United to Fight Transnational Threats
By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo August 23, 2016Transnational security threats keep South American countries active and vigilant. Among the agenda topics for the “South American Regional Countering Transnational Threats Seminar" were the challenges presented by international terrorism, transnational organized crime, and cyber-security. The seminar brought security and defense experts together along with about 100 officers from the armed forces of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Perú, the United States, and Uruguay. The seminar took place in Bogotá, Colombia, from August 9th-11th and was organized by the William J. Perry Center (WJPC) of the U.S. National Defense University and the Regional Center for Strategic Security Studies of the Colombian War College (ESDEGUE, for its Spanish acronym). Participants in the forum also discussed strategies and policies that could help counter security problems and the military's role in the fight against criminal networks. “We need to figure out how to fight this battle together,” said Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, Military Deputy Commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), during his opening remarks. Lt. Gen. DiSalvo said the fight against transnational threats requires new mechanisms for cooperating regionally and globally because criminal networks have expanded their geographic reach and penetrated a broader swath of businesses. They are now involved in at least 14 illegal activities, he noted, ranging from the trafficking of cocaine and people to illegal mining. These security threats, Lt. Gen. DiSalvo insisted, “bleed governments dry and undermine national security.” Common Security Problems It is crucial to analyze the transnational threats that affect South America in order to find ways they can be addressed jointly. “This is a setting in which we share lessons learned, best practices, where we can get a clearer picture of transnational problems by listening to the other nations," said Major General Juan Carlos Salazar Salazar, director of ESDEGUE, when he spoke to Diálogo about the seminar's importance. International unity against shared threats, added Maj. Gen. Salazar, will facilitate the fight against criminal organizations that benefit from "gray zones" in each nation's legal norms in order to "wander" across borders. “The problem of transnational threats is a global problem," retired Peruvian Army Brigadier General Augusto Álvarez Torres, an academic researcher on security issues, told Diálogo. “There is excellent international cooperation in fighting the threats, both in the academic part and in the preparation of operations. If we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and try to resolve this problem on our own, we won't be able to.” The Link to Terrorism The connection between criminal organizations and terrorism is evident in South America. “The problem of terrorism is an old problem, especially narco-terrorism. We must take the view that drug trafficking got involved with terrorism some time ago in Colombia, in Peru, in various countries of the continent,” said Marcus Reis, an attorney and specialist focused on organized crime in Brazil. Reis said a seed of cooperation has been planted that must continue to be cultivated so that any inconveniences generated by the topic of inter-agency cooperation and sovereignty can be resolved. This must be done, he added, because "not only is Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, or Uruguay threatened; the threat is continent-wide.” According to Major Moggar Frederes De Mattos from the military police of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, the joint work between national and international agencies is bearing positive fruit. “It's a huge challenge because organized crime has the ability to mutate, to constantly transform itself, and this is a big problem for us, but we are on the right path.” The New Cyber Threat South America confronts a new security challenge in the field of cybernetics. The countries must develop security policies for cyberspace in order to counteract new activity in this area by criminal networks. “No country in the world or in the region can ignore what's going on in cyberspace. Everything that occurs in cyberspace impacts individuals, communities, society, and the nation as a whole,” Boris Saavedra, WJPC associate professor of national security and defense issues, explained to Diálogo. To the extent that cyberspace is fertile terrain for terrorism, "the role of the armed forces is vital because [cyberspace] is war's newest platform," according to retired Colombian Army Colonel Jairo Andrés Cáceres García, a research fellow on cyber-war and military logistics at ESDEGUE. Col. Cáceres added that cyber-war is the new theater of operations, given that in cyberspace there are no laws or norms, and it is very hard to determine who the enemy is. He believes countries need cyber-soldiers and cyber-police to patrol the networks in search of the transmission of messages and the coordination of operations by illicit groups. After three days of analysis, those attending the regional seminar concluded that the best way to address these security problems is through joint, coordinated efforts. Retired Uruguayan Engineering Corps Colonel Ulises Prada, an academic researcher, said “this is a problem that threatens all of us equally, this crosses borders… These international criminals are constantly changing what they do, and what is happening today in Colombia can happen tomorrow in Uruguay; that's why it's important we stay up to date, keep in contact, and take advantage of each others' experiences." At the conclusion of the seminar, the officers from the armed forces and South American security experts pledged to carry back to their countries the initial invitation from Lt. Gen. DiSalvo. “We must work together, we must work better."