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IADC Transforms to Continue its Relevance in Times of New Threats

Marcos Ommati/Diálogo | 17 February 2017

Major General Da Cunha is a 2011 alumnus of the Inter-American Defense College and currently serves as the college’s deputy director. (Foto: Marcos Ommati/Diálogo)

Whether for operational reasons, to take advantage of opportunities that come up, or by mere coincidence, the last four deputy directors of the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) were Brazilian. Currently, the position is occupied by Brazilian Army Major General Rolemberg Ferreira da Cunha, who studied at IADC in 2011, and was also a teaching assistant at the institution. To talk about what it is like to be deputy director of an institution that has 64 students from 14 Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking countries, Diálogo interviewed Maj. Gen. Da Cunha at the IADC, in Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington D.C.

Diálogo: How relevant is the Inter-American Defense College today?

Major General Rolemberg Ferreira da Cunha: Even though the college is located here in the U.S. capital and is administered by a U.S. admiral, it is a completely Ibero-American teaching institution. Basically, the college is centered on the Latino community, the Spanish-speaking community, and the Portuguese-speaking community. Today, the college focuses on the challenges Latin America faces: drug trafficking, illegal immigration, natural disasters, arms smuggling, and human trafficking, among others. These are the issues in Latin America today, the so-called new threats. And what is the importance? The importance is spreading the word. The importance is the capillarity of the college. Just think about it: what college in the world today has representatives from 14 different countries? Not just that, but these are 14 countries that face the same issues. So, we have 14 countries and 64 military and civilian students. The military students have a considerable career span, and the civilians occupy high-ranking positions in their government-related institutions. They will be the ones spreading the ideas generated here, as well as all the work and studies conducted here, in all 14 countries of Latin America.

Diálogo: But the problems you mentioned, which are extremely important and are shared by all of these nations, are they not more related to security than to defense?

Maj. Gen. Da Cunha: You got to the heart of the matter. These days, we face more international threats. The traditional threats of the past, like a war between nations, do not exist currently in our region. They have been replaced, little by little, with cross-border illegal activities. Let me talk a little about what I see happening in Brazil. What are the problems Brazil faces today? In the defense area: none. Of course, the Army has to always be prepared, the forces have to be up-to-date with weapons, people, knowledge, and training. But you do not have an external threat. You have internal or cross-border threats which substantially affect life in the country. So, you cannot exclude the Armed Forces from this day-to-day situation, these issues, which are more related to security. The name of the college is Inter-American Defense College. But what is studied here is related to the areas of security and defense, so much so that a student leaves here with a diploma in hemispheric security and defense studies.

Diálogo: How did you become deputy director at IADC?

Maj. Gen. Da Cunha: The college is part of the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB). Some of the positions in the IADB system, such as the deputy director, the chief of studies here at the college, the chairman of the Council of Delegates, and the IADB secretary are elective positions. The countries submit their candidates, and then the election takes place. Of course, a lot of work has to be done to be allowed entry and to occupy this space. The countries are very interested in occupying theses spaces, which are leadership positions. There is an understanding that cycles can be renewed. Every time a country manages to appoint a person to one of these positions, the country itself is responsible for the flow of funds and, of course, the same country must have the capability to contribute these funds.

Diálogo: But the cost-benefit ratio must be favorable to the country, don't you agree?

Maj. Gen. Da Cunha: Absolutely. Since it is a multi-national college, the more people one nation puts here, regardless of the nation, the more that country’s name is promoted. Thus, having a fourth consecutive Brazilian deputy director is a way to expand the name of Brazil, the name of the Brazilian Army, and the name of the Brazilian Armed Forces. It is a way to tell others about the work we have been carrying out. In fact, Brazil is represented here at the IADC not only in a management position. We currently have two Brazilian lecturers who are members of the college faculty: Dr. Paulo Edvandro Costa Pinto and Professor Carlos Eduardo Acevedo; we have two Brazilian teaching assistants; the head of the Protocol Department is also Brazilian, as is the head of the Registration Department. We also have some sergeants working under the various departments and in administrative functions. Today, both the country of Brazil and its Ministry of Defense consider it their vocation to have as much of a presence as possible within the college. Make no mistake, this is how the country projects itself; it is a way to show Brazil’s efforts, a way for Brazil to be increasingly inserted in the context of the Americas.

Diálogo: You assumed this position in December of 2016. What do you expect to contribute to the college?

Maj. Gen. Da Cunha: I think the best way I can participate at the college is by trying to convince the Brazilian government, or Brazil’s Ministry of Defense, of the need to contribute the resources the country can offer. Of course, I have my daily mission here as deputy director, I have duties and responsibilities as per the institution’s set regulations; they are my day-to-day missions here at the college. But I think an important role I have is to try to convince our Ministry of Defense of how important it is to contribute resources to the college, both in terms of personnel and financial resources. This is essential if the college is going to succeed in attaining its objectives. Now, one of the college’s main goals is to transform a simple school into a graduate school, i.e. to have a master’s degree program here. This requires a major contribution of funds, without considering the contributions that the Army, the Armed Forces, and the Ministry of Defense already make, which is providing for the personnel it maintains and pays for here. I think this would be my major function here today. We must bear in mind that Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and the United States are the countries with the highest contributing capabilities, and this explains my most important job here, which is to ensure this liaison with the Ministry of Defense in order to accomplish the major goal of providing the maximum amount of funds and people to the college so it can continue to grow and accomplish its goals.

Diálogo: What do you expect to take back from your experience here as a benefit to Brazil?

Maj. Gen. Da Cunha: All this is of extreme value to my personal and professional training and career. You gain a lot when you work in such a multidimensional college, an institution where current, relevant topics are discussed. By participating in these discussions, you obtain a much broader vision of all the issues the Americas face. I will return to my country with a lot more knowledge of how the Americas, particularly South and Central America, see Brazil. It is important to know how these other countries see Brazil, what Brazil’s role is in relation to its neighbors, what role Brazil can play in the region and in the world, and not only in relation to the Armed Forces, but also politically.

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