BOGOTA – Military and civilian leaders from 11 nations as well as representatives from U.S. Northern Command, the Inter-American Defense Board and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies participated in discussions concerning regional threats and transformation efforts at the South American Defense Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, on July 24-26.
U.S. Air Force General Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, and the Colombian Armed Forces’ commanding general, General Alejandro Navas Ramos, co-hosted the fourth annual conference with meetings, discussions and briefings focused on this year’s theme: “Military Transformation to Meet Evolving Threats.”
Participants arrived on July 24 to begin discussions regarding lessons learned, new threats and opportunities to collaborate. Fraser helped direct the flow of the conference during his opening remarks on July 25.
“From Ellesmere Island in Canada to Islote Águila in Chile, nations throughout the Western Hemisphere face an array of nontraditional security challenges and emerging opportunities,” Fraser said. “Several threats have evolved in complexity, such as illicit trafficking, the spread of transnational organized crime and the continued threat of narco-terrorism; new concerns, such as cybersecurity and energy security, have developed; and others remain perennial, such as natural disasters and humanitarian crises.”
“One of the objectives of the conference is to promote dialogue aiming to establish solid, enduring paths against all criminal groups, especially those involved in narcotrafficking and all related illegal activities,” Navas said in his opening remarks. “There is no other way than to unite together. As the criminal organizations that work with narcotraffickers evolve, we need to look to technological methods to be better and more efficient; we must … share our experiences.”
As briefings kicked off, a common challenge from participants quickly became evident: Threats are no longer confined within borders, and developing strategies must unify nations as well as military, civil and legal authorities to face quickly evolving, transnational threats.
Colombia has recently implemented such a plan and explained the process of development and lessons learned thus far.
“Our Sword of Honor War Plan coordinates Colombian military forces with the Colombian national police and other state institutions to conduct, sustain and develop offensive military action against narco-terrorist organizations in the national territory, to defeat the enemy’s fighting will, force their demobilization and reinsertion, therefore contributing to end conflict and build peace,” Navas said.
The plan incorporates a strategic goal to accomplish the final objective.
“Our final objective is to weaken regional threats militarily, by dismantling 50 percent of their structures, enabling their demobilization and reintegration; destroying their organization pivots, logistics and financial systems; and creating proper conditions for consolidation,” Navas said.
The Chilean Joint Staff chief, Lieutenant General He
rnán Mardones Rios, highlighted similar efforts in unifying national approaches to threats and establishing “a new constitutionality of defense” to provide more efficient responses to evolving threats and make better use of resources. Many participants highlighted the need for restructuring to trim spending, including looking to technology and natural resources to support military and civil responses.
Lieutenant General Roberto Carvalho, the Brazilian International Affairs chief, discussed the innovative approaches being explored as they consider security concerns for significant events such as a 2013 visit by Pope Benedict XVI and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“As part of the increased need for security, an environment for the temporary employment of military forces exists,” Carvalho said. Brazil’s plan includes the employment of air and navy forces combined with civil forces to strengthen the ability to respond to threats.
Participants walked away with a better perspective on innovative approaches to evolving security threats and the wisdom of lessons learned from partners facing the same or similar threats. A key objective of the conference was to provide South American nations’ chiefs of defense and other senior leaders an executive-level forum to discuss regional security issues and opportunities for collaboration on evolving threats.
Fraser highlighted Operation Martillo, which targets illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.
“We began Operation Martillo about six months ago, and as part of Operation Martillo we have seen a reduction of illicit traffic going into Central America by almost 50 percent, we have seen a reduction in the maritime traffic by almost 40 percent, and we have seen an increase in the amount of cocaine and other activities that have been disrupted,” Fraser said. “These are all positive moves and show the transformation that is very important as we look at the situations we have and the importance of conferences like this, where we have the opportunity to share our views and figure out how to work better and closer together to address common problems.”
Colombia hosted the first South American Defense Conference in Cartagena. Subsequent locations and co-hosts were Lima, Peru, and Santiago, Chile.
Each conference illustrates the need for continued collaboration to evolve unified responses to transnational threats.
“We all have in our hands the ability to defeat threats together. The struggle (requires) all of us to get the victory,” Navas said.