“We live in a time in which peacekeeping operations demand military and civilian leadership,” said Argentine Army Lieutenant General Bari del Valle Sosa, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Argentine Armed Forces, as he addressed defense leaders in his country. Argentina hosted the 2018 edition of the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) for the first time in Buenos Aires, August 28th-29th. “The global security environment is the most complex, volatile, and unpredictable of all. Given this challenge, strengthening our strategic awareness capabilities to adopt measures to forecast and create mechanisms to avoid conflict or facilitate crisis management, must be a priority.”
U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which sponsors the annual meeting, inaugurated SOUTHDEC 2018. “Welcome to SOUTHDEC! Thank you all for joining us. Your presence is a testament to your commitment to our shared security, and to the strength of our ties between our many nations,” Adm. Tidd said. “SOUTHDEC is the perfect forum to identify these opportunities, together, to share ideas to enhance collaboration and coordinate our actions.”
Under the theme South American military contributions toward world peace, participants from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay Peru, and the United States discussed the armed forces’ responsibility in peacekeeping operations, while sharing experiences and lessons learned on the topic. Canada, Spain, the United Nations (UN) Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Georgia Army National Guard, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the Argentine Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Inter-American Defense Board also attended the event as observers.
SOUTHDEC 2018 was carried out under the framework of camaraderie among partner nations, whose commanders discussed the regional contribution to peacekeeping operations and military support for interagency work, in addition to regional armies’ support to missions from other government agencies. For two days, participants addressed the topics in roundtables and bilateral meetings. A seminar for senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) was conducted simultaneously, to discuss NCOs’ professional development and the educational system for their professionalization in the region.
“SOUTHDEC enables us to coordinate the armed forces’ efforts in the region to focus on common goals, considering that we all share the same values in terms of democracy, human rights, etc.,” said General Arturo Merino Núñez, chairman of the Chilean Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We participate in peacekeeping missions, and one of our greatest contributions was Haiti. We are now in the process of evaluating where to deploy our troops in the future. We still have 59 men deployed in different missions worldwide.”
“SOUTHDEC allows us to have an open and frank dialogue about all threats and problems in the region,” said Army General Juan Bautista Yepes Bedoya, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Colombian Military Forces. “The threats are the same, such as narcotrafficking, illegal weapons, explosives, and smuggling, among others. The latest is illegal immigration.”
Admiral Paulo Gómez Benítez, commander of the Paraguayan Navy, stressed the importance of this issue for the region. “Peace is the most important thing in the world; development is impossible without peace. What we should always protect is peace,” he said. “We have limited experience in peacekeeping operations, but we learn a lot when we listen to other countries’ experiences, so we can improve our performance in the future.”
Regional peacekeeping force
Most participating nations in SOUTHDEC 2018 have extensive experience in UN peacekeeping missions. Experience and lessons learned in each mission provide blue helmets and each country force unprecedented opportunities for development.
“There’s a new outlook on peacekeeping missions,” Lt. Gen. Del Valle said. “We’re trying to develop something from scratch, an element that would enable us to think about regional coordination, a regional organization to act in these types of missions, and slowly develop methodologies to move forward in this direction.”
Colombia supported the idea. “We need to get together and create a great regional peacekeeping force with the same norms and training, so that each country can make a contribution,” Gen. Yepes said. “That’s the way we should go, so all countries in the region can walk in one direction.”
The idea also made sense for Chile. “South America contributes a great deal to worldwide peace and security through the participation of its armed forces in worldwide peacekeeping operations,” said Gen. Merino. “We must consider the possibility for our region to be much more integrated with peacekeeping operations, in which we could have a combined force of several nations to enable better participation in future peacekeeping operations.”
SOUTHDEC 2018 concluded with attendees committing to continue coordinated regional work to promote peace. “We live in a peaceful continent, but peace isn’t infinite. We face new threats and challenges,” Argentine Minister of Defense Oscar Raúl Aguad said at the closing ceremony. “The fact that you are gathered together fosters peace in the continent, a fraternal bond between the peoples of South America. This extraordinary cooperation and closeness with the United States is a guarantee for our people and a relationship that we need to leverage in this era of challenges.”
Every year since 2009, SOUTHCOM carries out SOUTHDEC to promote communication among defense leaders about issues of common interest and to improve regional cooperation. Brazil will host SOUTHDEC 2019.