Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blouin Beat: ‘Jessica Jones’ and the devil in the pill

'Jessica Jones' and the devil in the pill
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin Beat: Science & Health
December 30, 2015
Originally published:

This commentary contains spoilers for ‘Jessica Jones,’ Season 1. It is based on Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones’ series and not on the comics published by Marvel.
‘Jessica Jones‘, the second show in the Marvel universe produced by Netflix, has been widely successful among fans and critics. Apart from strong acting and a compelling story, the series has been praised for having a female superheroas the main character. Moreover the show has had no qualms with how it portrays alcoholism as well as physical (e.g. rape) and psychological abuse. Because the main premise of the show focuses on the clash between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave (the villain) in New York City, it is difficult to analyze this series from an international relations perspective. That said, one of the show’s characters provides a jumping-off point for discussing substance abuse among members of the armed forces.
As the show moves forward, one storyline to follow is that of Will Simpson, an NYPD sergeant who is temporarily controlled by Kilgrave and then helps Jessica track him down. Over the course of the series, we learn that Simpson has military training – at one point he introduces Jessica’s stepsister Trish to his “special forces friends.”  Moreover, when Simpson is injured, Trish takes him to a hospital where he is treated by a Dr. Kozlov; Simpson and Kozlov know each other from his military past and the doctor gives Simpson some mysterious red pills that rapidly cure him from severe injuries.
One of the pills’ effects is that Simpson becomes stronger, hence the NYPD officer takes them prior to fighting, even though Kozlov warns him to not overdose. The pills also make Simpson more aggressive: he pushes Trish against a wall (he apologizes for it afterwards), summarily executes a police detective and gets in a fight with Jessica. In the final episode, Kozlov finds an unconscious Simpson and takes him away – it is never clarified which agency they belong to (though fan theories abound).
Security analysts and members of any military that watch ‘Jessica Jones’ will likely relate to the Simpson storyline. There are a plethora of reports and commentaries that discuss how soldiers (and members of any other military branch) utilize some type of performance enhancing drug. One prominent example is how U.S. Air Force pilots take amphetamines in order to fly their aircraft for long missions. The downside of using Speed (or “Go Pills”) is that it has side-effects such as “confusion, delusions, auditory hallucinations, aggression and, in extreme cases, psychotic behavior.” Meanwhile, in order to improve the performance of its troops, the U.S. Army “has tested modafinil and caffeine (to promote wakefulness) for use in military operations.” (According to Le Monde, the French armed forces also tested modafinil on its troops during the First Gulf War).
The obvious concern is that servicemen and servicewomen may become addicted to drugs (legal or illegal) in order to carry out their duties. For example, there is a problem in the U.S. military regarding steroid use, particularly during the simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “To prepare for — and perform — on combat tours of duty, some soldiers … turned to steroids to boost their brawn,” said a 2010 McClatchy DC report. To be fair, the U.S. military is hardly the only country that has problems with drug abuse, legal or otherwise, within its ranks. In 2013, some 17 British soldiers were expelled from the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery for taking a sports supplement which contained the restricted substance ephedrine.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has not shied away from displaying substance abuse, most prominently the alcohol problems of Iron Man and Jessica Jones. When it comes to performance enhancing drugs, the MCU has only briefly touched on them (e.g. the experiments that created Captain America and the Winter Soldier).
Marvel movies tend to be more family-friendly, while Netflix has had no reservations so far in addressing controversial topics head on. Hence, it would be an interesting development if the officer Simpson character goes farther “down the rabbit hole” and becomes more dependent on performance enhancing drugs. The writers of ‘Jessica Jones’ have plenty of real-world material about experiments regarding these drugs and their side effects from which to draw inspiration.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Blouin Beat: Politics - Moldova: Protesting against the unfixable?

"Moldova: Protesting Against the Unfixable?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin News: Politics
September 28, 2015
Originally published:

