NORTHCOM Engages Mexico’s Senior Legislators
By Dialogo June 30, 2008_Seminar Provides Forum for Leaders to Discuss Top Security Issues_ Recognizing the importance of interagency coordination, strong regional relations and international partnerships to both national and hemispheric security, the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) hosted a seminar for some of Mexico's top legislative leaders last May. The seminar, held at the NORAD and USNORTHCOM headquarters located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, was held at the request of the Mexican leaders and gave them an opportunity to engage with senior U.S. military leaders on a variety of security issues that affect the hemisphere. During the warm welcome and opening remarks to the Mexican leaders, General Victor Renaurt Jr. said "Relations between the two militaries are the best they have ever been, we should all be proud" and "The three North American nations are bound together in so many ways, through trading and economics. We have grown together in ways that are historic". Also speaking at the conference was invited participant Admiral Jim Stavridis, Commander of the United States Southern Command in Miami, which is responsible for U.S. military contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for elsewhere in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. He cited the success of Colombia and the lessons that other nations could learn from such success. “The reason Colombia has turned around is because the population is taking the country back,” Admiral Stavridis said. Admiral Stavridis discussed the common security threats that affect the region, such as gang violence, drug trafficking, and how, if left uncontrolled, conditions like poverty and inequality can lead to these dangerous threats. According to Dep. Jose Edmundo Ramirez Martinez, poverty is the top reason behind the issue of migration. “The number one problem is poverty – inequality – it creates other problems (such as) lack of opportunity, migration,” he said. For this reason, Mexican leaders are working on new legislation to address migration. One especially noteworthy point of view Ramirez expressed is that illegal immigrants are not criminals in the traditional definition of the word. “One is only a criminal if he commits a crime,” he said. He also emphasized the tragic fact that for every two deportations, one child is left abandoned. Ramirez suggested that Mexico and the United States should have an economic agreement but also a migration agreement to help address the problem. Admiral Stavridis agreed. “I believe that ultimately it is an economic set of solutions (for migration) and that's why I strongly support free trade agreements between the two countries,” he said. However, General Renuart emphasized that border issues are also a concern with Canada. “The U.S. is equally attentive of the threat to cross the border through Canada,” he said. The potential exists for terrorists from Europe or other areas to enter the United States through the Canadian border. While Dep. Marco Antonio Peyrot Solis agreed with the need to improve cooperation between countries, he emphasized the difference between talk and action. “There is a difference between the message of saying the need to improve and doing the action of improving cooperation,” he said. He urged leaders to do the latter. Despite such issues, the Western Hemisphere's security environment is unique from other areas of the world because there is no conventional war threat. “In general, Western Hemisphere nations are committed to a peaceful coexistence,” said Mike Noll, director of intelligence at NORTHCOM. From an intelligence point of view, Noll stressed the notion of sharing different perspectives. “I think the word ‘perspectives' is important because you have different perspectives from different people on different things and it is useful to compare those things,” Noll said. Sharing this difference in perspectives can be vital for intelligence purposes. General Renuart supported him by saying "Our, USNORTHCOM, intent is to continue to collaborate and coordinate". Another theme stressed at the seminar was the need for interagency coordination, not just international cooperation. “No single department in our government has the capability to respond to a disaster, whether manmade or natural,” said Jim Castle, USNORTHCOM Deputy Director of Interagency Coordination. One final theme discussed at the seminar was cooperative educational opportunities, specifically, the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS) in Washington, D.C. Originally formed with the mission to educate civilian leaders, today's civilian and military graduates and partner institutions comprise communities of influence that work toward a more cooperative and stable international security environment. The CHDS is another example of how nations in the hemisphere work together and build relationships. “(It) provides an academic forum where all the countries of the Americas can discuss the issues, the challenges, that affect them,” said Dr. Richard Downie, director of the CHDS. Following the morning conference seminar, the leaders toured the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.