Current Challenges in North-South Defence Policy

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Members Lecture 10 Feb 2011A lecture by Ms Serena Joseph-Harris, recently High Commissioner of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to the Court of St James's.

War has played an intricate role in shaping the international geopolitical landscape of the twenty-first century. The disintegration of the Soviet Empire followed by the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism of global reach, has compelled policy makers to reappraise the future role of their Armed Forces. The northern hemisphere continues to wrestle with how to sustain a force presence in critical parts of the world, while at the same time maintain a watch on new and emerging threats in the developing world. In her lecture, Serena Joseph-Harris will examine the challenges to North-South defence policy, drawing upon select case studies in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Ms Serena Joseph-Harris was recently High Commissioner of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to the Court of St James's. She has served at the highest levels of government in a range of capacities including diplomat, cabinet adviser and hemispheric expert in combating transnational organised crime. She has played a seminal role in the design and establishment of the existing inter-American institutional architecture adopted by the Organization of American States to implement drug control measures and promote related political dialogue. Her recent publications, 'Fifth Republic or Fourth Reich' and 'The Alpha Barrier of North South Dialogue', advocate the need for renewed multilateralism and consensual decision-making in statecraft, to effectively address new and emerging hemispheric threats.

Speech Transcript

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for your kind introduction.

Good afternoon everyone and thank you all for being here. It is an honor to be invited by the Royal United Services Institute to address you on the topic Current Challenges of North-South Defense Policy and I am grateful for this opportunity.

This is a rather ambitious area to explore within the allotted time and my approach shall therefore be to pin-point only those elements which I consider to be of immediate significance to the topic on hand while confining my remarks to the experiences of the Inter American society. I will do my best to satisfy enquiries and elaborate further, however, during the question and answer component of today's event.

Four critical points will be covered  this afternoon (1)the overarching strategic priorities of "the North"(2) the US Defense policy framework  and how it impacts on Latin American and Caribbean societies- this involves some scrutiny of the US Unified Command  Plan and the doctrine of defense-in-depth(3) the existence if diverse multinational political entities within the Inter American communities(4) the implications of China's political activism within the Americas.

I will begin by throwing out the question: what propels the defense policies of the global North and by extension the Atlantic societies, as we know them today

And the answer is, on the face, a straightforward one.

There are three specific criteria that shape and fuel defense policy - ideas, ideology and interests. These criteria are integral to the goals set by governments and the ideals that are applied in striving to attain these goals.

Within the Inter American system, the obligation among states for mutual assistance and common defense along with the promotion of democratic ideals may be regarded as the lynchpins of a common defense policy. These canons so to speak are etched in a landmark mutual defense pact, the Inter American Treaty for Reciprocal Assistance, which came into force on December 03, 1948. The central tenet of this accord is that an attack against any one country within the Americas is deemed as an attack against all.

The catalyst for this instrument was the realization by the United States in the 1930s that Axis powers had been making overtures to several Latin American governments for military cooperation. These entreaties spurred an Agreement specifically drawn upon to confront the prospects and scope for international aggression and to obligate nations to re-assure each other of their respective intentions. Thus, a "good neighbor" policy was being nurtured which is today of enduring historical value.

Despite the confluence of interests in the Americas countervailing currents are constantly at work challenging common ground in defense and security matters. Some of these currents are sufficiently virulent as to impose restraints of global scale, on the collective political will of our governments. Others are more geopolitically confined.


The global restraints that come to mind are: firstly, the current spate of unprecedented global activism. Now, more than ever, humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. The second is that global political leadership is now considerably more diversified than it was fifty years ago. Both of these factors present severe challenges to the process of consensus building in defense and international affairs. Thirdly, is the discernable disjuncture that is unraveling whereby the 500 year domination in world politics formerly monopolized by Atlantic powers is being surely eroded by an emerging Europe and an ambitious Far East.