On September 27, some 15,000 people protested in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, against government corruption and overall lack of good governance. The rally was organized by the civic movement Truth and Dignity, which is trying to capitalize on popular discontent against the government, currently controlled by Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet and his Liberal Democratic Party. But as the tiny, landlocked nation continues to play musical chairs with those in power, unfortunately for Moldovans, the country is beginning to look like a failed project at state-building and overall statecraft.
For a country that has been independent for less than a quarter of a century, Moldova is a small country with big problems. Shortly after independence in 1991, there was a short-lived civil war, which resulted in an area east of the Dniester River, known as the Republic of Transnistria, becoming de-facto autonomous. A garrison of Russian troops remains in the separatist Transnistria to this day; according to Moscow, its troops are there to preserve the peace, though Chisinau and European observers argue that Russia is protecting the separatist government. In early 2014, a referendum was held in the autonomous southern region of Gagauzia; the overwhelming majority (if the results are to be believed) voted for closer relations with the CIS Customs Union, and were largely against Moldova’s integration with the European Union. Another referendum question showed that Gagauzians support their region’s right to declare independence, should Moldova lose its independence (theories of Moldova forming some kind of union with Romania go back decades, and were a factor in the 1992 separatist war).
To what extent Moscow is actively supporting separatism in Moldova is questionable, though the Gagauz referendum occurred at the height of the Ukrainian conflict and around the time of theCrimean referendum.
As for Moldovan politics, new public anger against bad governance erupted last November, when it was revealed that one billion dollars, 12% of the country’s GDP, were missing from the Moldovan central bank. To this day no one has been arrested for absconding with the money. Though, heads have rolled. Just this past September 21, the director of Moldova’s national bankDorin Dragutanu and his first deputy, Marin Molosag, resigned due to the scandal. The protests, including a tent city that has appeared in the capital, may cost one or two more politicians their job but there is no sign that the money will re-appear.
Ultimately, the question is who, if anyone, can lead Moldova and usher in a badly-needed era of good governance. There are not that many options right now. There are reports that the civic group leading the current protests, Dignity and Truth, may consider transforming itself into a political party. However it is unclear if there are reliable and trustworthy individuals within the organization who, if elected, can properly lead the country.  Oleg Serebrian, a Moldovan political analyst and diplomat, argues that “there is a lack of new faces on the Moldovan political scene and Dignity and Justice is not an exception here. There are well-known politicians being recycled into ‘new leaders’ and probably there is no real trust in them.”
Just this past June, Chiril Gaburici resigned as prime minister of the country after four months in the job because he faked his high school diploma. While the Gaburici incident may be an example of how anyone can become head of state, in the positive sense of the term, it also illustrates that the country’s government apparatus may be beyond fixing.
Bringing 15 thousand people to the streets in a country of around 3.5 million is a significant feat. Though perhaps not all that surprising amidst Moldova’s current challenges: one separatist region, one close to following suit, the presence of Russia troops in its territory; the country remains one of the poorest in Europe; there is an overall lack of good governance, lack of independent institutions as well as endemic bureaucratic corruption in Chisinau. Given this reality, and with membership to the European Union a distant dream, it is no wonder thatMoldovan adults and youth are migrating in search of new opportunities and a better future.
At this point, finding a billion dollars may be the easiest of Moldova’s problems.
The author would like to thank Lucia Scripcari, a double-major undergraduate student at Istanbul Sehir University, Turkey, for her research in preparation for this commentary. 

CIMSEC: The Colombian Navy: South America's Powerhouse?

"The Colombian Navy: South America's Powerhouse?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Center for International Maritime Security
December 10, 2015

