Good evening. Doug, thanks for the introduction. General Scott, thank you for the invitation to join you tonight. It's great to be here, and l'm honored to support this wonderful organization that has played such an important role in our national security, and in shaping our future leaders.
Being an Olmsted scholar changes how you view the world, and your place in it. It makes you appreciate the differences -- and recognize the similarities --across different cultures. It also ingrains in you the importance of American engagement, and the critical role it plays in our national security.
Where we engage, we build respect for human rights, and lead alliances of like-minded nations in worthy causes. (1) Where we don't, we see challenges festering, order eroding, and vacuums filled.
Tonight l'd like to talk to you about the importance of American engagement and leadership in one part of the world in particular: Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite what the headlines may suggest, in terms of geographic proximity, culture, trade, and homeland security, no other region has more impact on daily life in our country.
History has taught us that there are costs to ignoring security challenges, especially in this hemisphere. We walk away from problems ... They come to us. Geographic proximity guarantees it.
There are costs to missing opportunities, too ... Because if we don't seize them, others will exploit our absence.
This is why engagement is so important. It's why the Western Hemisphere is a priority for the administration.
Vice President Pence said it best: a prosperous Latin America means a prosperous United States. A secure Latin America means a more secure United States.
As I hope you'll soon agree, the challenges in the region merit our engagement -- but so do the opportunities. So let's start with those.
After a challenging decade, anti-American regimes are on the decline. The continued assault on democracy in Venezuela has unified like-minded nations in defense of our shared values.
And everywhere we look, we see partners who want to work with us, and each other, to address shared security challenges. This last trend is in no small parts to sustained engagement by the US government writ large, and the US military in particular.
As part of the global peacekeeping operations initiative, we train approximately 4,000 peacekeeping troops every year.
Nations like Brazil and Uruguay are now major contributors to UN missions, helping maintain stability in war-torn states and troubled regions around the world.
Through decades of multilateral exercises, we've helped our partners become more capable and more interoperable with the US and our allies. We're fielding innovative technologies and improving readiness by collaborating with highly capable partners like Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and many more.
Many nations now play the role of "security exporters," sharing their expertise with their neighbors in Central America and Trans-Atlantic partners in Africa. They're working together to address the growth of interconnected, 'borderless' challenges ... Like the spread of illicit networks, the threat of violent extremism, and the impact of natural disasters.
These are concerns that blur the line between security and defense ... They're concerns that don't just affect one nation in the Western Hemisphere, but every nation in the Western Hemisphere. And because these concerns are right here, in our shared home, they have the potential to directly threaten our homeland.
They have the potential to undermine the region's progress, and the peace that we've all worked so hard to achieve. We ignore these challenges today, we risk the emergence of much larger, more complex ones down the road.
Just look at the evolution of illicit networks. Propelled by the forces of globalization, criminal and extremist networks have evolved, becoming more connected, more ruthless, and more powerful. Once upon a time, all we worried about was stopping drugs, and the people involved in smuggling them.
Now we face amorphous, loosely affiliated groups who can move anything and anyone along a vast network of illicit pathways ... Who conduct and coordinate operations that are transregional, and sometimes, even global, in reach and scope.
We face groups who have access to the latest technology, and use it to evade law enforcement. We face groups who do more than just move illicit products.
We face groups that are destructive and destabilizing, whose actions undermine and erode the State from within, and threaten the very legitimacy of democratic governments.
Once upon a time, we used to talk about "ungoverned spaces" -- remote, rural areas where government presence is minimal, and criminal groups operate freely.
Now, we also talk about "alternatively governed" spaces, where transnational criminal gangs exert a level of influence and control that was formally reserved for the state. These groups can, and do, order attacks against security forces, against judges, against institutions ... They control parts of urban cities, and a great many more prisons ... They occasionally blow up buses as a negotiating tactic or paralyze entire neighborhoods in violent turf wars.
They possess capabilities that can far outmatch law enforcement, forcing some nations to rely on their militaries to contain what was, a decade ago, purely a "police problem."
They are adaptive and dynamic, constantly reacting and learning from each other, and from us. They also control a global market that's worth an estimated $2 trillion dollars in illegal goods and services. That dirty money flows through the global financial system, distorting our economies, and eroding rule of law.