Two further issues have been reckoned by Paul Kennedy, both specific to the US in the military and strategic realms. Kennedy asserts in his volume The Rise and Fall of Great Powers that although the United States is in a class of its own economically and militarily, the two great tests to which it will ultimately have to succumb will be(1) firstly whether it is in a position to preserve a reasonable balance between its perceived defense requirements and the means it possesses to maintain these commitments; and secondly(2) on an intimately related point, whether the U.S could continue to retain the technological and economic bases of its power from relative erosion in the face of ever-shifting patterns of global production.  Each of these is of ominous significance today in the face of new and emerging economic powers.

The primary global powers of today are: the United States and the European Union (within the Union, Britain, France and Germany have a global orientation);  as well as China and Russia (which is in one respect a co-equal to the US as a nuclear power, but otherwise deficient in other indices that determine global power). Also included are Germany, France and Japan (although Japan itself does not have a politically global posture). Along with these powers we have the more recently morphed G20, which is lacking in internal unity and fraught with bilateral antagonisms. These powers must all be managed.

Within the Inter American system the United States continues to enjoy avowed pre-eminence in defense matters. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remarked   assuredly in her address to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in July 2009,

    "...America will always be a world leader, as long as we remain true to our ideals and embrace strategies to match the times. So we will exercise American leadership to build partnerships and solve problems that no nation can solve on its own and we will pursue POLICIES to mobilize more partners and deliver results..."

The operative word here is Policies.

Invariably, the US defense policies are interwoven with a far-reaching foreign policy agenda and again this interconnection is significant for strategic purposes.  America's acknowledged strategic priorities are:

1. To reverse and prevent the threat of nuclear weapons

2. To isolate and defeat terrorists and counter violent extremists

3. To facilitate the efforts of parties to pursue and achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East

4. To seek global economic recovery and growth by strengthening America's economy

5. To advance a robust development agenda

6. To expand trade that is fair and free

7. To boost investment that creates jobs

8. To combat climate change

9. To increase energy security

10. To encourage democratic governance that protects peoples rights.

11. More specific than these is the need for a more clearly articulated path forward regarding involvement with inner and outer Europe, the extremities of which are yet to be defined precisely and relationships with the global Balkans.

These priorities are closely aligned with the overall strategic goals identified in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense and Foreign Policies, namely :

1. Forging trilateral cooperation among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US

2. Bolstering diplomacy and development programs in Iraq and forging the US /Iraq Strategic Framework

3. Fighting the Taliban and defeating Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies

4. Working with the Israelis in dealing with the issue of settlements

5. Easing the living conditions of Palestinians and creating conditions that will lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

What is Britain's defense posture as the world's fourth largest major military power and the closest ally and friend of the US? Prime Minister Cameron has affirmed that  intent - that the British military maintain an activist role, focusing on conflict prevention and building a more flexible army. The Prime Minister has also affirmed that this posture is supported by 3 principal aims.

1. To continue to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan

2. To reinforce actual military capability

3. To ensure that Britain is protected from new and various threats such as cyber-crime and nuclear proliferation and the risk of terrorist attacks, whether originating domestically or outside its borders; as well as confront head on extremist ideologies.

To what extent are these priorities aligned with the concerns of nations within the Americas?  This is central to our current discourse. And what are in fact the collective concerns and security priorities of governments in the Americas other than the US and perhaps Canada?

The findings of the United Nations in its 2010 Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment have lent a fresh salience to the long acknowledged reality that transnational organized crime constitutes the single most significant threat to  the peace, security and well being of the Americas, politically, economically and socially speaking. The trafficking of drugs particularly cocaine out of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia continues to exact devastating consequences on governance and the rule of law in these and neighboring societies.

The Caribbean Basin and Mexico are major conduits through which drugs have been entering the US as a primary demand market. Drug flows are distinctively northward bound from source countries in Latin America.  Illegally traded firearms, in contrast, generally flow southward out of the United States although sources for such commodities are known to exist elsewhere in the region.

The response from the north to this overwhelming crisis has typically been the mobilization and deployment by the US of its military and other assets, within a defined defense framework- to suffocate the threat stream in the course of its northward migration; to prevent it from reaching the United States. The Department of Defense has served as a lead institution in this mobilization effort, as part of the Department's policy and associated mission plan.

This brings us to the relevance of military doctrine and principles and their cumulative impact on security and interstate affairs.


