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CHIPS Articles: Adm. James Stavridis Discusses the U.S. Southern Command Mission

Adm. James Stavridis Discusses the U.S. Southern Command Mission
By CHIPS Magazine - April-June 2008
Admiral James Stavridis, a 1976 distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, assumed command of the U.S. Southern Command Oct. 19, 2006. Adm. Stavridis earned a Ph.D. and master of arts in law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in International Relations in 1984, where he won the Gullion Prize as outstanding student. He is also a distinguished graduate of both the Naval and National War Colleges.

USSOUTHCOM, located in Miami, Fla., is one of nine unified combatant commands (COCOMs) in the Department of Defense. It is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations and security cooperation for Central and South America, the Caribbean (except U.S. commonwealths, territories, and possessions), Cuba and the Bahamas, and their territorial waters; as well as for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations. USSOUTHCOM is also responsible for ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal and canal area.

In February, Adm. Stavridis addressed a luncheon group at a major defense conference in San Diego, Calif., regarding the unique challenges of USSOUTHCOM. The following has been edited from the admiral's remarks.

I'll start with a simple premise: Our shared home is the Americas. You'll note what I didn't say: "America's back yard," or our "front porch" — that's flat out the wrong way to address a hemisphere of tremendous diversity, a land formed by sovereign countries sharing so many common interests and so interdependent in so many ways. It is a house under whose roof live nearly a billion people in relative tranquility.

These common interests are born of the strongest bonds imaginable. The nations of the Americas are tied together by geographic, cultural, economic, political and historical linkages. But despite the power of these linkages, many say the U.S. has neglected Latin America, that we have not paid it the attention, the respect, that it deserves, that we continue to neglect it today… and consequently we are drifting apart (as proposed by Michael Reid in his recent book: Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America's Soul).

There's some evidence to support this. Witness the anti-U.S. rhetoric from several capitals in South America, and several respected studies and polls indicate that there is a decline in positive perceptions of the United States. But before we pass judgment on the state of affairs between the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean … and what the future holds… let's take a moment to explore the linkages, challenges, and … most important … the opportunities that we share to fulfill the promise of the region.

Exploring the Linkages

At U.S. Southern Command, we are responsible for U.S. national security interests through about one half of this hemisphere — 32 countries, 13 territories and 450 million people — across about one-sixth of the Earth's surface. Much of that population has strong cultural ties to the United States.

Within the U.S., approximately 15 percent of our population — more than 40 million citizens — is of Hispanic origin. The U.S. is the second most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. More Hispanics live in the U.S. today than Canadians in Canada; and, incidentally, their purchasing power is close to a trillion dollars annually.

The nations of the Americas are increasingly connected and interdependent economically. Many of us normally think in terms of East and West when it comes to trade — in terms of Asia and Europe.

But the reality is that almost 40 percent of U.S. global commerce flows north and south — included in that trade is energy. The U.S. imports over half of its oil from the Western Hemisphere, with 34 percent coming from Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005 — much more than the 22 percent imported from the Middle East.

Beyond cultural and economic linkages, perhaps the most important connection we share with the region is a social and political conscience shaped by the common values of respect for democracy and human rights. With one notable exception — Cuba — under the Castro brothers — every sovereign nation in the Western Hemisphere is governed by civilian leadership chosen through free elections.

Addressing the Challenges
Given these linkages, we need to look at the challenges as we work toward what I see as our shared objectives.

First, establishing and strengthening a foundation of security; building social, economic, and political stability on this foundation; and through this stability enabling an environment conducive to enduring prosperity.

An overarching enabler for these challenges is an underlying climate of poverty and inequality. Some 40 percent of the region’s inhabitants live in poverty, defined as an income of less than two U.S. dollars per day. Nearly 16 percent subsist in extreme poverty — less than one dollar per day. Couple these poverty figures with the most unequal distribution of wealth for any of the world’s regions and a high level of corruption, and you have a breeding ground for insecurity and instability.

Drug trafficking, violent crime and gang activities are the primary security concerns born of this climate. These insidious transnational and adaptive threats directly impact the majority of the region and by their nature cannot be countered by one nation alone. They require cooperative solutions involving a unified, full-spectrum of governmental, international and private sector partnership to adequately address them.

Tragically, we also import another fuel … illegal drugs, which fuel the engines of misery everywhere. Approximately 10,000 U.S. citizens die each year in drug-related incidents traceable to narcotics from this region — a virtual September 11th every four months — and that doesn’t include the death and destruction that follow the drugs on every step of their journey north.

