The Inter-American Defense College’s Golden Age
By Dialogo October 22, 2012I did enjoy reading the participation of the Mayor of Mixco, Guatemala, about his time in the prestigious inter-American Defense College; Academic Center that I had the honor of knowing on May 2011. Also, to read about a prerecorded expression of our President, General Otto PÃ©rez Molina. I have a question, and it is that one may be ex-member of an institution, but I find it difficult that someone is former military, given that these skills are in for life. A professional die being a professional and not because the age of retirement is reached you stop being a professional. Greetings and congratulations to CIDS. this event was very important and it should take place periodically, that way we will keep ourselves up to date and informed on security and defense matters; I regret not having been there at that historical moment, congratulations to the organizers.
Admitted class of 45 and 46, advisor class of 48
The floor squeaks with every step in the auditorium of the Inter-American Defense College (IADC), where a crowd of men and women dressed in impeccable military uniforms and flawless business suits get ready to listen to the former president of Chile and acting director of United Nations Women. Witty, sharp and humble, Michelle Bachelet arrived in Fort Lesley McNair, Washington, D.C. to be part of the College’s 50th Anniversary Symposium almost two decades after she attended the school.
“Thanks to you and the ANEPE [Chile’s National Academy of Political and Strategic Studies], I became minister of defense and president of Chile,” she stated during the closing ceremony of the three-day event, which took place from October 10 to October 12, 2012. She also explained that her role in the Ministry of Defense motivated others to see civil-military relationships as a strategic matter, as a tool to consolidate the democratic processes. “The day I entered this building, my life changed,” she remembered.
Like Bachelet and many other graduates, the IADC has changed throughout history, adapted to new geopolitical realities, learned from its students. According to the director, Rear Admiral Jeffrey A. Lemmons, the higher education institution was created to promote cooperation between Western Hemisphere nations by bringing together military members from the Americas and preparing them to better understand the relations within the Inter-American system.
New voices have joined this project, and nowadays, the college, which is part of the Inter-American Defense Board, is proud of having taken part in the lives of almost 2,500 leaders, including a current president, two former presidents, 24 ministers of defense, about 800 generals and admirals, as well as legislative, ministerial, governmental, and police leaders. “Most recently, we have seen important increases in enrollment by National Police Forces, especially from Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico”, specified Rear Admiral Lemmons.
It is that blend of political, military, and academic thoughts that was represented during the debates carried out between 300 academics, government officials, ambassadors, and retired and active military service members that traveled from several nations to celebrate the college’s golden jubilee.
The role of military forces in hemispheric security – a topic that served as the theme during the event – was discussed from different perspectives and in different languages. During the opening ceremony, former student Otto Pérez Leal, whose political career in Guatemala led him to become the mayor of the city of Mixco in January 2012, explained that the joint efforts between the Army, the National Civil Police, and the Municipal Transit Police, are allowing them to reduce homicide rates. He added that it is a temporary measure, because in the Central American nation – of almost 14 million inhabitants – a reform to reduce the number of police officers from 25,000 to 22,000 was implemented.
The words of Pérez Leal served as an introduction to the address of his father, current Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina. In a recorded speech, the former military general and IADC alumni, gave his opinion about the participation of the Armed Forces in non-traditional tasks. The Guatemalan president stated that each country must decide in a sovereign manner how and in which circumstances they should rely on the Armed Forces to respond to a variety of threats, risks, and challenges that face hemispheric nations. “The role assigned to each of the Armed Forces must always be sovereign, but [must also be decided] by considering the reality of our neighboring countries, as well as the conditions that affect each of the members in the continental community,” he stated.
Another participant, Admiral Jorge Montoya, former Chief of the Joint Command of the Peruvian Armed Forces, defined the military as “warriors, willing to serve their country in whatever is necessary.” Montoya remembered that during the Pisco earthquake in 2007, the Peruvian Armed Forces set up emergency hospitals, maintained security, cleaned streets, and removed debris … “This is nothing new,” he said, and as an example, he stated that in the beginning of the 19th Century, the Peruvian Military performed civic actions in the Amazon. “When talking about the new roles of the Armed Forces, it seems as if we erased their main role, and everybody gets confused (…). In Peru, we always do what we have to do, when needed, even though it is not our role,” he insisted.
During the debates and question-and-answer sessions, topics such as the need to reinforce law enforcement training in some countries, the concept of multidimensional security and the reluctance of some that fear that the military might be trying to occupy spaces in society that are not of their concern, were discussed.
The diversity in perspectives, depth of discussions, and the art of setting out and defending divergent criteria with the utmost respect, demonstrated that the Inter-American Defense College is still promoting diversity and intelligent debate, that it is a hub for hemispheric thinking, and, above all, is a true school of mutual understanding.
“The continuing importance of the Inter-American Defense College in building and maintaining critical regional partnership cannot be overemphasized. Future leaders of many countries have shaped each other and their countries as a result of the personal relationships that began in this historic institution. The 50-year history of the IADC proves the often-heard saying that all politics are personal”, Ambassador Carmen Martínez, Civilian Deputy to the Commander and Foreign Policy Advisor, at the U.S. Southern Command, told Diálogo.
Minutes earlier, Rear Admiral Lemmons announced that, for the next 50 years of academic excellence, the IADC has established new goals. Some of these goals are to offer its own masters program in security and defense hemispheric studies, as well as moving forward to extend the range of countries that have been represented in their classrooms so far.
In order to show that the next five decades started at full speed, Lemmons invited the attendees to the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the college’s two “new” buildings. Located behind the main building, the two red brick buildings that formerly served as a dining room and lodging for officers will now be remodeled into a modern auditorium and housing for visiting professors, scholars and lecturers. The school is, therefore, expecting to increase the enrollment of students, from 60 to 100 annually.
Here, at the old Fort Mc Nair, they will find an atmosphere of collaboration and a neutral area where their knowledge is reinforced, as well as a place where better understanding of their neighbors in the continent is achieved. “To enter the college is to set foot in the Americas. Welcome to the Western Hemisphere!,” Rear Admiral Lemmons said.