For the second time, Jamaica co-hosted the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) 2023, held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, June 6-9, 2023.
CANSEC, a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) annual regional security forum, brought together 21 nations, under the theme, “Strengthening Regional Security Through Informed Action.” CANSEC aims at fostering ties of cooperation, examining challenges, sharing lessons learned, and enhancing cooperation on security and defense issues.
“The security threats we collectively face have increased in scope and intensity since we were together in Barbados during April of last year . Vital elements of democracy, such as free and fair elections, plurality, and separation of powers, are still under attack. Climate change and environmental degradation remain threat multipliers and pose a significant risk to our security. The fallout of COVID-19 continues to impact our economies. The malign activities of the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and transnational criminal organizations remain. And the dire situation in Haiti casts a long shadow over the region,” U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, SOUTHCOM’s commander, said in her opening remarks.
Gen. Richardson cautioned participants that in the cyber domain, state actors like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea along with non-state cybercriminal and hacktivist groups are operating in the gray zone to deploy advanced and low-cost tools in an attempt to influence, undermine, and destabilize societies. Russia is also generating disinformation campaigns and supporting the authoritarian regimes in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba. She added that climate change continues to be a critical issue that negatively affects military readiness and security, a threat that expands mission requirements, degrades readiness, and diminishes military resources.
Underlining shared interests to counter common security threats, Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman, chief of Defense Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), in turn, welcomed CANSEC participants.
“Your presence at this meeting is another clear demonstration of your commitment to the cooperative approach required to address the crime and security challenges impacting our region,” Rear Adm. Wemyss Gorman said.
“As we come together to discuss measures to address the various threats impacting our borders and the region as a whole, many of us continue to be confronted with the rising negative impact of transnational organized crime in our societies. It has always been our position within the Caribbean that, given our shared geographic space and shared challenges, a cohesive and coordinated approach is necessary to ensure our security and our development prospects,” Rear Adm. Wemyss Gorman added.
On a virtual speech, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness commended CANSEC’s discussions on climate change and environmental and cyber security.
“Matters related to climate change and environmental security are now at the top of our minds. In this region we are all too familiar with the astronomical costs to individuals, communities, companies, and the national economy, because of the natural weather events such as hurricanes, flooding or earthquakes,” Holness said. “There are no quick fixes in the area of security, and our successes against threats that we continue to face require an unrelenting focus and commitment on all our parts.”
Security ministers, chiefs of defense, and police commissioners from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago attended the conference. Canada, France, Mexico, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom attended the event as observers. Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos were also present.
Representatives from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency and the Regional Security System attended as well as the Inter-American Defense Board, delegations from the U.S. National Guard State Partnership program and other U.S. government agencies.
CANSEC opened with a presentation about the Caribbean region. JDF Lieutenant Colonel Kerry-Ann Arthurs Brissette, commanding officer of the Military Intelligence Unit, lamented that the region is one of the most violent in the Western Hemisphere and serves as a transshipment point for the illicit trafficking of cocaine from South and Central America.
“The Caribbean region suffers from some of the world’s highest rates of violent deaths at almost three times the global average,” Lt. Col. Brissette said.
In light of the threats, regional leaders recognized CANSEC’s importance to support mutual goals and common interests.
“CANSEC brings Caribbean regional partner nations, the military, and the police services, together to look at ways and means for us to increase our capacity and capabilities toward security threats in the region that are common to all of us,” Commodore Raymond King, chief of Staff of the Royal Bahamas Force, said. “No one country has all of the resources it needs. And if we pool our resources together, and if we devise frameworks from a regional perspective, we will be more successful because we will have a network countering a network or transnational criminal networks.”
For Divisional Commissioner of Police Jean Pedro Mars, commandant of the Haitian Coast Guard, “CANSEC is very important because of the challenges we face in one country, it can affect all the Caribbean countries. We need to bring all the challenges and we all can put solutions together.”
At the cyber defense debate, participants discussed opportunities to build a regional operational frame on potential cyberthreats, sharing information capabilities, possible barriers to bilateral or regional cooperation, and steps to develop regional operating procedures and critical infrastructure’s protection protocols to counter cyberthreats.
The discussion about climate change and environmental security ushered in ideas of new opportunities to strengthen regional intelligence, as well as ways for military and security forces to prepare to address the consequences of climate and environmental changes.
“It’s groups like this that can actually make a difference. We’re only limited by our imagination, because if we have the ideas, we can counter this [threat],” Gen. Richardson reminded Caribbean leaders as the conference concluded. “Bring team democracy together; coalition of the willing can make it happen.”