U.S. Must Rethink Military Power, Says Southern Command Chief

By Grace V. Jean

The security challenges of Latin America — drug trafficking, narco-terrorism and crime — are best tackled with diplomatic engagement and partnerships, not with massive military force, says the top U.S. military officer overseeing Latin America.

“Our job is not to launch Tomahawk missiles here. It’s effectively to launch ideas,” says Navy Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. Southern Command.

“By doing that, maybe you avoid, a decade later, the need to be there with a Tomahawk missile,” he says at a Surface Navy Association conference.

Stavridis believes that the Navy, for example, should create a “humanitarian surface group” consisting of hospital ships and other vessels that would focus on aid missions and disaster response. “The idea of a structured humanitarian surface fleet is at least worth thinking about and considering,” he says.

The Navy in late April announced its intention to re-establish its 4th Fleet, which will oversee ships operating in SouthCom waters.

In the counter-narcotics battle, Stavridis says his command needs better ways to detect and monitor drug trafficking. In 2006 and 2007, the Navy helped the Coast Guard and the Drug Enforcement Agency interdict nearly 500 tons of cocaine, but that amount only scratches the surface of the 500 million tons of cocaine that travel through the Caribbean every year, he says.

Drug cartels are using semi-submersible submarines to transport cocaine, Stavridis says. The Navy needs better surveillance capability to detect those vessels just beneath the water’s surface.

“We don’t have the luxury of constant P-3 Orion or S-3 Viking aircraft coverage, so I need innovation and new ways of thinking about this type of problem,” he says.

“It’s a big challenge, but it is a real security threat in the U.S. and in the region … It’s costing thousands of lives in the United States and undermining fragile democracies.”

SouthCom covers a region of 16 billion square miles, stretching south of Miami to Antarctica. It encompasses 45 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The socio-economic, political and cultural circumstances in those nations range from highly developed nations such as Chile, which recently purchased Block 50 F-16s, to Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the region whose population lives on less than $2 per day.

About 40 percent of the region’s people live in poverty.

“It would be as though half the population of the United States — everything from the Mississippi west — lived on less than a cup of Starbucks each day,” says Stavridis.

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Topics: International, Air Force News

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