More than 400 participants from 14 countries attended the Transnational Crime and International Terror Networks as Hybrid Threat Factors international conference held at the Colombian War College (ESDEGUE, per its Spanish acronym) in Bogotá, Colombia, from March 14th to 16th. The academic event was organized by the Regional Center for Strategic Security Studies (CREES, per its Spanish acronym), with support from the Joint Special Operations University and U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH).
The conference represents the 13th high-level event that CREES has organized since its founding in 2014 when it emerged as an initiative by the Colombian Ministry of Defense to pose academic questions and do research, analysis, and experiential exchanges on the challenges of meeting the objective of hemispheric security.
The conference focused on three core themes: the strategic context of transnational organized crime and international terror networks as a hybrid threat factor; regional scenarios impacted by these kinds of threats, and strategies for confronting them. Through conferences, the sharing of experiences, and panel discussions, attendees considered the issues and made concrete proposals for confronting regional threats factors.
Hybrid threats are “a blending of the conventional and the unconventional,” Major General Nicacio de Jesús Martínez Espinel, ESDEGUE’s director, told Diálogo. “In a conventional war or when faced with a conventional threat, we know who the enemy is… Something that is unconventional has unusual forms of behavior; we don’t know where it is, and we don’t know who the enemy is.”
“This whole issue is quite interesting because it is making a connection between international organized crime, with the main factor being hybrid threats,” Peruvian Army Brigadier General (R) Augusto Álvarez Torres, academic researcher on security issues and conference participant, told Diálogo.
“The situation we are going to be faced with after graduation will be complex, not only because of these new threats, and new criminal actors and factors but because of globalization. The world is changing rapidly, and criminal elements and threats are going to keep changing at that same pace,” said Colombian Air Force Colonel Juan Guillermo Conde, an ESDEGUE student who attended the conference. “This academic forum is very enriching for our training process as military leaders.”
One of the emerging threats is cybercrime. In Belize, for instance, this threat is simmering more and more each day. “In Central America, and specifically in Belize, there is no way of fighting cyber-bullying,” said Captain Kenrick Martínez of the Belize Defence Force. “There are problems with this at schools and in the Military because everyone is using the internet and the police and the armed forces don’t know how to rectify that problem.”
By acknowledging the current state of the threats to hemispheric security, it becomes impossible to postpone the development of new strategies for confronting those threats: “Everything evolves. In life, everything is in flux. And these threats have changed too. That’s why they’re called ‘hybrid.’ So from that standpoint, it’s up to us and our institutions to change everything having to do with the legal, organizational, and operational aspects, in order to be able to operate within the law,” indicated Nicaraguan Army Infantry Colonel Ramón Zúñiga Mendoza.
This academic conference will have a multiplying effect on the role of each attendee. This is the case for Mexican Air Force General Sergio Sotelo, who is secretary general of the Pro-Tempore Secretariat of the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, which comprises 34 nations. “There are issues [at the conference] that are quite similar to those being discussed in the conference of ministers and this helps us to enrich those discussions and to see things through different lenses, which will certainly be of great use to us.”
“I’ve spent many years in the intelligence field, and we had never participated in these kinds of meetings,” said Argentine Navy (R) Captain Sergio Andrés Gómez, an advisor to his nation’s director of Strategic Military Intelligence. “I believe that it is through the relations that my country has established with SOUTHCOM that we have opened ourselves up to the possibility of rejoining a system that has already been working in South America.”
“It is a great opportunity being here,” added Faria Junior, a delegate from the Federal Police of Brazil. “The Americans are knowledgeable about hybrid warfare, and in Brazil, we can be faced with these same threats, which are global.”
The conference ended after three days of work, during which participants shared their experiences for the purpose of creating a cooperation network that will enable them to find joint solutions to the common threats to hemispheric security.