Marching in lockstep with the drug trade is an alarming growth of criminal activity in the region. Violence is now among the five principal causes of death in several countries. The annual homicide rate for Latin America and the Caribbean is among the highest in the world, with 25 homicides per 100,000 people compared to Africa’s 22 and the U.S.’s 5.5. In some areas of El Salvador, besieged by gangs, the rate approaches 50 per 100,000.

In Central America, Haiti, Jamaica and major cities in Brazil, gangs and criminal violence are a security priority, with some gang population estimates reaching into the hundreds of thousands. These gangs do not just pose a concern in Latin America; some of the more complex gangs operate regionally and even globally — some with deep reach into the United States.

Throughout the region, the potential for terrorist activity is a concern, and we must look at Latin America and the Caribbean as likely bases for future terrorist threats. Members, facilitators and sympathizers of extremist terrorist organizations are present in many countries. While their activity is primarily linked to fundraising, logistical support and influence building, there are signs of an operational presence and an accompanying potential for attacks.

So far, we’ve been lucky that profits are the primary motivation for drug traffickers in Latin America and the Caribbean. But if we allow the “streams” of radical idealism and narco-trafficking to cross here in our region, the consequences could be enormous. In fact, the profits from the estimated annual crop of cocaine in just two countries, Colombia and Peru, could fund over 200,000 September 11-type attacks. That’s a national security problem on an epic scale!

Fulfilling the Promise
Given these linkages and challenges, let me talk about opportunities… opportunities to fulfill the promise of the Americas. In our context, the word “promise” has two principal meanings. First, a promise can be an agreement. Honest, genuine agreement arising from mutual understanding is the very basis between democratically elected leaders and the governed, for example. The other meaning refers to the “promise of something” as in the potential to do something vital and important.

I believe that both types of promise are fully appropriate for us in SOUTHCOM. We represent the first kind of promise in that we “promise” to be a good partner with other nations, we promise to pursue better security arrangements, and we promise to face the tough challenges together. And our commitment to this competitive marketplace ties directly to the latter definition: we are very aware of the enormous promise the Americas hold, and what could be realized in a secure hemisphere free of drugs, crime, gangs and terror.

So how do we fulfill these promises? In a region that is not a battlefield, but more like a marketplace, we sling our combat weapons and compete not with Tomahawk missiles, but with ideas. We need to effectively communicate that the U.S. cares about the people of the region — and that we care over the long term. We need to show we are constructively engaged in the security dimension throughout the region. And we need to always emphasize the natural alignment of the shared interests of all the nations of the Americas.

So we’re not launching missiles, we’re launching ideas through…
• multinational military exercises;
• security assistance programs;
• human rights educational programs;
• sensible technology sharing;
• anti-terrorism information sharing and assistance;
• humanitarian aid;
• state and city partnerships; and
• a wide variety of other programs.

We’re doing an enormous amount to detect and help interdict narcotics moving through the region, particularly via the Joint Interagency Task Force – South, an interdisciplinary, 11-nation collaboration. We’re working particularly closely with our partners in Colombia in an advisory capacity, where democracy has been under attack by narco-terrorists for over 40 years, but the government and people have turned the tide and are winning.

We keep a close eye on Cuba, and are hopeful of a peaceful transition to democracy for the Cuban people soon.

And when we conduct exercises with practically every military organization in the region, we tailor them whenever possible to not only provide training for our team, but for lasting humanitarian benefit to those in need. For example, when we undertake civil engineering and medical training, we construct wells, schools, community centers and clinics. Our medical personnel treat about a quarter of a million patients a year, ranging from routine preventive care to the most serious emergency cases.

Preventing war is more cost effective than waging war
I would like to share with you my thoughts about the future naval force, from a combatant commander’s perspective. Let me begin with a concept for multi-faceted humanitarian assistance using innovative force packaging. Think back to March of last year, when President Bush announced the deployment of the hospital ship USNS Comfort on a humanitarian mission to aid the people of Latin America and the Caribbean as part of his initiative on “Advancing the Cause of Social Justice in the Western Hemisphere.”

Just a few months ago, the Comfort completed that historic, four-month humanitarian mission… and I’m happy to report that it was an absolutely phenomenal success. Working closely with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and volunteers from U.S. non-governmental organizations, such as Project Hope and Operation Smile, the crew worked non-stop to provide free health care services to communities in need.

In total, Comfort visited 12 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. By mission’s end, they had completed nearly 400,000 patient encounters, including: treatment of nearly 100,000 people, performing more than 1,000 surgeries and 32,000 immunizations, with over 120,000 pharmaceuticals dispensed.

