Regional Challenges Drive Southcom’s Agenda
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, Jun. 18, 2012 Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, regularly tells members of Congress, audiences around the region and members of his command that events in South America, Central America and the Caribbean affect U.S. national security.
Marines attached to a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force guard an extraction point in the marshes of Santo Tomas, Guatemala, Dec. 6, 2011, as a part of Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station 2012, an annual deployment of U.S. military teams to the U.S. Southern Command region. Partnership is a cornerstone of U.S. military engagement in the Southern Command area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Isaiah Sellers III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“The hemisphere is our shared home,” Fraser noted in his Command Strategy 2020 “Partnership for the Americas” document issued in July.
“We are all Americans” in the region, he added.
While a mere glance at a map underscores the obvious physical connection among the hemisphere’s nations, Fraser cited other bonds that cross economic, cultural, ideological and security lines.
“Latin America and the Caribbean are vitally important to the security and future of the United States,” he said. “The nations of the region are inextricably linked, and we face common challenges to our security and stability.”
With globalization unfolding at lightning speed over the past decade, transforming commerce, culture, trade and technology, it’s had a profound impact on security as well, the general noted in his 2012 Southcom posture statement, released in March.
Fraser said he’s particularly concerned about “the parallel globalization of organized crime, violence, murder and kidnapping related to illicit trafficking.”
He noted that in many parts of the hemisphere, particularly in Central America, transnational organized crime has evolved to become a “volatile and potentially destabilizing threat to both citizen and regional security.”
These sophisticated networks operate across national borders and dividing lines for U.S. geographic combatant commands, demanding an unprecedented level of cooperation among those attempting to counter them -- regionally, nationally and across U.S. agencies, he said.
“The challenge for United States Southern Command is to find creative ways to enhance the interagency, public-private and partner-nation cooperation as we plan, train and operate with regional military to address the predominant security concerns in the region,” Fraser said.
Fraser recognized other persistent challenges facing the region, including poverty, crime, corruption, institutional weakness, illicit trafficking and terrorism. “These challenges complicate our collective efforts to secure the hemisphere,” he stated in his 2020 command strategy. “At the same time, security helps provide the very means to address these issues.”
He cited the vulnerability of much of Latin America and the Caribbean to humanitarian crises, mass migrations and natural disasters.
Southcom works closely with partner nations to strengthen their humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, Fraser told the House Armed Services Committee in May. “And we remain ready to respond should our assistance be requested,” he added.
Meanwhile, Southcom watches for potential geopolitical turbulence that could affect U.S. citizens and military personnel in the region, he said in his posture statement. He cited Cuba, Haiti, Bolivia and Venezuela as areas of particular interest.
Frasier noted the yet-to-be-seen long-term effects of Cuba’s market reforms under Raul Castro’s leadership. Haiti, while making slow but steady progress, remains vulnerable to natural disasters and economic hardship, the general said.
Meanwhile, he added, public demonstrations in Bolivia related to low wages, high food prices and energy shortages are likely to continue until the Bolivian government addresses these issues. And in Venezuela, Fraser recognized continuing uncertainty about President Hugo Chavez’ health, as well as continued economic instability and escalating violence that he said place increasing demands on that country’s government.
Adding to the list of concerns, Fraser pointed to Hezbollah supporters operating throughout South America and the fact that the region has become home to a small number of violent extremist organizations.
“We remain vigilant for the potential radicalization of homegrown extremists,” he said. Fraser noted that Sunni extremists, while small in number, are actively involved in radicalization efforts.
Jamaica’s Shaykh Abdullah al-Faisal, for example, was convicted in the United Kingdom for inciting terrorism, he said. Al-Qaida senior operative Adnan el-Shukrijumah has held valid passports for the United States as well as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, where he has family and associates. And despite recent convictions in the 2007 plot to attack the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, one of the alleged co-conspirators remains at large in Guyana.
Meanwhile, Fraser noted, Iran represents a troublesome influence in the region, attempting to circumvent international sanctions through ties with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba. “We take Iranian activity in the hemisphere seriously, and we monitor its activities closely,” he said.
In presenting his command priorities, Fraser emphasized four major objectives:
-- Strengthen regional partnerships;
-- Increase partner capability;
-- Confront regional challenges; and
-- Support humanitarian and disaster response, as required.
Fraser called partnership-building “the cornerstone of our strategic approach.” It ensures the forward defense of the United States, he said, by promoting capable regional militaries that share in the responsibility of hemispheric security and stability.
“What we focus on in the region is building partner capacity and security cooperation, collaboratively, with willing nations,” Navy Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, Southcom’s military deputy commander, told American Forces Press Service at the command’s headquarters here. “We endeavor to plan extensively with them, ensuring that our efforts to help build their security in ways they believe are helpful to them.”
These efforts are coordinated closely with the State Department and with full respect for each partner nation’s sovereignty, Kernan said.
“We truly want to be the security partner of choice,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gerald W. Ketchum, director of the command’s theater engagement directorate, who oversees many of the programs designed to build those partnerships. “And as we work to build them, we want those partnerships to be enduring.”
In establishing new ties and strengthening existing ones, Kernan said, Southcom is demonstrating the deep U.S. commitment to the region.
“We have to pursue a persistent, welcomed presence with countries in the region,” he said. “That is what builds lasting relations and mutual respect. We need to be able to stand alongside our partners and talk about collectively addressing common security problems.”
Fraser said efforts to strengthen and enhance partner nations’ ability to respond to domestic and regional threats -- individually and collectively -- will pay off in long-term security for the region.
“We envision a hemisphere characterized by nations working together to address the emerging security challenges of the coming decade,” he said.