The defense framework is specifically designed to ultimately protect the homeland. The framework is shaped by doctrine and principles that have profound consequences for regional security in general, and on countries' domestic security, in particular.

Firstly, the doctrine of necessity compels the unilateral use of force when efforts to address a situation by peaceful means have been exhausted. Secondly is the doctrine of proportionality which requires that unilateral use of force be resorted to, that is specific to defend against certain threats. The third element addresses the imminence of a threat. Should an attack be anticipated, steps must be taken to minimize the damage, taking account of the capacity of today's weapons and the tactics of those who may hold them.

These doctrines are selectively directed at 21st century security challenges such as threats posed by violent extremist movements, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, rising powers with sophisticated weapons, failed or failing states and increasing encroachments across global commons. The latter will include phenomena such as cyber wars.

America's current offensive leg goes beyond the old Cold War triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, long- range nuclear-armed bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles to integration with non-nuclear strategic capabilities and strengthening the credibility of defense deterrence. Therein lies its top priorities.

In order to have an appreciation of how, why and where military assets are deployed by the US within the Inter American system, there are two key and interrelated concepts to be taken on board, namely the Unified Command Plan and the principle of " defense-in-depth" and how these synchronize in turn with US interests.


The Command Plan is a globally dispersed defense architecture constituted by geographic delineations and functional areas of responsibility of force structures. This is the deciding framework for the deployment of armed forces and assets. The geographic commands that are of specific significance to the Caribbean and Latin America are Northern command (NORTHCOM) and Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).

NORTHCOM's areas of geographic responsibility include continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and surrounding waters up to 500 miles. Cuba and the Bahamas also fall within this sphere of responsibility. The core mission of NORTHCOM is to defend against and respond to threats and aggression directed at US territory, sovereignty, domestic population and infrastructure. This command is critical to securing the homeland vis-à-vis the northern  geographic approaches and along the Canadian border.

Canada is today in a position to expedite defense collaboration with the United States based on a long and established history of defense cooperation.  Canada and the United States are now parties to no less than eight (80) Treaty level defense agreements and one hundred and forty-five bilateral forums committed to common defense matters.

SOUTHCOM, in contrast, plays a lead role in improving threat awareness and guarding geographic approaches to the US south of Florida at a safe distance. SOUTHCOM is responsible for contingency planning, operational security, and force protection in relation to Cuba, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands

The second concept is referred to as" defense-in-depth." This is a time-tested principle built on the rationale of securing the geographic approaches to the US homeland by the creation of a surrounding" buffer zone." This concept is premised on the notion of the existence of a hardened inner core wherein lies the" crown jewels", in this instance the US homeland, regarded as a protected inner kernel and surrounded by an outer periphery of nations with ever-increasing generality. As this outer periphery widens (southwards) there is a corresponding escalation in the cost securing aerial and maritime domains since additional assets must be committed to this battle-space. The prohibitive toll thereby imposed on national treasuries is beyond the reach of most regional governments.

Mexico, Central America and the Greater Antillean islands represent the immediate geographical buffer together with their contiguous seaways. Beyond this immediate periphery are to be found the South American countries, the CARICOM Community the Dutch Antillean group and British dependencies.

Logically, the immediate priority of these jurisdictions is to protect their territorial integrity from illegal encroachments by land, sea and air.


1. Mexico's spiraling descent into violence and civil disorder.

2. The exploitation of airspace and seaways by crime syndicates intent on smuggling drugs and firearms. It is for this reason that many jurisdictions within the Caribbean Basin remain among the most vulnerable in the Western Hemisphere.

3. Colombia continues to strive towards the complete demobilization of private militias and regain control over swaths of territory under the control of right and left -wing revolutionary movements that are now involved in cocaine production

As a means of countering these threats, the US Department of Defense has, in collaboration with local defense forces, maintained an impressive chain of Forward Operating Locations in specific jurisdictions such as Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles and Peru. In addition to these deployments there are counter- drug radar sites strategically dispersed throughout these nations. These policy responses are subjected to Congressional approval and oversight and bolstered by recently concluded Defense Cooperation Agreements with friendly host governments.