This past August, tensions flared up between Colombia and Venezuela after three Venezuelan soldiers were injured in an incident along their common border. The situation worsened as Caracas started deporting undocumented Colombians that live in Venezuela. Thankfully, diplomacy prevailed and the incident did not escalate. Nevertheless, this is not the first time that the two South American countries have been at odds with each other.  The two states had confronted one and other before, specifically at sea in 1987 and more recently in 2008.
The focus of this analysis is not to theoretically discuss what would happen if Colombia and Venezuela went to war. Rather, we aim to take this possible inter-state conflict as a point of departure to discuss the status of the modern Colombian Navy. For decades, the Colombian Navy’s security operations have revolved around combating maritime crimes like drug trafficking. Nevertheless, a Navy’s raison d’être is to protect a country’s waterways from internal and external threats. Given recent acquisitions, including two German submarines, Colombia’s Navy can certainly be cataloged as a regional powerhouse with a strong deterrent capability.
Lack of Warfare: A Brief History
There is an obscure but also amusing fact about Latin American navies in general: they have not participated in inter-state warfare in decades. As I have discussed in previous analyses, the last time two Latin American countries went to war with each other was the land-based conflict Peru and Ecuador in 1995. Moreover, the last time a Latin American warship fired a missile at another warship was during the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
Colombia is well known for the internal conflict that has plagued the country for decades. When it comes to inter-state wars, Colombian Army units and Navy vessels participated in the Korean War, via the UN, while the last conflict Colombia fought with a neighboring state was the 1932-1933 war with Peru, which was centered in the Amazon. In the past few decades, there have been isolated incidents which brought Colombia to an inter-state war. Most recently in 2008, there was a bizarre incident in which Colombian troops attacked a FARC insurgent base in Ecuador without requesting Quito’s permission. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez deployed his troops to the Colombian border, declaring that he would go to war with Colombia to protect its ally Ecuador. Prior to that, there was the aforementioned 1987 incident in which theARC Caldas, a Colombian corvette, entered waters that Venezuela claims as its own. Both countries deployed troops to their borders, and Venezuelan F-16 warplanes flew over the ARC Caldas and other Colombian vessels in the disputed area. As was the case with this most recent incident, the crises in 1987 and 2008 ultimately did not escalate.
This leads to one conclusion: there is no one in service in the Colombian Navy that has experience in an inter-state conflict. Moreover, no missile or torpedo has been launched from a Colombian warship or submarine in generations. Certainly, this fact does not minimize the capabilities, bravery, and overall professionalism of Colombian sailors who have plenty of experience in combating insurgents, drug traffickers, and other criminals in the country’s territorial waters and throughout the country’s numerous rivers. If anything, Colombia’s success at stopping maritime crimes (in April, it seized 1.3 tons of cocaine in Pacific waters) highlights how this service has adapted and transformed itself into a force that can face both traditional and asymmetric security threats. Nevertheless, it is an amusing factoid that, as powerful as the Colombian Navy is, experience in inter-state conflicts is beyond scarce among its personnel (though the same can be said of other regional navies).
A Force to be Reckoned With
Unlike its neighbor Brazil, Colombia does not possess a carrier, nor is it constructing a nuclear-powered submarine. Nevertheless, its Navy has carried out acquisitions in recent years to modernize its fleet. The most important was the 2012 acquisition of two German-made submarines, class U-206A. The submarines have been upgraded (they served in the German Navy for over three decades and were decommissioned in 2010) and, at the time of this writing, are been transported from Germany to Colombia via the freighter BBC Saphire.
As for other acquisitions, Bogota has purchased a “fast ferry” transport vessel, the ARC Juanchaco, from the Dutch shipbuilding company Damen. Moreover, Colombia has also acquired a 76mm gun, an Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid (SR) Gun Mount, from the Italian company Finmeccanica. It will be placed aboard anoffshore patrol vessel that the country is currently constructing. Finally, the Colombian Navy’s official website offers a detailed list of acquisitions and upgrades for 2015; due to space issues we will not discuss them here, but it is worth noting that these include modernizing the country’s frigates and upgrading bases like ARC Bolivar and ARC Malaga.
Additionally, the country’s naval military industry is rapidly evolving. Case in point, the Colombian state-owned shipyard COCTEMAR recently delivered to the Navy the amphibious landing vessel BDA Golfo de Uraba, which can transport supplies to coastal and fluvial areas. This is the second of six vessels of this class that COCTEMAR is constructing for the Navy.
In terms of training, Colombia carries out military exercises with its neighbors and allies – Colombian warships are currently involved in the UNITAS 2015 exercises with U.S. and other Latin American vessels. Furthermore, the Colombian Navy participated in RIMPAC 2014 and carried out naval exercises withEcuador in August. Finally, a crew of Colombian sailors is getting some first-hand experience in combat operations as the patrol vessel ARC 7 de Agosto has been deployed to the horn of Africa to participate in Operation Atalanta.
Issues and Challenges
While the Colombian Navy has carried out important acquisitions and modernization of its vessels, there are problems among its personnel. Just this past May, Bogota revealed a massive fraud operation among the country’s armed forces in which some 160 million Colombian pesos (around $52 thousand USD) were stolen from the military’s coffers. Among those arrested as part of this criminal ring were three naval personnel and one civilian that also worked for the Navy. The criminals utilized online transactions,using fake documents to wire money from the naval cadet school Almirante Padilla, to personal bank accounts.
