Senior Defense Leaders Discuss the Changing Role of the Military in Latin America
By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo August 18, 2016nueva agenda? The 2016 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) started on a different and, unfortunately, sad note on August 17th in Montevideo, Uruguay. A minute of silence was observed in honor of Uruguayan Air Force Captain Fernando Martín De Rebolledo and 2nd Lieutenant Gonzalo Correa, both of whom died a day prior in a tragic accident involving a military helicopter close to Montevideo’s Carrasco International Airport. Right after, Army General Nelson Eduardo Pintos González, Uruguayan Chief of Defense Staff, inaugurated the conference by explaining how the role of the military in his country has recently changed. “In 2015, the Uruguayan Military Policies for Defense established a more robust participation of our Armed Forces in activities such as disaster relief that benefit our population, since there’s no foreseen armed conflict among our regional nations. Of course, this can never interfere with the main and original role of our military, which is national defense.” U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command Commander (SOUTHCOM) followed his Uruguayan counterpart to address military and civilian leaders from eight other nations, as well as representatives from the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), the Inter-American Defense College (IADC), and other institutions and authorities who were in Montevideo to discuss security and defense issues from August 16th – 18th. “Why is that role changing?” Adm. Tidd asked the audience in reference to the conference’s theme, Changing the Role of the Military in the Region. “To start with, I think we’d all agree that the global security environment is the most complex, volatile, and unpredictable in at least the last half-century – certainly longer than any of us have been on active service. We’re no longer simply dealing with conventional conflicts that displace millions of people and destabilize entire regions — we’re also facing complex, networked threats like transregional crime and violent extremism that transcend borders and boundaries,” he said. Both Adm. Tidd and Gen. Pintos agree that these challenges don’t just blur the lines between domestic security and defense — they transcend geographic borders, hemispheres, and domains. During their opening remarks, they mentioned that these challenges, especially transnational organized crime and humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts, require more than just multinational cooperation; they require a broader understanding of the complex global environment and demand adaptive and creative responses by re-conceptualized security forces. After their remarks, SOUTHDEC 2016 participants from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and the United States walked across the street with Gen. Pintos and Adm. Tidd to the gravesite of Uruguayan national military hero and leader José Gervasio Artigas Arnal, considered the father of Uruguayan nationhood. Both leaders honored him with flowers, before the defense authorities went back to carry on with the conference. During the conference, participants exchanged ideas on the evolution of the role of militaries in maintaining international peace and stability under the United Nations mandate, the role of women in the military, the partner nations’ support to peacekeeping missions, and how to effectively run transregional threat networks for security missions in the future. Both Adm. Tidd and Gen. Pintos have previously stressed the importance of continuing cooperative partnerships to ensure the successful execution of future peacekeeping missions and to maintain stability throughout the region. SOUTHDEC has always had the objective of creating a place for military chiefs to discuss subjects that have a direct influence on the region, thereby achieving an increased level of understanding, friendship, and cooperation in the defense area. This year’s conference is no different.