Spotlight: A Conversation With Our Leaders

Regional Partner Nations Share a Common Need for Security Cooperation

Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, U.S. Southern Command’s Military Deputy Commander, talked to Diálogo about his recent visit to Nicaragua and the common interest the United States and the Central American nation share in increasing the military-to-military relationship between them.
Claudia Sánchez-Bustamante/Diálogo | 30 June 2016

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, is U.S. Southern Command’s Military Deputy Commander. (Photo: Geraldine Cook/Diálogo)

Lieutenant General Joseph P. DiSalvo, U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Military Deputy Commander, recently met with Nicaraguan government and military authorities in the country’s capital, Managua, to discuss security cooperation issues and a common interest in increasing the military-to-military relationship between both countries.

To learn more about SOUTHCOM’s approach to improved relationships with Nicaragua and other countries and his perspective on this topic, Diálogo met with the Military Deputy Commander.

Diálogo: What is the Command’s vision in re-establishing relationships with countries including Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia (which may have been more reticent to work/engage with us until now)?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: Right now, U.S. Southern Command is very open to establishing relationships with any of the countries in the Area of Operations. Regardless of where we are at politically, I think we have a common thread with all our partners on the need for regional cooperation for security. Of course, we are seeing that. For example, I was just in Nicaragua about three weeks ago, and it was very interesting. We had the opportunity to meet with the Chief of Defense, their service chiefs, the President, the First Lady, and the first line out of President Ortega’s mouth was he looks forward to improving military-to-military relationships with the United States. Ecuador, with the devastating earthquake they’ve had, gave us a great opportunity to offer any assistance that they invite us to have, and we responded with an air traffic control tower, set up capabilities for them, and that resonated very well. Bottom line is we’ll take these relationships wherever these countries want to go. The last thing we want to do is rush them into doing something they are not prepared to do. Usually, we have to be very measured. In fact, we encourage them to take some slow steps at a time so that they know what they’re getting into and what the expectations are, and so they don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do too much at one time. But there is a lot of opportunity. With Bolivia, quite frankly, there is still very, very little contact, but the contact we do have a lot of the message is the same: When the time is right, they look forward to improving and increasing the relationship. So, overall, I think it’s looking pretty encouraging.

Diálogo: What is your perspective on this as SOUTHCOM’s Military Deputy Commander?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: As far as the role goes, I think that anything that I can do to help get the relationships either reignited or started up to begin with. I just really take my cues from Admiral Tidd, what his intent is, how far he sees the Command building those relationships… But any time we can get folks down to the countries to talk to them, and really, just take time to listen. Listening speaks volumes. What do they want? Especially if we’re looking at re-starting something, so where do they want the relationship to go? I think that’s the value I can provide Admiral Tidd. Listening and getting back to him on where they see us going.

Diálogo: What message would you like to send to these countries? Why?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: Again, we are looking forward to partnering with them in any capacity they want, most importantly, what can we do with them? Not what we can do for them, but with them, based on whatever strengths they have, and just whatever we can offer. Again, we want to work with them and be more active and have a positive impact in the security in the region.

Diálogo: What is the focus of your military efforts as SOUTHCOM’s Military Deputy Commander for the Central American, South American, and Caribbean region?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: From Southern Command’s perspective, I think that it would be great if we had more opportunity to carry out exercises with our partner nations. The scope of exercises is pretty limited right now: PANAMAX, which is a great exercise that, unfortunately, we only do a full version of every other year, is a great opportunity where we get the whole region to come together under the Command and Control of our partner nations, either in the land-component role or the maritime-component role, etc. It is a great opportunity for us to practice how we would execute the mission to secure the Panama Canal, for example, with other 17 nations, combining efforts under the charge of our partner nation leaders. It’s a great opportunity, and I wish we had more opportunities for that type of exercise.

Diálogo: What kind of results do you expect to come to fruition as a result of these attempts to work closer with certain countries, and what results have you seen so far in your time here?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: I think the biggest change I see, and I think is great, is that instead of having regional conferences where we sort define a great deal of the issues we have, we are now starting to identify what the solutions are. I think it is more impressive to define what the way ahead is and take positive action towards solutions for the issues we have identified. In the past, we focused too much on admiring the problem, and now we are finally starting to take action. And we have seen it take place; we have seen a lot of our partners step up to assume more responsibility, either with intelligence sharing or sponsoring a Command & Control center so that all of the information can fuse in one spot and everybody knows where to go for that information, and actually having forces to act on illicit networks, for example. We are seeing that. It is a slow building momentum, we have a long way to go because the network is hard to tackle, but we are seeing results.

Diálogo: What have you taken back from your visits to the different countries so far?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: That it is not underwhelming to know that everybody in the Western Hemisphere shares the same, real threats, specifically the illicit networks. It used to be that it was not a problem for my country while it was so for somebody else’s, but again, in the past two to three years, we’ve realized that illicit networks are affecting everybody negatively, and the sooner we can work together from a regional aspect to make a dent into their network, the better our folks will be. So, I think that is the right approach. Just mastering all the resources to effectively counter those networks is where we are right now.

Diálogo: How has this experience changed your vision on what you expect to aim for and achieve in the future?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: I think the key is maintaining continuity. This is going to be a 20-year effort to really get control of the network and maybe defeat it. By network, I mean that it is not just narcotics. It’s the human smuggling, the whole bit, illegal mining, you name it. Wherever money can be made, the organized crime folks find the way to do it, and they are very good at doing it. But it is important to get a solid foundation to get momentum going, and to maintain continuity is going to be important because it is going to be an issue long after I retire, long after Admiral Tidd retires, long after anybody here retires, so we just need to get that momentum going on a permanent basis. I think that is the most important aspect.

Diálogo: How did your time as Commander of U.S. Army South help you prepare for your current role?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: It gave me a great appreciation for all that the components do. They do a lot of activities in the area; although I thought I had an idea when I was Chief of Staff, once I went to Army South, I saw a lot more activities going on down there, which is great, very much value added. I think the other aspect was just how to resource Southern Command, which they are the Department of the Army is tasked to do, and realizing what a good job they do at it. I don’t say that because I am in the Army, but the Department of Army does a good job of resourcing SOUTHCOM to the best of their ability. It is very complicated to get resources, so I have a good feel for that, and now I have a good feel for what General Chinn is doing in his role as U.S. Army South Commander to try to get the resources headed our way. It is tough, but the components step up pretty well for that.

Diálogo: And what lessons learned there did you bring with you to your current role as Military Deputy Commander of SOUTHCOM?

Lt. Gen. DiSalvo: The importance of accurately articulating whatever we need as Southern Command. You have to really articulate exactly the requirements you have to the U.S. Department of Defense, to the Department of the Army. If you just state what the requirement is without giving good background and what exactly you will do with those requirements, you will get nowhere. And I can understand that; money is precious, so they have to understand it because the investment is worthy.

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