The Center For Hemispheric Defense Studies: A Nexus For Knowledge
By Dialogo July 01, 2011
In the early 1990s, Latin American defense officials expressed deep concerns
that civilians knew little about the defense and military issues in their countries.
William Perry, the U.S. secretary of defense at the time, envisioned an educational
institution tailored to the unique requirements of the Western Hemisphere. He
proposed the creation of a regional center to address this concern during the second
Defense Ministerial meeting held in Bariloche, Argentina, in 1996.
From then until September 1997, a team from the U.S. Department of Defense
and the National Defense University worked to prepare for what became the Center for
Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS). The team consulted with regional stakeholders,
including defense ministries and civilian academics, on how to better integrate
security and defense issues in revitalized democracies with a need for strengthened
civilian defense and security leadership.
Located within the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., CHDS
opened its doors September 17, 1997. It soon established itself as a forum for
exchanging information and became a reference place for academics from the United
States, Latin America and the Caribbean, providing courses, seminars and workshops
on key defense and security matters.
In an interview with Diálogo, Richard Downie, the school’s director, said
CHDS is the U.S. Department of Defense’s regional center for the Americas. “We began
by focusing on educating primarily civilians in the defense and security community,
and our mission was and still is primarily to help in that arena,” said Downie. “Due
to the authoritarian regimes that had persisted in Latin America for decades, our
role initially was to help educate a core of people – mostly civilians – who knew
little about security and defense,” he added.
Since many countries in the region faced a new phenomenon of civilian control
of the military, the newly created CHDS focused heavily on helping the civilian
defense and security community understand how to lead military and security
agencies. From the beginning, emphasis was placed on the essentials of defense
policy and resource management. “We have a key role in terms of offering quality
security and defense policy education for those who otherwise might not have that
opportunity,” said Downie.
The original role of CHDS has since evolved to a tailored outreach effort to
inform perceptions of threats and to help educate civilian as well as military and
security personnel. As part of the security and defense policy curricula, which
includes effective interagency coordination, the school also conducts outreach
efforts for defense ministries and cabinets to help them develop and refine their
defense policies and national security strategies.
Downie said some of the main topics currently discussed at the center involve
Transnational Criminal Organizations, the resulting illicit trafficking, and the
interagency coordination necessary to confront it – not only within countries but by
collaborating internationally. “We examine the threats and discuss how to better
cooperate and coordinate internally, within and among countries, in order to be able
to focus on the most effective means to counter them,” explained the
Still, he said, the students at CHDS are interested in many other areas,
including the evolving role of the military into nontraditional roles and the
influence of China and Iran in the region. “CHDS is fortunate to have on our
faculty, for example, some of the region’s leading authorities on the Chinese
presence in the region, on information technology and homeland security, and on
illicit networks,” said Downie.
THE MISSION OF THE CHDS
• Provide education and conduct outreach, research and knowledge-sharing
activities on defense and international security policymaking with military and
civilian leaders of the Western Hemisphere.
• Advance international security policy and defense decisionmaking processes;
foster partnerships and promote effective civil-military relations in democratic
• Contribute to a cooperative international security environment and mutual
understanding of priority U.S. and regional defense and international security
The center offers various course levels, from introductory courses to more
advanced courses with a deeper focus on particular areas and in a discussion format.
These cover topics about external actors and the dynamics of political changes
within the region. To ensure that the program remains relevant and deals with the
appropriate themes needed in the region, the school constantly reviews its courses,
seminars, workshops and other activities.
When CHDS was founded, civilian-military relations were a big issue, Downie
said. Some courses were developed to break down barriers to integrate civilian and
military personnel. “There are people in our courses who – based at times on their
countries’ history and other times on their own personal prejudice – would see a
member of the military – or, for that matter, the police – and want to avoid that
person,” he explained. “But after a week,” he added, “we see shields drop and people
start working together.”
Fourteen years after the founding of the center, Downie believes facilitation
efforts that bring civilians and military personnel together are still needed. “We
provide a unique opportunity for that dynamic to work,” he said. “We help to promote
understanding, enhance individual and institutional capacity, and build
relationships that allow us to confront the threats we face together.”
FOUNDATIONAL COURSES: Designed to give participants a solid foundation
concerning the issues confronting the defense and security sectors: • Strategy &
Defense Policy • Perspectives on Homeland Security and Defense Course (PHSD) •
Caribbean Defense and Security Course (CDSC) • Inter-Agency Coordination and
Combating Terrorism (ICCT)
ADVANCED COURSES: Primarily designed to enhance and continue the
education of CHDS Fellows (graduates): • Terrorism and Counterinsurgency (TCI) •
Advanced Defense Policy (ADP)
For more information on the CHDS, visit: www.ndu.edu/chds
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