Peruvian Army General Jorge Orlando Céliz Kuong assumed command of the institution in November 2018, with the important mission of turning it into a multi-mission force. In February 2019, Major General Mark Stammer, U.S. Army South commander, invited Gen. Céliz to visit several military facilities in the United States to exchange knowledge about the transformations taking place in both armies. Diálogo spoke with Gen. Céliz during his visit to Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia.
Diálogo: What did you see during your U.S. visit that could be implemented in Peru?
Peruvian Army General Jorge Orlando Céliz Kuong, commander of the Peruvian Army: The U.S. Army, as we all know, grows daily from combat experiences. They handle conventional combat better, as we saw in the Middle East, Afghanistan, or elsewhere in the world. But I also believe that the evolution of the U.S. Army and our Latin American armies should be consistent with changes, new threats, risks, etc., of this century. The best I saw in my visit to the United States is the weapons system technology they have. The use of cyber technology in their daily activities, how they conceptualize multi-domain warfare; warfare involving land, sea, air, and space, and also cyberspace. It’s very important to have a benchmark if we want to be interoperable between armies, and that benchmark is the United States.
Diálogo: Does this process of change have to do with understanding the trends of new generations?
Gen Céliz: Of course. This generation isn’t the same as 20, 30 years ago, so we have to train and instruct them. Each of the threats we face demands interoperability and involves foresight so that we can act jointly.
Diálogo: You served as an instructor at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation [WHINSEC], around 20 years ago. What are the main changes you noticed on this visit to the institute?
Gen Céliz: What I noticed is that soldiers, NCOs [noncommissioned officers], and officers now enjoy sustained comfort. The facilities, infrastructure, classrooms, and even treatment of personnel evolved. It’s more oriented to providing personnel with the comfort and well-being they and their families need, so they can respond confidently and better when they are in combat.
Diálogo: Regarding new threats, what are the countries in the region that work closely with Peru?
Gen Céliz: We’ve been working very closely with all countries in recent years. A very good example is Exercise AMAZONLOG conducted in 2017 with our neighboring and sister nations of Colombia and Brazil, as well as with the United States. We were able to be a part of a special exercise in the Amazon to confront several threats in the area. In the same vein, we work closely with Colombia, supporting a bilateral agreement between our ministers of Defense. We were able to carry out border operations in the Amazon Trapezium [in the Colombian Amazon], by the Putumayo River, to neutralize narcotraffickers or organized crime in the area. About three or four years ago, we also had direct participation with Ecuador to provide support after the earthquake in Guayaquil. We had the opportunity to send helicopters, engineering personnel, and soldiers, also in the south. This year, we planned an operation with the Chilean Army in the south, in Concordia, to mitigate an 8.5 magnitude earthquake with the participation of regional forces, the community, and regional and local authorities. With Bolivia, it’s almost always about cold spells, especially on the border. It’s the same with Ecuador. During the most recent events, due to coastal rain, we carried out exercises along the Tumbes River and the Zarumilla River, with the participation of the community and armies. What I mean is that we have common threats. Each region has individual characteristics, but we work that way to be more helpful to society.
Diálogo: And what about narcotrafficking?
Gen Céliz: You know that Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia are the main coca leaf and alkaloid producers. The National Police is directly involved in the fight against narcotrafficking. But last year , Congress granted the Armed Forces legal power to participate where a state of emergency is declared, trying to prevent supplies from reaching places with greater alkaloid production, in other words, to prevent the transport of kerosene, cement, lime, coca leaves, and other chemicals, or also to seize air or land vehicles that facilitate the trade of this material.
Diálogo: What is the multi-mission army that you want to implement in Peru? Is this an evolution?
Gen Céliz: There are different terms that might be misunderstood. We are talking in some cases about reengineering, in other cases about evolution, as you just said, and in others about modernization. For us, modernization means providing new technologies to the same forces and organizations to carry out the same tasks. In our case, it’s a transformation process because of the vision we have to carry out our tasks, with respect to our Army’s five roles. The first is to defend sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. This is common for almost everyone around the world. On the other hand, we have another strategic role: to defend or participate in internal order, if and when the National Police’s capabilities are exceeded. Right now, we focus on illegal mining in the plains, in Madre de Dios department. The first force to intervene in this case is the National Police. We provide security for that police intervention, but we would intervene if they couldn’t cope with it. That has yet to be the case. Another role of the Army is to participate in risk and disaster management. The fourth one is the strategic role, which relates to international projection.
Diálogo: What is that international projection?
Gen Céliz: International projection has to do with our participation in different events worldwide. We have various officers who serve in the United Nations peacekeeping forces, and we also have an integrated engineering company in the Central African Republic. And last, but not the least important role, is national development. This is part of the Army’s job to contribute to communities by building routes and bridges, improving roads, and bringing engineering benefits that sometimes cannot reach remote areas. We contribute to national development as part of security and as part of that development that’s so wanted by the population. All these roles I mentioned, these five roles, indicate that this is not an army for conventional warfare only; we should be prepared for everything. Each of these roles entails specific tasks that are very different from each other, so we need to have flexible organizations that know how to move an organization, or an idea, or a mission quickly and conduct another one. We have to be organized in the material, the tools available to us. We have to be interoperable, because it’s not only the Army participating, but also our Navy, our Air Force, and the National Police. We have to think quickly and be honest about being able to act patiently and cautiously to achieve everything a 21st century army would want to attain.
Diálogo: Is Peru aspiring to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) like Colombia?
Gen Céliz: Yes. We aspire to belong to NATO someday. Certainly, it’s a long-term process, but we also need to be properly categorized and implemented, so that we can speak the same language. Nowadays, the world is a global village. This is a reality, and we must be aware that we are not an island in the world, not even in Latin America. We are neighbors, and we share a series of threats. We talk about national security, but we also have a series of strengths that together would allow us to confront them [these threats] more successfully. And that’s our objective, to be part of an economic organization, or part of a group aiming at security specifically. We can’t cease to partner in this era. On the contrary, we have to stick together to solve our problems jointly, and that’s part of belonging to NATO. If there were a similar organization in Latin America, I think all the leaders and armed forces’ commanders would wish to aim for it.
Diálogo: Is there anything you would like to add?
Gen Céliz: Institutional transformation is quite a difficult and challenging goal. Some things can be done right away, without any cost, such as a change of mindset or organizational culture. When I talk to my soldiers, I tell them we have to be committed. We shouldn’t expect a sudden, overnight change or transformation. The transformation process is lengthy and long-term, and when we reach our goal we find another need for transformation, because the only permanent thing, as some ancient philosopher said, is change, and in today’s fast-paced world we have to embrace transformation on a daily basis.