One data point I’d like to highlight … in a close partnership with the Lion’s Club, the Comfort team was able to distribute over 24,000 pairs of eyeglasses.

Imagine the real, life-changing difference that one simple act alone made to each of those individuals — particularly the youth of this region. Give one child the ability to see clearly, and that child can more readily learn …give thousands of children the ability to learn, and you enable an entire generation to prosper!

The Comfort mission was just one, four-month deployment … and it went from drawing board plans to execution in much less than one year at a budget under $25 million. As you can see, a comparatively small amount of money goes a long way. Moreover, the overall benefit is huge, especially if it leads to greater compassion, understanding and good will that prevent future conflict. The new Maritime Strategy says, “Preventing wars is as important as winning wars.” I would add that preventing war is easily 100 times more cost effective than waging war.

With all the challenges we face around the world, there will always be a need for humanitarian operations. Perhaps in our concept of naval operations, we should no longer constrain ourselves to the current force packaging paradigm…carrier, expeditionary and surface strike groups. If we are truly looking for a great way to implement the new maritime strategy, now is the time to give humanitarian missions a permanent, integral place in the spectrum of mission-tailored deployment options. We should develop a new type of deploying group. Call it a Humanitarian Service Group, or HSG.

My second concern: We need more persistent air and maritime domain awareness.

As commander, I am responsible for promoting security cooperation in an area that spans over one-sixth of the globe, 16 million square miles. All but two of the countries in the region have access to the ocean. With vast swaths of under-governed land areas and millions of square miles of sea approaches routinely used by thousands of illicit traffickers, you can easily see that air and maritime domain awareness presents a significant, longstanding challenge.

U.S. Southern Command plays a critical role in implementing the national counter-drug policy. In addition to passive detection and monitoring of potential drug smuggling activities, we provide interception and handover to law enforcement to interdict drug flow … and let’s not forget human trafficking and the potential transit of weapons of mass destruction … we must actively support interdiction of those activities, too.

The Joint Interagency Task Force – South, JIATF-South, located in Key West, Florida, is the primary operations center and coordinating point for detection and monitoring to disrupt the flow of illicit narcotics, mostly cocaine, being shipped to the United States via air and maritime smuggling through a 6 million-mile area we call the “transit zone.”

Each day, traffickers use more sophisticated communication, operations. We could try to strike at every detection, but we don’t have enough assets. Moving our valuable resources at every sniff of a threat won’t work, we need fast, flexible and actionable intelligence that helps us pinpoint the locations where our forces and resources can do the most good and with sufficient time to get them there. We need “persistent precision-guided intelligence.”

Data we use to gain intelligence about drug trafficking can come from many different sources, including radar, infrared and visual reconnaissance assets, as well as human intelligence and databases compiled by law enforcement and customs services. What we lack in terms of dedicated, national aerial and maritime surveillance, we need to find in small, cheap, but effective deployable surveillance and detection systems with the legs to re¬main in position for long periods and cover large sectors of air and sea space.

We also need easily deployable technologies that allow all-source fusion, collaborative planning and multiple-node sensor resource management. This is true “technological innovation” and in conjunction with the Navy, we’re actively pursuing smart solutions that will ultimately offer ships, operators and command centers “global maritime vessel transparency.”

But remember, so much of what we do at U.S. Southern Command requires international partnership. Meaningful partnerships are based on commitment according to fundamental notions of reciprocity, understanding and cooperation. The security cooperation partnerships we seek to build require connectivity, interoperability and a baseline for communicating mutual understanding. The key is to work toward significantly broader mechanisms of mutual trust with our partner nations. To do so, we need to be able to shed the veil of secrecy, on demand, and to share our technology with our partners.

We’ve been working to expand our technology base for building partnerships — to build upon a long history of friend¬ship and cooperation — especially in a region in which the “war” is largely won by words and trust, not bullets.

And we’ve found a willing interagency partner in the newly formed Office of Global Maritime Situational Awareness. Now only five months into existence, the OGMSA is working hard to gain traction by identifying needs with practical solutions and recruiting partners to join hands in real-world projects.

A perfect example is an initiative called “Spotlight on the Caribbean.” Seeking an integrated approach to implementation of the National Strategy for Maritime Security, the OGMSA has proposed to use the Caribbean region as a “laboratory” for identifying and enabling the widest range of maritime domain awareness applications. With such a large number of international players, a relatively small body of water, a huge amount of commercial traffic, dozens of information sharing agencies, a very large tourism industry, and a wide array of security challenges, the Caribbean basin makes a perfect test bed.

At U.S. Southern Command, our partnership with OGMSA would demonstrate how close we can come to making the Caribbean a showcase for maritime security that parallels or exceeds what we see in the aviation industry.

