Western Hemisphere Allies Work Together To Ensure Stability
by Jim Garamone, DOD News
October 19, 2020
A sign outside an office in the Pentagon summarizes the feelings
of the people inside the office: "The Western Hemisphere Is the Best
Sergio De La Peña, the deputy assistant
secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, says that,
despite some problems, the "neighborhood" is safe and prospering.
Still, this condition requires constant attention and involvement.
De La Peña's
office provides policy guidance for U.S. Northern Command and U.S.
Southern Command. It has responsibility stretching from the Arctic
to the Antarctic. It is half the globe.
De La Peña is the
only deputy assistant secretary for the region. In contrast, the
rest of the globe has eight deputy assistant secretaries.
The Western Hemisphere is relatively peaceful compared to the rest
of the world, but it isn't without problems. Transnational criminal
organizations call the hemisphere home. Drug and human trafficking
are vast problems throughout the hemisphere. Economic disparities
exacerbate migration trends and there are a few countries — Cuba,
Venezuela and Nicaragua — that just can't get with the program, De
La Peña said.
And the hemisphere is not immune to problems
arising in other parts of the world. China and Russia are rising
great power competitors of the United States and they see some
countries in the region as ripe targets. China and Russia look for
any way to sow dissension among friends and create doubt and
uncertainty in alliances.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche sails in the Pacific Ocean as the sun sets during the cutter’s counterdrug patrol on March 12, 2020. The cutter deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes countering illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Dave Horning)
organizations, too, look for ungoverned or under-governed areas in
which to establish safe havens. The terrorist groups also look to
cooperate with transnational criminal organizations.
Countering these threats requires constant monitoring, communication
and effort. Thankfully, De La Peña said, the extent and level of
cooperation among the nations of the hemisphere may be at its
highest levels to date.
"We are a collaborative, prosperous
and secure hemisphere," he said. The United States is working with
nations of the hemisphere to improve lives throughout the region.
The United States is not imposing its will, he said, but listening
to its neighbors as cooperatively, the region moves forward.
"Transparency, the rule of law, human rights, the rights of …
minorities," are all values shared among the nations of the Western
Hemisphere, De La Peña said. It has been a tough row to get to this
point as many of the nations emerged from dictatorships. The
progression has been a "whole-of-governments" effort — meaning all
elements of U.S. influence and power worked with the elements of
influence and power in partner nations. Democracy cannot be imposed
on a nation or people, but must be the desire of the population.
Economic, diplomatic and intelligence/information is part of the
effort, but the military plays a role in the effort, as well.
Command has outstanding contacts and relations with the nations of
Central and South America and the Caribbean, De La Peña said.
The main U.S. military effort is helping the nations of the
region build capabilities to guard their sovereignty. The militaries
must answer to their civilian leaders and respect the human rights
of their citizens.
This is working. Many of the Central and
South American militaries have embraced this effort and, frankly,
have become "exporters" of security. Colombia and El Salvador
provided forces in Iraq in the early days of Operation Iraqi
Freedom. Other hemispheric nations are providing trained,
professional forces to United Nations missions.
But the most
important aspect of this is the nations are working together in the
region in ways they did not in the past.
U.S. Army soldiers with Joint Task Force – Bravo conduct joint sling load operations at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras on August 31, 2020. The soldiers joined with Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command rehearsed transporting cargo for rapid crisis response scenarios. The remainder of the task force is prepared to deploy to the region to work with the military in partner nations, enhancing combined crisis response efforts in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jose Gonzalez)
nations are exchanging intelligence and information on shared
threats. Service members are working bilaterally with the United
States and multilaterally to improve responses and interoperability.
"What we are asking is for them to be situationally aware of
their own environment and then be willing to share as they see fit,"
De La Peña said. "It's like a neighborhood watch; nations must have
situational awareness over their own sovereign space."
Maintaining situational awareness over land, sea and air is tough
enough, but, now, the new domains of space and cyber add new levels
of complexities to an already daunting task, he said.
those new domains are key to understanding threats and combating
There are very few threats that reside
completely within the borders of one nation. Cooperating and sharing
is absolutely essential to beating back those threats.
the military-to-military relations side of the equation, leaders
have good relationships. They have a common understanding of
threats, and they can advise civilian leaders on the strategies
necessary to defeat them, De La Peña said.
help provide guidance and leadership," De La Peña said. "That
security is key because if you don't have security, you're not going
to have prosperity."
The United States will continue its
close work with hemispheric nations. The Inter-American Defense
College at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington is a premiere venue
for collaboration. Professional military education – officer and
noncommissioned officer – are other ripe areas where U.S. and allied
officers can get to know one another and learn how each thinks and
The interaction among the neighbors requires constant
maintenance, De La Peña said. The United States cannot take
hemispheric allies for granted.
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