Caribbean nations highlighted the importance of continuing to work jointly.
“Welcome to Trinidad and Tobago, welcome to the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) 2018”, said Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard, chief of Defence Staff of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, during his welcome remarks to defense and security leaders at the 16th annual CANSEC, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, December 4-6, 2018. “CANSEC is a partnership program; it’s a pillar of regional stability.”
Rear Adm. Pritchard took a moment during his speech to welcome U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, who assumed duties as the commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) November 26, 2018. Rear Adm. Pritchard invited the new commander and partner nation chiefs of defense and security to address regional threats affecting the Caribbean and encouraging them to work together as a synchronized network.
“We are good neighbors. In our neighborhood, the Western Hemisphere, we have more in common than anywhere else in the world and that gives us more opportunities. We have respect for human rights, we share similar values, with few exceptions, strong democratic traditions. [We’re] good neighbors that respect each other’s sovereignty, we look out for one another, looking to maximize our scarce resources, and work together,” said Adm. Faller in his first speech to Caribbean military leaders. “The flow of drugs, weapons, and illegal migrants, just to name a few of the many challenges we face in our neighborhood, all these challenges demand and our citizens demand that we achieve results, and that is why we are here today, to get things done.”
SOUTHCOM sponsors the annual regional security forum to promote dialogue among defense and security leaders, consolidate their network, work jointly to defeat regional threats, and be better prepared to respond to crises. CANSEC 2018 was the Trinidad and Tobago’s third time hosting the event.Under the theme “Enhancing the framework to counter threats and respond to crisis,” participants from Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), and the Regional Security System (RSS) debated the topics of shared understanding of threat networks and regional crisis response to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom participated as observers.
Caribbean security threats
“CANSEC’s topics are very relevant to what we are doing with respect to the challenges we face in the region,” said Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force Colonel Sir Trevor Thomas, chief of Defence Staff. “Our regional cooperation to counter security threats is healthy. What we need to do is continue to dialogue and look at each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and see how we can compensate each other. We don’t need to duplicate a lot of things, we need to do an inventory of our capabilities and look at the gaps to try to fill [them] up as much as possible.”
Participants held round tables and bilateral meetings to discuss the security threats to the Caribbean. Narcotrafficking, proliferation of small arms trafficking, the nexus between organized crime, gang activity, violence and public corruption, foreign terrorist fighters and sources of radicalization, and pandemic and natural disasters are among the main regional security challenges. However, attendees agreed that the deterioration of Venezuela’s stability also affects CARICOM countries.
“CANSEC provides an opportunity for us to interact with the other regional heads of security forces, so we can better coordinate our response to natural disasters and our response to the threats that face the Caribbean region,” said St. Kitts and Nevis Capitan Walter Bass, commander of the Coast Guard. “We are confident that the mechanism in the region that does exist includes CDEMA itself, RSS, and CARICOM IMPACS, and with the support of SOUTHCOM, we believe we are capable of addressing the issues the region faces.”
Responding to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief was on the agenda. Defense and security leaders discussed their military roles in their response to crises in a region considered the second most hazard-prone in the world.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when the next disaster, terror, mass migration occurs and we have to be ready,” said Adm. Faller. He expressed the importance of emergency preparedness and the need to understand each other’s capabilities.
CDEMA developed the Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) tool as an innovative concept for reducing the risk and loss associated with natural disasters. CDM manages all hazards through all phases of the disaster management cycle –prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, and rehabilitation. However, it needs to be improved at the local, regional, and international levels.
“CARICOM’s two frameworks –CDEMA and IMPACS– demonstrate that the region is more effective when there is collaboration, as was seen during last year’s  devastating hurricane season,” said Adm. Faller. “One thing we learned in the aftermath, with all these disasters in our military missions and in our neighborhood, is that teamwork wins.”
Noncommissioned officer development
In parallel to the main event, CANSEC 2018 brought together Caribbean senior noncommissioned officers (NCO) to discuss their roles. Senior NCOs had the opportunity to talk about their experiences and to exchange ideas on how to improve the professional enlisted corps.
“CANSEC is a great opportunity to keep building our senior enlisted program,” said Warrant Officer Class 1 Neil W. R. Lashley, of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Command. “We need to keep moving forward, build a strong relationship, and continue the dialogue with one another.”
Compromise for the future
In the face of real threats, regional leaders concluded on the importance of collective security, information sharing, and continued key threat exercises between partner nations. At the same time, they agreed, it’s necessary to enhance communication between regional organizations and to consolidate response networks for emergencies and disasters.
“Actions involve accountability. I am committed to working together,” said Adm. Faller. “It’s about the collective security of all of us.”