SOUTHCOM Commander Discusses Regional Security Issues at Defense Forum

SOUTHCOM Commander Discusses Regional Security Issues at Defense Forum

By Steven McLoud/Diálogo
December 16, 2021

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Enhancing U.S. security through partnerships and alliances with other nations was the topic discussed by U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and U.S. Navy Admiral John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and other panelists at the Reagan National Defense Forum on December 4, 2021.

The forum focused on how the United States can lead the world in an era of increasingly complex challenges and opportunities.

Gen. Richardson, who assumed command of SOUTHCOM this past October, spoke about the importance of Colombia and Brazil in the Western Hemisphere, two of the largest and longstanding security partners of the United States in the region.

“Given all of the challenges that we have — the cross-cutting threats that challenge our collective security across all domains — our allies and partners exponentially make us stronger,” Gen. Richardson said. “I think we have to look at that from that perspective, of what they have to bring and what we have to bring. We have to look at it from their perspective and their lens. A lot of times we look only through … our lens.”

Speaking of the importance of training and exercises, Gen. Richardson said U.S. allies want to partner with the United States, adding, “I think that we’ve got to capitalize upon that.”

Military exercises give the United States and its partner nations opportunities to showcase their professional militaries and help train partners, who become key exporters of security in the region, she emphasized. “The partner nations that we have, the relationships that we have in that region are really tremendous […],” the SOUTHCOM commander said. “When you look at some of these exercises, UNITAS, PANAMAX, Tradewinds, these are all names of exercises that many of you have already heard of, and that have been around for many, many years, but it gives the opportunity to showcase the professional militaries that we do have and these partner nations have.”

Another topic at the forum was China’s presence in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 19 of the 31 countries in the Western Hemisphere have indicated a willingness to participate in the Chinese project. Alluding to the situation several African countries face due to mounting debts from BRI funding and security concerns, Gen. Richardson said that Latin America could go down that road as well.

“As I go through this and I see the things that the different countries sign up for, there’s a buyer’s remorse at some point, because the host nation workers are not used for these Belt and Road Initiatives,” she said. “Chinese workers come in, and then that, in my mind, helps with the spread of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and the military bases and the state-owned enterprises that China has and is using throughout Latin America.”

Gen. Richardson went on to say that one way in which the U.S. can combat the lure of the BRI in the region is by sharing information, technologies, and relationships.