Homeland and hemisphere

Washington is closely reviewing how the military should participate in homeland security. Consequently, the current regional military structures are being reviewed for mission changes or even elimination. These unified commands - Southern Command, Joint Forces Command, and Space Command, particularly its North American Aerospace Defense Command component, or NORAD - are all being considered for the homeland defense mission. Should we have a command just for homeland defense?

Strategic analysis of the situation argues against it. In the first place, the furor over homeland security has created a crusade mentality that goes against reality. We do not live on a remote island, and we know that threats can touch us. We are part of North America, sharing vast borders with Canada and Mexico. There can be no homeland security unless we significantly improve security cooperation with our neighbors. Current arrangements are, at best, incomplete. We have some security cooperation with Canada through NORAD, but little or none with Mexico.

Second, an existing economic arrangement requires politico-military support. Canada, Mexico, and the United States are members of the North American Free Trade Agreement. This economic community has the potential to serve as a gateway to improved security cooperation, as long as we remember two imperatives - strategic restraint and reassurance. We must respect the sovereignty of our neighbors by treating them as partners. Also needed is better communication on how to work together to promote mutual benefit.

Third, our true strategic destiny is as part of the Americas, a community of states from Canada to Chile that have largely embraced democracy and capitalism. President Bush is committed to making this vision a reality, as the Free Trade Area of the Americas moves ahead. Such an agreement requires better security arrangements than we have within our command structure or exists within the framework of the Organization of American States.

Yet, no single command encompasses the Western Hemisphere. The Rio Treaty, a cold-war-era collective defense measure for the Western Hemisphere, is a relic. After Sept. 11, key OAS members stood up to invoke the treaty, but little if any military support came of it, because it has no effective avenue for military cooperation.

What is to be done? The National Defense Panel of 1997 provided a feasible solution: Create an Americas Command, or AMCOM. Forming this command would require some alterations to what the panel recommended. For example, in order to address homeland defense and hemispheric security logically, the command requires a headquarters and two sub-unified commands. In plain English, the headquarters should be in Washington. AMCOM would report to the Secretary of Defense, but would also have responsibilities to the Office for Homeland Security and potential coordination with the Washington-based OAS.

We should keep the Southern Command, but subordinate to AMCOM. The Southern Command is useful, but strategically incomplete (its area of responsibility excludes North America) and it needs a new focus. Many states in the region have extensive experience in multinational military cooperation, so there is potential to expand this within a hemispheric framework that can quickly deploy and demonstrate multilateral legitimacy, as long as member states have a say on the mission. The Southern Command's location in Miami is appropriate, since the city is a hub for the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

The other command to place under AMCOM is a new North American Command (NORTHCOM), which should be located in Colorado Springs - partway between Canada and Mexico - and based on the existing NORAD framework, supplemented with a major homeland security component that makes good use of reserve forces. NORTHCOM, like NAFTA, would encompass Canada, Mexico, and the US. It would resolve the security and economic issues that intersect at the borders. Goods need to move expeditiously, yet terrorism must be intercepted. The military does not play the lead role in border security, but its support is crucial.

Creating an Americas Command, where homeland and hemispheric security issues are strategically merged, expands opportunity for multinational cooperation that protects our democratic community. Our neighbors are watching, hopeful that we act to provide a better framework for fighting terrorism, reassuring allies, and expanding security cooperation in the Americas.

Col. Joseph R. Nuñez is a professor of national security and strategy at the US Army War College.

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