Transregional and transnational networks and the growing illegal economies that support them undercut U.S. national interests in multiple nations, continents and regions, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said here yesterday.
Speaking at Fort McNair’s National Defense University, Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd said drugs are not the main security challenge in his area of responsibility, which encompasses 45 nations and territories of Central and South America and the Caribbean Sea.
“Every major problem in the region -- from corruption to homicide rates to undergoverned spaces -- has some sort of linkage to the drug trade, right?” he asked the NDU audience. “Think again,” he said.
Drugs Are Only Part of the Problem
Drugs are only part of the story, Tidd said, noting that millions of people and illicit commodities are trafficked and smuggled into and out of the region.
“These illicit flows -- and the violence and corruption these flows introduce at home and abroad -- are just the visible manifestation of amorphous, adaptable and networked threats,” the admiral said. “These networks, as a whole and in their parts, are woven into the fabric of our environment, and wherever they exist, in whatever form they take -- be it extremist, criminal, or state-sponsored -- threat networks pose a challenge to our security and stability, and that of our partners, allies and friends.”
Every technology developed to conduct legal transactions has also been used illicitly, the admiral said. “As long as technology advances, there will be people trying to use it for illicit means,” he added. “There’s a dark side to globalization. This is why governments need to work together. We have a mutual responsibility for our area of responsibility.”
Everyone in the “friendly network” knows what needs to be done, Tidd said.
“We need to increase regional cooperation, real-time information sharing and multinational operations. … We need to continue building and reinforcing bonds or trust across and between our own military, law enforcement, diplomatic and intelligence communities, fusing these bonds with bilaterally and multilaterally with our key partners,” he explained.
Nations also need to explore innovative technologies that don’t just make them smarter, but also make them better, he added, and they need to build, expand and coordinate more effectively among and across agencies, departments and ministries.
“At U.S. Southern Command, we’re looking to do exactly that,” he said. “We’re also going one step further, and we’re seeking to develop a networked view of the environment and a networked view of ourselves. We’re lifting our sights from an exclusive focus on a single illicit commodity -- drugs -- and are instead asking ourselves what we can do differently to be better partners to the rest of the U.S. interagency.”
Addressing the Root Problem
Tidd said part of the decision came from a candid recognition that for years they have been triaging the symptoms of the problem, rather than addressing the root problem itself. “And in that time,” he told the audience, “that problem has adapted and grown in complexity … while our efforts to address it have not.”
As a result, the admiral said, Southcom is changing its goal.
“Until now, we’ve focused on what we can diminish or degrade, [such as] how many metric tons of cocaine we can disrupt … or how many coca or marijuana plants we can help our partners eradicate,” he said. “And while that remains important, it’s time we start building something, too.
“What we’re driving toward is better integration, better understanding and better support to law enforcement efforts,” Tidd continued. “Ultimately, we want to help our partners -- in the U.S. government and across Latin America and the Caribbean -- to build a network that is stronger, more adaptive, and more interconnected than any threat network can ever hope to be.”