Successful drugs and firearms interdiction requires verifiable intelligence, sophisticated technologies and capabilities, interagency and cross-border collaboration, and flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances. A long- term mission plan is required within the Latin America/Caribbean system to regain control of the aerial and maritime domains exploited by crime syndicates. This is being pursued through a collective security system that occupies a common battle space. It is an ambitious strategy that requires political support that is consensus- based and reinforced by a robust multinational legal framework that is enforceable.

The Regional Security System (RSS) within the CARICOM is one example of an ideal type institutional architecture that is geared towards successful interdiction. Endowed in the most crucial aspects, the facility is, nonetheless, largely under-resourced. Members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines along with Barbados) are active participants in this mechanism which is supported by Treaty.

These nations are members of other significant multinational political communities such as the Commonwealth, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Organization of American States (OAS). Some members of this political grouping have  also subscribed to the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), an ideologically distinct political and economic coalition of interests that is strongly espoused to populist ideals.

Ideological, political and cultural distinctions and orientations must be trumped by a common regional perspective and the prescription advocated in "The Alpha Barrier of North South Dialogue" is referred to as multi track diplomacy. This speaks of a policy approach at once driven by diplomatic, political strategic and operational levels of engagement.  I am happy to see this concept  reflected in the recently inaugurated Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).

Launched in 2010,the CBSI represents the most recent pillar of regional US defense support sponsored by the Obama administration. Other parallel defense-driven policies are Plan Colombia and La Merida. Developmental components have been introduced to produce a more all-encompassing aid package, comprising financial and other support aimed at strengthening the criminal justice, social and economic systems of host countries.

It is to the credit of timely intergovernmental dialogue within CARICOM and strategically timed bilateral dialogue between the US and the regional political leadership in 2010, that the Initiative was successfully launched.


Another compelling component of North South defense policy is China's invigorated political activism.

As it expands its strategic periphery, China's spirited diplomacy and non-doctrinaire stance in the Americas has had a rippling effect. Its unremitting economic and other engagements in the region have been prompted by the need to stake out reliable supplies of primary products to sustain a burgeoning  domestic economy and its rapidly expanding industrial base.

It has even been forecasted (Jeremy Black on the context of growing international competition for resources among global powers) that there is an impending "resource war" at our doorsteps with potentially precipitous consequences; and that the US and China may well find themselves as major contenders in such a competition.

War, as we are all aware, has today assumed non-conventional dimensions and is being contested in unorthodox domains.

Simultaneous with all of this, the Chinese are making common cause with belligerently anti-democratic dictatorial regimes such as North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Burma, Zimbabwe and the Sudan.

Regional defense planners are therefore continuously occupied in the unscrambling of China's long-term intentions, particularly in light of her historical conduct. Notable defense policies emanating out of Beijing are:

1. Its burgeoning military modernization program. The promulgation of the 2008 Biennial White Paper discloses the abandonment of a traditional land-based people's army in favor of a comprehensive strategic and nuclear strike capability by land, sea and air. (Richard Fisher, of the International Assessment and Strategic Centre, Stanford University in his Volume, China's Military Modernization, gives a credible account of China's impressive growing inventory but on a cautionary note takes issue with the country's assurances in light of its historic character.)

2. Members of the Latin American military elite are now being trained at the prestigious People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s National Defense University.

3. There are ongoing military exchanges between China and no les than 18 Latin American countries. Reciprocal visits to South America by high -ranking military leaders of the People's Liberation Army.

4. Conventional weapons are being sold by China to specific jurisdictions.

5. A checkered history exists between China and the US regarding military exchange protocols.

6. China enjoys lucrative trade relations with  many Caribbean countries, which are also key US trading partners.

President Obama has stated  assuredly that although the US/China relationship has not been without disagreement and difficulty, the notion that the two powers must be adversaries is by no means predestined.

In concluding my contribution, we are reminded that we stand on the eve of a new world; one that is shaped by ideas and ideologies. But this new world is simultaneously being re-shaped even in the design stages as the movers and shakers of policy, like some of us, define and redefine our own paradigms and parameters.

How we harness and confront our defense challenges will ultimately set the stage for the emerging new world order and the mercurial times that lie ahead in this formidable and yet exciting phase of transition!

Thank you very much.

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