“We need your cooperation to continue to make our region a zone of peace, a zone that is free from the scourges of money laundering, piracy, terrorism,” said Guyanese Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo during his welcome remarks to military and defense leaders at the 16th annual Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), held in Georgetown, Guyana, from December 6th-7th, 2017.
U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) sponsors the regional security forum to foster dialogue among chiefs of defense and public security ministers and examine threats to Caribbean stability and improve regional security cooperation. For the 2017 edition, Guyana made its mark as the first South American nation to host CANSEC. “CANSEC offers us one significant platform where we can share our resources and pool our ideas,” added Prime Minister Nagamootoo.
Under the theme “Unifying regional action to counter transregional and transnational threat networks (T3N),” participants from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and the Regional Security System discussed regional security threats to find new mechanisms to collaborate through real time information sharing and consolidate efforts to strengthen the stability of the Caribbean region. Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom attended as observers.
“Our world is driven by networks. They are a defining characteristic of our daily lives. We rely on them. We are part of them. And we are threatened by them […] We see both traditional and non-traditional threats coexisting and reinforcing one another,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander of SOUTHCOM. “Our security cooperation is now a system—a network—that binds together the nations of the Western Hemisphere.”
“Organized networks are seeking to profit at all costs from the illegal sales, offer and or trafficking of drugs, humans, and weapons, and from the trading of other illegal commodities,” said Brigadier Patrick West, chief of staff of the Guyana Defence Force. “At the same time, conflict groups are being increasingly funded by extreme groups, illicit trade, and illegal activities.”
These include cybercrime networks which increasingly threaten regional security, leaders stated. “These networks are growing, their reaches are expanding, porous borders and powerful non-state actors challenge bilateral arrangements,” said Brig. West. “We need now more than ever to be able to be in step with or ahead of this new level of technological challenge within the region.”
Attendees discussed their concern for regional youth radicalization. “As of 2017, the Caribbean region has seen a number of foreign fighters who left our shores, [they’ve] gone to Syria and Iraq to fight,” said Callixtus Joseph, regional crime and security strategy coordinator at CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security. “The threat picture in the region has changed. We have more complexity in the region.”
Natural disaster response
At the conclusion of a particularly active hurricane season, CANSEC participants discussed the military role in natural disaster response. They exchanged experiences and lessons learned about emergency response challenges during hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The regional response effort was “networked collaboration at its finest,” said Adm. Tidd. “While the devastation wrought by these two hurricanes was unprecedented, so was the seamless collaboration displayed by our nations, rapidly assessing the situation, connecting needs with capabilities, and sharing information,” he added. “I am confident that this network will continue to serve us well.”
Noncommissioned Officer Corps
The two-day conference was paralleled by a seminar that brought together Caribbean nation sergeant majors to analyze the role of noncommissioned officers (NCO). Senior NCOs from the region’s armed forces shared experiences, exchanged knowledge, and highlighted the importance of a professional enlisted corps.
“It’s important to be part of events such as CANSEC, because as sergeant majors, we have to be able to understand what our commanders are focused on, so we can be able to assist them,” said Belize Defence Force Sergeant Major of the Army Roberto Pop. “We are trying to develop a system where we can give NCOs more authority and develop their capacities.”
Homologous senior enlisted leaders addressed topics such as how to expand, sustain, and connect regional networks and mechanisms to increase collaboration in intelligence and information to face security challenges. “Together, as one network, we can also build another network, an interconnected network of security, prosperity, and resiliency that extends throughout the Americas,” Adm. Tidd concluded.