It helps both criminal and terrorist organizations finance and expand their operations, creating insecurity and instability across the globe ... And right here at home. (2)
Although we see some evidence of overlap, the truth is, criminal and extremist networks don't have to work together to benefit from each other's activities. They both thrive on, and contribute to, the same permissive environment.
And through the different webs of corruption and criminality they create, they enable illicit space for one another to operate. These networks make our world and especially our hemisphere a more dangerous place.
When you have illicit networks operating in places that are prone to instability or natural disasters, you add in another layer of complexity.
Instability and the chaos of crisis and its aftermath can create space for illicit networks to thrive. The aftermath of a natural disaster can also exacerbate underlying conditions like medical and food insecurity ... Which can eventually drive thousands of migrants to enlist the services of human smuggling networks, coyotes, and other unscrupulous organizations who profit from misery and desperation.
The good news is that none of these challenges is insurmountable. But all of them warrant our continued engagement.
This engagement underwrites US leadership in the region. But it's also cost-effective and crisis preventative. We support our partners as they deal with problems in and around their own territories, they build and employ their capacities to deal with emerging challenges.
We foster greater regional cooperation, nations come together to tackle shared problems, together. We share the burden of safeguarding our shared home and contributing to international stability.
This is a modest investment that pays enormous, long-term dividends in terms of our interests, our security, and our future.
I'd like to share a couple of examples that illustrate this point.
We've been working side by side with Mexico and Colombia. Now they're stepping forward to help Central America combat the spread of criminal networks, and exploring ways to coordinate international drug interdiction efforts.
This is significant, because 40% of all US-led drug interdiction successes wouldn't be possible without the contributions of Central American and Colombian navies and coast guard.
In the Caribbean, the US government invested in training and exercising with regional organizations like the Caribbean disaster and emergency management agency, CARICOM's regional security system, and countries like Jamaica, Barbados, and many others.
And while the devastation wrought by Irma and Maria in Dominica, St. Martin, and other Caribbean nations was severe, what happened after the hurricane was even more important.
Regional organizations and neighboring countries quickly responded -- often without DoD's help, delivering troops and supplies to their neighbors in need, and organizing large-scale relief efforts.
The crisis in Puerto Rico has understandably overshadowed this piece of good news -- but it is very good news.
We've seen how disaster response can quickly tax the US military and lead to all sorts of ripple effects in deployment timelines. Investing in building and enhancing regional response capacities can help minimize the need for a large (or lengthy) DoD role.
Of course, when it comes to helping friends solve their own problems, or setting up partners up for success, there's no better example of this than Colombia.
The United States may have invested more than $9 billion over the course of Plan Colombia, but the Colombians outspent us four to one. In just over a decade, Colombia has transformed from a near failed state into a major regional player with political influence, a highly capable, professional security force, and a dynamic economy.
They continue to face security challenges -- especially in the form of rising cocaine production-but they remain committed to working with us to address them. Given the price tag that illicit drugs cost the American economy every year -- $193 billion dollars was the last number I saw -- investing in Colombia's security and prosperity is a much smarter bet.
And in the face of competition for partnerships, the single best thing we can do is just that -- to engage, to reinforce existing partnerships, build new relationships, and above all demonstrate our enduring commitment to our partners.
When the US military engages on human rights, or helps build stronger security institutions, or expands regional alliances, we demonstrate that what we build lasts.
That we're in it for the long-haul... That we're committed to the long-term stability, security, and prosperity of our shared home, and to our partners within it.
So that's my main message to all of you ... A message I think General Olmsted would agree with. Forging connections with the rest of the world is good for American security, American leadership, and American interests.
Nowhere is that more true than in our own hemisphere. So as we engage forward, let's not forget to look South.
Look to our friends and neighbors, who share our values and have common interests. Who are doing their part to keep our hemisphere safe, and by extension, our nation secure.
There's no better return on engagement than that. Thank you.
1 Mattis, J. Restoring our national security, in Blueprint for America. Edited by George P. Schultz. The Hoover
Institute, 2016. ·
2 David Luna. http://www.oecd.org/gov/risk/David-Luna-remarks-first-regional-forum-combating-illicittrade-