil responses.
U.S. Marine Corps Col. Alex Vohr, director of the U.S. Southern Command Logistics Directorate, briefed several energy-saving initiatives including energy-efficient innovations in the new SOUTHCOM headquarters building and an electricity grid system with a 10-year payback, which allows for more flexibility in defense spending. Colonel Vohr stressed that innovations may not always be effective in the field, but may be realized in garrison operations.
“It’s important to look at the entire energy chain,” Colonel Vohr said. “In a deployed environment, improving a cooling system in a canvas tent isn’t as effective as applying spray-on insulated foam to the tent; this reduces dust, provides better protection from rain and wind, and makes cooling efforts more effective.”
Brazilian International Affairs Chief, Lt. Gen. Roberto Carvalho, briefed the innovative approaches being explored as they consider security concerns for significant upcoming events such as a 2013 visit of Pope Benedict XVI and the 2016 Olympics.
“As part of the increased need for security, an environment for the temporary employment of military forces exists,” said Carvalho. Brazil’s plan includes the employment of air and maritime/navy forces combined with civil forces to strengthen the ability to respond to threats.
Participants walked away with tools to provide a better perspective on innovative approaches to evolving security threats and the wisdom of lessons learned from partners facing the same or similar threats. A key objective of prior conferences was to provide South American nations’ chiefs of defense and other senior leaders an executive-level forum to discuss regional security issues and opportunities for collaboration on dealing with evolving threats – this objective was met.
“We began Operation Martillo
about six months ago and as part of Operation Martillo we have seen a reduction of illicit traffic going into Central America by almost 50 percent, we have seen a reduction in the maritime traffic by almost 40 percent, and we have seen an increase in the amount of cocaine and other activities that have been disrupted,” said Fraser. “These are all positive moves and show the transformation that is very important as we look at the situations we have and the importance of conferences like this where we have the opportunity to share our views and figure out how to work better and closer together to address common problems.”
Each year conferences like SOUTHDEC provide forums for dialogue and exchanges among defense and security leaders. Colombia hosted the first SOUTHDEC in Cartagena and subsequent locations and co-hosts were Lima, Peru; and Santiago, Chile, respectively.
Each conference illustrates the need for continued collaboration to evolve unified responses to transnational threats.
“Sword of Honor – we all have in our hands the ability to defeat threats together – the struggle [requires] all of us to get the victory,” said Navas.