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SOUTHCOM Missions

Multinational Engagement and Interagency Support

The numerous training events and exercises sponsored by SOUTHCOM are important skill-building components of the command’s broader multinational engagement effort, aimed at capacity-building, improved interoperability, and greater collective strength in confronting shared security concerns. These goals are further advanced by the facilitation of exchanges, seminars, and training exercises throughout the region with partner-nation militaries.

The command’s engagement strategy is reinforced through its Foreign Military Interaction (FMI) program, which includes operational exercises, but also provides venues to share strategy and best practices among military and security forces. For example, as part of SOUTHCOM’s Theater Security Cooperation mission, U.S. Army South conducts annual army-to-army staff talks with Brazil, El Salvador, Chile, and Colombia to promote peace and stability through mutual understanding.

As part of SOUTHCOM’s Theater Security Cooperation mission, U.S. Army South conducts annual army-to-army staff talks with Brazil, El Salvador, Chile, and Colombia to promote peace and stability through mutual understanding.

El Salvador, one of the oldest and most reliable U.S. partners in the SOUTHCOM AOR, has deployed more than 3,400 soldiers during 12 consecutive troop rotations in Iraq, and currently has forces deployed to Afghanistan in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission – in fact, in June 2013, it became the first foreign army to mobilize soldiers to Afghanistan immediately after their attendance at the Joint Security Force Assistance Course at Fort Polk, La. The course, delivered by the Army’s 162nd Infantry Brigade at the Joint Readiness Training Center, prepares troops for deployment over an eight-week course.

In August 2013, the Salvadoran army and U.S. Army South concluded their sixth annual weeklong army-to-army staff talks, a bilateral engagement that produced an agreement to carry out 24 specific action items, including professional development and expert exchanges, in the 2014 fiscal year. Such military-to-military engagements, and the actions that result from them, are key to enhancing interoperability and increasing stability in the region.

Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force

A Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force helicopter approaches the landing zone during a simulated evacuation of a casualty to a medical facility during a Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) in Trinidad and Tobago, July 26, 2013. JCETs are frequently conducted by SOCSOUTH throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America at the request of partner nations in order to enhance bilateral relations and interoperability through military-to-military contacts, and are a valuable tool in the command’s Theater Security Cooperation program. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael A. Byars Jr.

Another important component of the command’s engagement strategy, the International Military Education and Training program, provides professional development opportunities for foreign military officers and senior enlisted personnel from Latin America and the Caribbean. Every year, SOUTHCOM helps send about 5,000 foreign students to U.S. DoD training programs, including courses and seminars delivered at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), near Fort Benning, Ga.; the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.; the Inter-American Defense College at Fort McNair; the Inter-American Air Forces Academy at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; and the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies at Naval Station Newport, R.I.

These courses of study at U.S. campuses promote institutional professionalism in the context of democratic governance, while building partnerships and lasting friendships among officers and senior officials. SOUTHCOM’s training and education programs also promote respect for human rights with military partners – especially in the handful of countries in the region where these militaries are asked by their governments to assist domestic police forces in promoting internal security.

 

Interagency Collaboration

SOUTHCOM has been a pioneer in embracing the DoD’s whole-of-government approach to national security challenges – and in fact, has taken the approach to a new “whole-of-society” level, to include private-sector and NGO partners. Its actions have reflected this expanded outlook: The command’s Miami headquarters was reorganized in 2007 to support interagency collaboration and capitalize on the unique capabilities, authorities, expertise, and perspectives of other agencies – 38 representatives, from 14 different agencies, are embedded throughout the command structure.

For example, James Nealon, a career member of the U.S. Department of State with the rank of minister-counselor, serves not only as senior foreign policy adviser to the SOUTHCOM commander, but also as his civilian deputy. The integration of this civilian position into the command’s senior leadership reflects the recognition that these agencies’ contributions in Latin America and the Caribbean are far more powerful and effective as a combined effort, rather than as a scattered assortment of government efforts. At SOUTHCOM headquarters, interagency representatives contribute to the development of strategic plans and participate in multinational operations and exercises – and the command continues to seek innovative ways to blend with U.S. government efforts to support security in the region.

At SOUTHCOM headquarters, interagency representatives contribute to the development of strategic plans and participate in multinational operations and exercises – and the command continues to seek innovative ways to blend with U.S. government efforts to support security in the region.

Likewise, the command’s military planning capability and capacity are designed to enhance the synchronization of interagency efforts, even when the DoD is not the lead agency. CBP, for example, which established a presence within SOUTHCOM headquarters in 2009, maintains a senior official to help integrate the agency’s programs with U.S. military and other interagency efforts, particularly the anti-trafficking efforts of JIATF-South.

 

Human Rights

SOUTHCOM’s human rights program arose from a troubled Latin American era: From the 1960s to the end of the Cold War, some nations were led by dictatorships with questionable human rights records.

