MIAMI – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, speaks during a U.S. Southern Command town hall meeting March 26 prior to leaving for an official visit to South America, (DoD Photo)
BOGOTA, Colombia, March 27, 2012 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived here yesterday for the first part of a two-nation trip to view U.S. Southern Command’s mission in South America through the prism of the nation’s new defense strategy.
Although he has never served in the Southern Hemisphere, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told reporters traveling with him, he finds South America and Africa fascinating.
Southcom and U.S. Africa Command “do a lot of heavy lifting with a minimum of resources,” the chairman said.
“I personally believe that with a modest increase in our investment – I don’t necessarily mean in money or equipment; it might be a modest investment in partnering and leader development -- we can reap exponential developments,” he said. “I want to prove or disprove that theory.”
The general said he looks on the trip to Colombia and Brazil as a learning opportunity, especially when viewed through the lens of the new U.S. defense strategy, which places greater emphasis on partnering with other nations. “This theater and Africa Command are the two theaters where this strategy has already progressed the farthest,” he said.
Colombia has been a valued partner for years, and Brazil has a key role to play in the region in the future, Dempsey said. Both countries are concerned about the rise of transnational organized crime networks, he added, and while that’s not mentioned specifically in the new U.S. strategy, it also concerns him.
“The issues are different geographically, economically, ethnically, religiously, tribally, but at the end of the day, as security issues, they manifest themselves similarly,” he said.
The general told reporters his presence in South America signals his priorities, and that he wants to come back to the region frequently.
South American transnational criminal organizations have a network of financiers, logisticians, scientists and producers who now work together. “It’s no longer [now-dead drug kingpin] Pablo Escobar running this whole thing as the single leader,” Dempsey said. “Now there are literally networks of groups that syndicate and … form a supply chain.
“I suggest and will continue to suggest that if you are going to beat a network, you’ve got to have a network,” he added.
The United States has a network within itself, the chairman noted. The Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, the Coast Guard, and the State, Defense and Homeland Security departments are networked with the Colombians, the Brazilians, the Guatemalans, the Hondurans and others. “We’re doing a lot of this already,” he said. "The question is, ‘Can we do more?’”
The U.S. attacks on the al-Qaida network provide lessons for defeating transnational criminal organizations, Dempsey told reporters. “We learned how to defeat al-Qaida by attacking the network along its entire length,” he said.
But he pointed out that with al-Qaida, the United States did most of the work. The question now, he said, is whether the United States can use the same paradigm for how to attack a network, but not do it alone.
While the network in South and Central America is – at its heart – primarily a law enforcement responsibility, Dempsey said, he sees real problems with these criminal organizations possibly branching out. He is worried that terrorist nations or organizations could use the network that now smuggles drugs, guns and people to smuggle terrorists, weapons or weapons of mass destruction into the United States.
“The time to pressure this network is now, and we are,” he said. “The question is ‘Are we pressuring it enough, and are there things we can still do with modest investment to increase the pressure?’”
The U.S. military will always be in support in the Southcom area, Dempsey said, but the military brings some competencies that complement those of other nations and of civilian agencies within the U.S. government.
“What we bring is organizational structures, command and control architectures, [and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capabilities like no other in the world,” he said.