The Changing Western Hemisphere

On November 18, 2015, the National Defense University’s Center for Complex Operations (CCO) and the Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies partnered to present “The Changing Western Hemisphere,” a launch event for the forthcoming edition of CCO’s flagship journal PRISM. This event began with a panel featuring General John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, and the Honorable Juan Carlos Pinzón, the Colombian Ambassador to the United States. Their discussion was followed by a panel of PRISM contributing authors and regional experts including Dr. Inés Bustillo, Mr. Douglas Farah, Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown, and Mr. Brian Fonseca. The event’s participants focused their conversations on the security situation in the Western Hemisphere and emphasized the enduring importance of – and thus need to prioritize – the United States’ southern neighbors despite competing interests elsewhere in the world.

General Kelly and Ambassador Pinzón presented the audience with a set of realistic lessons the world can learn from Colombia’s success in battling the FARC. First and foremost, General Kelly urged the international community to take from Colombia the spirit determination – if a people are willing to commit to a challenge, anything can be overcome. Ambassador Pinzón then followed with observations of the progress that Colombia still requires including, reinforcing its policing capabilities, continuing to negotiate towards peace, and expanding its training programs in order to strengthen its neighbors and other in the region. General Kelly concluded the discussion by warning of threats against the United States that emanate from the Western Hemisphere, primarily the continuing drug trade along the U.S. southern border. The General urged for greater U.S. support of counternarcotic forces, explaining that Colombia is currently contributing more to the cause than the United States.

The participants in the second panel presented overviews of their contributions to the forthcoming issue of PRISM. Dr. Bustillo began by discussing the region’s pervasive economic inequalities. These inequalities impact the security situation as many wealthy citizens rely on private security, a luxury not all in the region can afford. Mr. Farrah followed with a description of Russia’s role Latin America. He explained that, despite Russia’s growing presence, the U.S. is favored in the region over Russia. Latin American nations distrust Russian intentions as the Russian government continues to support criminalized states that harbor transnational terror, an approach that limits its influence in nations that are actively battling such corruption. Next, Dr. Felbab-Brown commented on her findings regarding rising militias in Mexico, explaining that Latin America continues to be an example of police reform failure. Brutality and over militarization of civilian police forces lead to their distrust and ineffectiveness in Mexican society. Mr. Fonseca concluded the panel by emphasizing the importance of globalization in the region, stating that the U.S. should strive to keep economic partnerships a priority to maintain its competitiveness in the southern hemisphere.

A recording of this event is available HERE. For more in depth analysis on the security situation in the region, please stay tuned for the upcoming release of PRISM’s, “The Changing Western Hemisphere.”

Cherish Zinn is a Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies double major at the University of California, Los Angeles where she focuses her studies on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East/North Africa region. She is also a research intern with the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University.