Gen. John F. Kelly

Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, meets with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, during an official visit to Guatemala to meet with senior government and security officials to discuss security cooperation between Guatemala and the United States. Photo by Edwin Benavente, Presidencia de Guatemala

In recent decades, as drug cartels and other criminal organizations have grown increasingly powerful and destructive, a handful of South and Central American nations have committed military forces to support undermanned and outgunned police and law enforcement agencies. In a region whose not-too-distant history includes names such as Pinochet, Somoza, Noriega, and Videla, the military’s increasing involvement in public security, while often necessary, is cause for heightened vigilance. The training, doctrine, and equipment of military units simply are not well matched to the tasks of domestic law enforcement.

SOUTHCOM, the only unified combatant command with a dedicated human rights division, revealed its first human rights policy in 1990, and today this policy, which articulates a military ethic of restraint, accountability, and greater transparency, is the foundation for the work of defense forces within the SOUTHCOM AOR. This ethic is succinctly captured in a badge, often worn by SOUTHCOM and partner-nation service members, articulating the “Five Rs” of the human rights policy: recognize, refrain, react, record, and report.

SOUTHCOM’s human rights policy is first administered via internal mechanisms: command personnel – military, civilian, and even contractors working on its behalf – receive annual human rights training and education, including the principles of international humanitarian law and the protocols for identifying and reporting violations. Additionally, any persons working under orders of the DoD undergo requisite pre-deployment training before departing for destinations in the AOR. Another internal component of the human rights program is its periodic reporting and analysis on human rights issues – specifically, issues relating to the conduct of a nation’s military – for command leaders preparing to visit a particular country.

The division’s external outreach component is conducted primarily through its Human Rights Initiative (HRI), initiated in 1997 to encourage respect for human rights among regional military forces, especially those asked by political leaders to assume responsibility for internal security. For five years, SOUTHCOM sponsored a series of seminars, involving representatives from 34 countries and several prominent NGOs, to develop a Consensus Document outlining a specific human rights program with plans of action, internal control systems, and measures of effectiveness.

The HRI entered a new phase in 2006, with the introduction of bilateral seminars designed to help participating military and law enforcement leaders evaluate the effectiveness of their own human rights programs. SOUTHCOM has also sponsored regional conferences that include members of civil society groups, providing opportunities for military and civil leaders to interact and address mutual concerns. A 2009 conference in Guatemala – a nation still recovering from the decades-long civil war that ended in 1996 and involved egregious human rights abuses – included representatives from 22 nations, Guatemalan military and civil leaders, and several international human rights organizations, who engaged in five days of dialogue about the issues inherent in involving military service members in law enforcement.

A rigorous human rights program, said Bresnahan, is more than an expression of American idealism. It’s the only sensible option in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The focus of the human rights program is on institutional capacity-building; discussions generally take place among high-ranking officials from partner nations, especially those from defense ministries. SOUTHCOM’s human rights program, however, consists of much more than these high-level seminars: The division integrates a shared vision of human rights principles and procedures into all SOUTHCOM exercises, operations, and training programs, and likewise disseminates these principles in statements of military doctrine and rules of engagement for nontraditional (i.e., law enforcement) missions. This top-to-bottom approach promotes what Leana Bresnahan, SOUTHCOM’s human rights coordinator, refers to as a “culture of respect for human rights” among partner nations.

For example, in recent years the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies has introduced more human rights material into its strategic-level curricula for visiting senior-level officers and civilians. The Defense Institute of International Legal Studies incorporates human rights training into the programs administered at Naval Station Newport, and into the courses, seminars, and workshops delivered by traveling Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers to military officers, legal advisers, and civilians in SOUTHCOM partner nations.

One of the most important elements of the command’s human rights outreach, however, may be the example set by U.S. military personnel during exercises and operations. “It’s key that our soldiers and officers have the same message,” Bresnahan said, “because they’re highly respected by partner-nation militaries.” SOUTHCOM regulations require certain types of training, delivered to partner-nation military personnel, to contain specific human rights components.

The command’s effort to bring human rights issues to the forefront of its policies and activities is only natural, considering that human rights is the issue lying at the heart of U.S. national security concerns in the region. Focusing on human rights is the right thing to do, of course, which is why American legislators – in enacting so-called “Leahy laws” since 1997 – have forbidden the departments of State and Defense from providing assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights.

A rigorous human rights program, said Bresnahan, is more than an expression of American idealism. It’s the only sensible option in Latin America and the Caribbean. “U.S. government policy is that democratic nations that respect human rights are better partners,” she said, “and they are less of a security risk for the United States, because they’re going to be generally more prosperous and stable. Concern for human rights is well embedded in our doctrine and operations – and besides being the moral thing to do, it’s also a very practical thing to do.”

This article first appeared in A Half-Century of Service: SOUTHCOM.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...