Institute Looks To Western Hemisphere's Future, Says de Leon
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2001 A former Army school that had focused on U.S.-Latin American security issues spawned from the past has been reborn and expanded as a DoD institution, which embraces civil-military partnerships in addressing Western Hemisphere concerns of the 21st century.
Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon and Army Secretary Louis Caldera traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., Jan. 17 to participate in the activation ceremony of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
De Leon told the institute's leadership, faculty and staff that the world has changed greatly since the fall of the Berlin Wall, as many democratically elected governments have been formed from the ashes of former authoritarian regimes across Europe and Latin America.
Disaster and humanitarian relief missions such as recent U.S. aid to earthquake victims in Guatemala and El Salvador, de Leon noted, and the forming of civil-military partnerships throughout the world have become key parts of the United States' national security policy in the early 21st century.
"We have come together to rescue the victims and repair the damage from natural and man-made disasters," de Leon said. "We have struggled together to find the best way to confront terrorism and drug trafficking. We are able to stand together and cooperate on these complex security threats, because we share a belief that representative democracy is the foundation of political legitimacy and the key to peace and stability."
De Leon exhorted the institute instructors "to enhance the professionalism of our young citizen-soldiers with course work that will build their leadership skills, broaden their knowledge of human rights, constitutional governance, and international law, and bring them the technical skills they will need for 21st century military operations."
The institute, which replaces the former U.S. Army School of the Americas, was established Oct. 30 under the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2001, officials said. WHISC will provide professional education and training to military, law enforcement and civilian (governmental and non-governmental) personnel of the nations of the Western Hemisphere in defense and security matters.
Officials note that the institute's curriculum will promote democratic values, respect for the rule of law and human rights. It is housed in the same building as the former U.S. Army School of the Americas, which was closed Dec. 15. Classes are scheduled to start in early February, with the first command and general staff course to include students from 17 countries, including a student from Nicaragua for the first time, officials said.
"Nations in almost every corner of the globe are moving toward democracy and freedom," de Leon said. He remarked that in Europe, "former enemies have reached across the Iron Curtain to become friends and allies" under the Partnership for Peace program. In Asia, he said that for the first time in 50 years "there is some hope of reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula."
He said the Western Hemisphere is "a region of dynamic markets and dramatic economic reforms, where 34 of 35 governments have come to power through the ballot box, where regional relationships based on shared respect for the rule of law show a strong and growing trend for interdependence.
"Today, we are playing that critical role as we gather to activate the Western Hemisphere Institute which will prepare our soldiers and our defense civilians for the challenges of this new era, and will provide them the tools to capture the promise of this bright future."
Army Lt. Col. Pete Oliver, the institute's director of training and doctrine, said the new curriculum reflects the democratic principles set forth in the 1948 charter of the Organization of American States. The institute will instruct students from Western Hemisphere countries not under U.S. government sanctions. This excludes Cuba. Efforts are underway to recruit Mexican and Canadian students, Oliver said, adding that participating countries select their students to attend.
He noted that WHISC's cadre of Spanish-speaking civilian and military instructors - which will include Drug Enforcement Agency and State Department representatives -- will teach more than 700 students this year, from a curriculum featuring 59 courses in six categories to include: o Civil-military, to include peacekeeping and disaster relief/humanitarian operations, human rights, civilian control of the military, and the rule of law; o Leadership, primarily cadet-type courses; o Professional military education, Noncommissioned Officer Academy and an officers' Command and General Staff Course; o Instructor development, mostly internal to WHISC, under U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command policies; o Tactical, primarily border observer, counter-drug, de- mining, medical, and; o Technical, mostly consisting of helicopter courses at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Oversight of the institute's operations and curriculum will be regularly reviewed by an independent Board of Visitors consisting of members of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. State Department, DoD and civilians from academia, clergy and international non-governmental, to include human rights organizations. The board will report directly to the defense secretary. WHISC will also be open to visits from the public.
The new school's curriculum reflects a changed world throughout the Western Hemisphere, Oliver said, with outdated Cold-War-era courses such as commando operations being jettisoned in favor of courses outlining civil- military law enforcement cooperation and humanitarian operations such as disaster relief.
De Leon said professional and personal relationships between military and civilians of various European nations have helped to make the Partnership for Peace program a success. He believes WHISC can play a similar role in Western Hemisphere civil-military relations.
De Leon gives Caldera "tremendous credit" in the creation of WHISC. "It is his vision for this institute that will allow us to continue working together to build professional military forces and long-lasting friendships for a new era," de Leon said.
The old School of Americas was often under siege by human rights activists alleging that the some SOA graduates, such as former Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega, now imprisoned for drug-dealing and other crimes, were taught how to abuse civil populations at the school. SOA and U.S. government officials categorically denied these allegations. Some activists claim that SOA and WHISC are one in the same, a charge that de Leon vigorously denies.
"To those who say [the change] is cosmetic, I turn to them and say they're trying to ignore the professionalism of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States," he said. "And, to anyone who doesn't have a chance, like I do, to see them in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, or Kosovo, or in the Mideast, or in Korea, or in the Americas, this is a highly professional force. I think the philosophy of how we train our military men and women will be shared with our neighbors in the Americas."
Army Lt. Gen. William M. Steele, the commanding general of U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, presented the institute's colors to Director Army Col. Richard D. Downie. The colors bear the institute's motto in Spanish: "Libertad Paz Y Fraternidad," meaning "Liberty, Peace and Brotherhood." That brotherhood is developed within WHISC, Caldera said.
"On of the greatest learning impacts that occurs here is that all of the students are invited into the homes of people in the Fort Benning, Georgia area," Caldera said at a press conference following the activation ceremony. "They really get to experience democracy in small-town America, and American values, and they take that appreciation for democracy back home with them.
"Another very important reason for having the school is that the instruction is done in Spanish, and so you can reach many, many more soldiers, and officers otherwise. Plus, we're going to have civilians here from human rights organizations, defense officials, legislators as well as military from various countries. And whenever you have that kind of situation, you are learning from each other," he added.
De leon said he looked to WHISC instructors "to foster personal relationships, literally teaching your students, uniformed and civilian, alike, to speak the same language, and to seek and share the same democratic ideals."
Such friendships, he added, "will continue to be the basic tissue that holds our nation and our region together."