Advancing U.S. security through partnerships and alliances with other nations was the topic discussed by two combatant command leaders at Saturday's Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Navy Adm. John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Army Gen. Laura Richardson, commander U.S. Southern Command, took part in a panel discussion at the forum, which offers the defense community a chance to discuss and debate how the United States can lead the world in an era of increasingly complex challenges and opportunities.
Aquilino said in the Indo-Pacom area, there is no concern about the strength of U.S. alliances and partnerships. "Our value and the value of our partners is clear in this region," he said.
Additionally, Aukus, a trilateral security pact among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States was announced Sept. 15 for the Indo-Pacific region, where the United States and the United Kingdom will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
"Aukus is an additive security relationship that will be extremely helpful to keep that peace and prosperity in the region," he said, adding, "so I certainly welcome it. Australia has made a big step, and I think it will increase the security in the region. For the [solutions set] long term, it is our allies and partners coming together to demonstrate the adherence to international rules-based order for the stability in the region, and [we must] continue that so we are stronger when we're together."
As an additive to the other security arrangements, Aquilino said. "[Aukus'] interoperability with the United States [and] all those allies and partners is beneficial. We value that interoperability. And as the security apparatus works together, it does make us stronger."
Richardson talked about the importance of Colombia and Brazil in her area of responsibility, which have been two of the United States' biggest security partners in the southern region for a long time.
"[Given] all of the challenges that we have — the cross-cutting threats [that] challenge our collective security across all domains … our allies and partners exponentially make us stronger," she said. "And so, I think we have to look at that, from that perspective of what they have to bring and what we have to bring. We have to look at it from their perspective and their lens. A lot of times we look only through … our lens."
Richardson said U.S. allies want to partner and be teammates with the United States and want to do more, she noted, adding, "I think that we've got to capitalize upon that."
Military exercises give the United States and its partner nations the opportunities to showcase professional militaries and help train partners, who become key exporters of security in the region, she emphasized. "So, we're not only just participating in an exercise to work toward another one — it actually trains [nations] to be better security partners in the region, as well."
Indo-Pacom executes 120 military exercises annually with U.S. allies and partners, and the nation is looking to make those more minilateral or multilateral, Aquilino said. Using the Rim of the Pacific Exercise as an example, the Indo-Pacom commander pointed out that the last time it was conducted, there were 27 nations with maritime forces, ground forces and air forces. "That's what's been going on for 80 years, so we need to continue down that path, and we welcome those other sets of security exercise relationships." He added Aukus is a small microcosm that applies to the entire rest of the security apparatus, "and we're here to support all of our allies and partners who would like to expand or increase their capability."
Turning to China, Richardson said that nation's playbook for Africa is taking place in Latin America now. "It's been happening in Africa for years, and if we're not careful, what's happening in Latin America will in five or 10 years have the same impacts," she said.
China's Belt and Road Initiative is a strategy initiated by the People's Republic of China that seeks to connect Asia with Africa and Europe by land and maritime networks with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth.
"So if you're having a problem with your economy already, and then the Chinese come with the Belt and Road Initiative with projects and money, and they're ready to start, it looks very attractive to some of our countries that are having a hard time with their economies," she said.
COVID-19 is still very prevalent in our partner nations and countries in Latin America, and they have suffered at the hands of COVID-19, Richardson said, adding, "In my mind, that has changed the geopolitical landscape for some of the countries as they continue to deal with COVID[-19]."