Spotlight on the Caribbean will push to the limits the con¬cept of creating a “National Maritime Picture.” It will open new avenues of communication and challenge all involved to reach out to our regional partners, meeting their needs while meeting ours. Spotlight on the Caribbean will also build on, and enhance, the partnerships already developed through U.S. maritime and air deployments and exercises in this vital region.

I’m excited about this new partnership and the enormous potential it represents.

I’ll close with a word that I think is very important …for the Navy … for the Department of Defense …that word is “innovation.” We clearly need more of it.

Every speech should quote Lincoln, so I will: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

We live in a world lit by lightning where chaos is more and more the norm. Without thinking hard about the world and our circumstances, we will fail our nation. So I would leave you with Lincoln’s words: “the occasion is piled high with difficulty … and as our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

USSOUTHCOM relies heavily on interagency partners across the U.S. government to help address national security problems in the following areas of focus:
• Poverty
• Unequal wealth distribution
• Social exclusion
• Corruption
• Narco-terrorism
• Crime/urban gangs
• Illicit trafficking
• Forgery/money laundering
• Mass migration
• Natural diseases

Technology Innovation Helps
• The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
• Micro unmanned aerial vehicles
• Commercial synthetic aperture radar and electro-optical satellite
• Commercial Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR)
• Unmanned space vehicles with acoustic and chemical detection

Full spectrum awareness:
• Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Center
• Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar (ROTHR)
• Distributed, netted wireless sensors
• Innovative, long-dwell unmanned sensors

Science & Technology – USSOUTHCOM Science and Technology (S&T) program supports the development of military capability to meet mission requirements. The S&T program conducts activities to support the nation’s advanced technology programs, enhance joint capabilities in the theater, and increase interoperability with partner nations. Support to advanced technology programs is accomplished by providing expertise and test venues.

Exercises/Operations – USSOUTHCOM sponsors multinational exercises to increase the capabilities of both the U.S. military and our partner nations. Exercise scenarios include: maritime security, peacekeeping, counterterrorism, illegal migration, illicit trafficking, disaster preparedness and relief, and humanitarian assistance. Examples include PANAMAX, which focuses on the defense of the Panama Canal, and TRADEWINDS, which addresses transnational security threats in the Caribbean.

Human Rights – USSOUTHCOM’s Human Rights Division is an institutional statement of the command’s commitment to maintain a robust human rights program. No other unified command has established a separate office to monitor and coordinate human rights issues.

The Human Rights Division has five primary responsibilities:
• Advising and reporting on human rights issues;
• Establishing and supporting human rights training programs;
• Ensuring that human rights are integrated into USSOUTHCOM exercises and operations;
• Advancing respect for human rights by supporting regional initiatives; and
• Serving as a liaison with other entities working human rights issues, such as the interagency community, international organizations, and nongovernmental human rights organizations (NGOs).

In fiscal year 2007, USSOUTHCOM carried out 100 humanitarian assistance projects in 26 countries with a budget of $13.2 million.

Adm. James Stavridis
Adm. James Stavridis

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras – Awaiting their turn to load onto an Army CH-47D Chinook for their first parachute jump, Honduran soldiers anxiously watch their peers descent from the helicopter which was used as the platform for their first jump. More than 250 Honduran soldiers took their first step toward airborne readiness when they leaped from the back of a U.S. Army helicopter Jan. 24 in a combined jump with U.S. Soldiers here. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. William Farrow.
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras – Awaiting their turn to load onto an Army CH-47D Chinook for their first parachute jump, Honduran soldiers anxiously watch their peers descent from the helicopter which was used as the platform for their first jump. More than 250 Honduran soldiers took their first step toward airborne readiness when they leaped from the back of a U.S. Army helicopter Jan. 24 in a combined jump with U.S. Soldiers here. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. William Farrow.

A member of Joint Task Force-Bravo takes a digital image of his new friends during a Feb. 2 hike into the mountains surrounding Comayagua, Honduras. JTF-Bravo personnel delivered more than 2,000 pounds of food to local Hondurans during a Chapel Hike which allows JTF-Bravo personnel the opportunity to see the countryside as well as interact with locals. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. William Farrow.
A member of Joint Task Force-Bravo takes a digital image of his new friends during a Feb. 2 hike into the mountains surrounding Comayagua, Honduras. JTF-Bravo personnel delivered more than 2,000 pounds of food to local Hondurans during a Chapel Hike which allows JTF-Bravo personnel the opportunity to see the countryside as well as interact with locals. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. William Farrow.
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