The Inter-American Defense Board in the Western Hemisphere
By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo September 21, 2016
As has become the tradition, the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) was present at the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) 2016, which took place in Montevideo, Uruguay from August 16th -19th. The president of the Counsel of Delegates of the Inter-American Defense Board, Peruvian Navy Vice Admiral Gonzalo Ríos Polastri, briefed participants about the international organization, and, Diálogo leveraged his presence to talk to him about the role and concrete effects of the IADB in the region, among other topics.
Diálogo: Why is it important for the IADB to participate in events like SOUTHDEC 2016?
Vice Admiral Gonzalo Ríos Polastri: For us, this is a valuable opportunity that allows us not only to share ideas, but also to have direct contact with regional leaders of the armed forces. Introducing the Inter-American Defense Board is, undoubtedly, a special honor. It is an organization that will turn 75 years old next year, created in an environment, and with an absolutely different mission than what it has today: a history of changes that reflect the same course on the international scene and the political perspectives within the hemisphere. Thus, today it corresponds to specifically non-operations roles with competencies and mandates issued by the Organization of American States (OAS) which, starting in 2006, has incorporated the IADB into its structure, thus modifying it. These changes include the democratic election to leadership positions. In this sense, we must thank those of us who are currently performing a function, due to the vote of confidence issued by the countries for which we are currently working. This would not be but for the valuable support of the human resources with which the countries present allow us to organize, and for the most part, the functioning of our agencies.
Diálogo: Usually, military personnel use C2 to refer to Command and Control, but for the IADB this has a slightly different meaning, doesn’t it?
Vice Adm. Ríos: Yes. For the IADB, outside of an operations or tactical environment, as specifically mandated by the OAS, where they deal with a variety of political views, C2 has a different meaning. Internally, within the organization, and what we project outside, C2 means Cooperation and Coordination. A “cooperation and coordination” where individual or common abilities can be used to serve what states or regions require, and where the experience and individual learning of the members can benefit the whole. That is really the goal we wish to reach. And these references cause us to view the hemisphere as a region where the principles, such as the peaceful resolution of controversies, respecting countries’ sovereignty, and internal matters are basic norms of coexistence highlighted in the Charter of the OAS. The main roles of the armed forces in this sense remain absolutely valid in preserving the intangibility of the governments. But, alongside this, evolution puts us in a situation of marked interdependency when we confront the other operational action scenarios that, currently and for the most part, go beyond national borders. In some of them, because of their natural link to environmental challenges, require cooperative action that requires a peaceful, humane response because they respond to concerns of the organized society of nations.
Diálogo: Does the IADB hope to be a part of the response to organized transnational crime?
Vice Adm. Ríos: Actually, the actions we must take today to confront these networks [of transnational crime] do not allow for the slightest delay. The IADB hopes to be a part of the institutionalization of responses and, through the action of its members, reach the possibilities of formulating policies, as well as share useful national experiences in the sovereign interest of each country.
Diálogo: How does the Inter-American Board fit into the context of the Organization of American States in its current context?
Vice Adm. Ríos: The OAS has defined four pillars of its strategy, four basic pillars of its functioning: democracy, human rights, multidimensional security, and development. Out of these pillars, naturally, the board is part of the pillar of multidimensional security, even though the actions of defense and military affairs, which are the specific competency of the board, are likewise reflected in any of the other fields of activity that have been defined. In this sense, the OAS currently finds itself carrying out strategic planning through a commission and the Inter-American Board; the strategic planning of its actions, derived from mandates and the Charter of the OAS, have reached the working group that is in charge of the strategic planning. This way, defense and military affairs make up a real part of the general strategy and vision of the OAS.
Diálogo: As for natural disasters, what is the role of the IADB in the region?
Vice Adm. Ríos: As for natural disasters, the board is part of the Inter-American Committee [for the Reduction of Natural Disasters], but it does not have an operations role. It definitely has a coordination role through the member states. This coordination role can be more efficient in that it can rely on information provided by the states themselves. In this sense, once an emergency has taken place, in accordance with what is in the Inter-American System, the immediate response is from the country itself and neighboring countries – the responsible organizations in the region. But often, subsequent actions require revisiting the community responsibility to increase their capabilities as well. It happened in the events in Dominica, the last hurricane, where after the immediate reaction and focus on the emergency, the need to look for military engineering that could help Dominican forces or Dominican security forces to reconstruct or increase their capacities so that the same failures would not reoccur, they could be coordinated by means of information within member states that offered training opportunities in this type of topic. In the wake of the last earthquake in Ecuador, the board formed a situation room within its capabilities to keep the Secretary General of the Permanent Counsel up to date on the events, and tried to design a common operational plan that would work, since the authorities in Ecuador had very good organization in terms of their needs, and allowed it to be conveniently channeled for the vision of the OAS.
Diálogo: What about with respect to humanitarian demining?
Vice Adm. Ríos: This is a particular role of the board, which has concrete effects in the hemisphere. Since 1991, the IADB has actively contributed to resolving the mine problem and the declaration of an antipersonnel mine-free zone in Central America: in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Thereafter, once the Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines (known by the Spanish acronym AICMA) Program was incorporated into the OAS, the vision was developed in Peru and Ecuador, on the binational border, which has now become a bilateral program outside of the framework of the OAS, and the AICMA Program was developed in Colombia. There is now an Inter-American Board mission made up of members from Brazil which now includes Mexico, and we have two more countries that have offered their availability to deploy in Colombia as international monitors under the auspices of the OAS. The main function of the monitors is to follow and assure quality control of demining operations. They don’t get directly involved in a demining operation, but assure the OAS and donor countries that it gets carried out under quality conditions. This allows the OAS to work directly with the sponsorship and the support of its member states, rather than with non-governmental organizations all the time.
Diálogo: Can you talk a little about the Inter-American Defense College?
Vice Adm. Ríos: The Inter-American Defense College is already 55 years old. Fifty-six years ago, the Counsel of Delegates decided that a request that highlights the training of regional leaders, that highlights community efforts and community ideas, is important. I believe that it is just as valid today as when our leaders thought about starting the IADC. The recently achieved success of awarding accredited master’s degrees based on leadership is fundamental. The IADC’s unique position is that it does not have a national view like all war colleges or advanced training colleges. It has a hemispheric view. The Counsel of Delegates, by means of one of its commissions, takes care that this vision gets updated and responds to the needs of the hemisphere. The curriculum is revised when the program, including the accreditation program, merits it, in order to give it consistency. This year, there are already 17 countries participating in the course. Every year, the IADC places approximately 70 professionals from the Masters of Hemispheric Security and Defense program in countries in the region. They not only go on to become main advisers to their respective governments in the fields of defense and military affairs or security in general, because it covers participation in a variety of state components, but it also allows for networks to be established. I’m speaking very personally as a graduate of the IADC: the opportunities I’ve received to cultivate and implement the bonds I gained at the school have been fundamental.