Moreover, the education that Colombian naval cadets are receiving may be called into question. The research group Sapiens Researchpublishes reports of Colombia’s best universities: in 2014, the best military university was the Universidad Militar Nueva Granada, which came at a respectable number 25. As for the navy’s cadet school, the Escuela Naval de Cadetes Almirante Padilla came at a dismal number 90, just above the Air Force’s postgraduate school. Colombian naval cadets receive  good training at sea – this is best exemplified by how its flagship and training vessel, the ARC Gloria, has travelled around the world to provide aspiring naval officers with hands-on experience. Nevertheless, the education they receive on land at their university can greatly be improved if it wants to compete with some of Colombia’s best universities.
Another worrisome development is the training that Colombian marines are receiving. Earlier this year, the Colombian news agency La F.m. uploaded a video showing marines being threatened and physically beaten by their trainers as part of an advanced training course. The marines were punched and kicked by their supervisors, even when they fell to the ground, all the while being verbally insulted. (Click here for the graphic video, in Spanish).
The video sparked a debate on whether such training methods are acceptable (arguably to train the marines to deal with extreme pain in case they are captured by insurgents) or if they should be regarded as humiliating and unnecessary. As a response to the video, Admiral Hernando Wills, commander of the Navy, announced that the officers that beat up the marines had been kicked out of the service. The naval officer explained that “military training is demanding, but under no circumstance does it justify physical abuse.”
Finally, as part of my research, I was unable to find reports of accidents regarding Colombian vessels. This is certainly a positive development, particularly as other branches have suffered accidents in the recent past (one of the Air Force’s Kfir warplanescrashed in December 2014 during a training exercise). With that said, problems among naval personnel, from corruption cases to controversial training, or lack of good education among cadets, must be dealt with in order to continue optimizing the country’s maritime force.
While the Colombian Navy has acquired some major equipment, particularly two submarines and new landing vessels, it would be wrong to assume that it is partaking some kind of aggressive weapons-purchase spree. Rather, the Colombian Navy is going through a modernization process to maintain its ability to carry out operations, such as combating maritime crimes, as well as maintaining a deterrent capability from outside threats.
Ultimately, the operations of the Colombian Navy rest on its personnel and its equipment. As previously mentioned, there have not been any major accidents regarding warships or submarines while the recent acquisitions and modernization of vessels leads me argue that the Colombian Navy is in ideal shape to continue its operations and deal with any foreseeable conflict. As for the personnel itself, the corruption case is a problematic incident but has not affected the overall status of the Navy. Of more concern are the (videotaped) cases of physical and psychological abuse against marines during training courses.
The Caracas Question
This analysis would not be complete without discussing Venezuela-Colombia tensions. The two governments have a long history, including been part of the same country in the 19thcentury. However, tensions have regularly escalated, particularly as they both claim the oil-rich Gulf of Venezuela, which prompted the 1987 maritime crisis. Tensions increased during the presidencies of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe, which culminated in the 2008 incident. Sadly, even after the two leaders left power, occasional flare-ups continued, such as this past August.
It is important to note that under Chavez, Caracas spent billions of dollars on Russian and Chinese equipment for the Venezuelan armed forces, but the main beneficiaries were the Army and Air Force. Recent open-source reports hint that the Venezuelan Navy is doing the best with what it has, which means repairing old vessels, like the submarine Caribe, S-32, and its Lupo-class frigates. The country’s acquisitions program can be regarded as modest – one recent example is the purchase of Damen-built patrol vessels.
While it is not my goal to discuss a theoretical Colombia-Venezuela conflict, the information currently available regarding both navies provides a strong advantage to the Colombian Navy, as it has seasoned personnel with combat experience due to their anti-drug trafficking operations and the ARC 7 de Agosto vessel operating in the Horn of Africa. Of course, the caveat here is that the Colombian Navy has not participated in an actual inter-state conflict in decades (but then again, neither has the Venezuelan Navy), which means Colombian naval personnel lack that particular kind of combat-experience. As far as the equipment  goes, the current purchases provide the Colombians a formidable force, particularly when it comes to its submarine fleet.
Furthermore, the Colombian Navy enjoys strong relations with regional navies, which means that it participates in valuable multinational training exercises. For example, the ongoingUNITAS 2015 exercises have warships from Colombia, Peru, Mexico, the U.S. among others. On the other hand, the Venezuelan Navy carried out exercises with the country’s Air Force in June. Inter-agency exercises are important, but the Venezuelans are at a disadvantage as the Colombian Navy learns tactics and techniques from other navies.
Regarding the U.S., close Bogota-Washington relations are no secret, both at the political and military level. When it comes to navies, apart from participating in joint maritime exercises, there are often meetings between the senior naval command of both countries. Case in point, this past January, Admiral John Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, traveled to Colombia to meet with Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and the commander of the Navy, Admiral Hernando Wills.
Given the plethora of current analyses discussing how far the U.S. government (and military) will go to support their allies (i.e. via NATO in Europe or to protect Taiwan in the Asia Pacific), it is necessary to briefly discuss U.S.-Colombia relations if the South American state went to war; a Colombia-Venezuela conflict being the most plausible scenario. It is safe to say that the U.S. will notgo to war over Colombia. Nevertheless, we can deduce that the U.S. would support to its ally, particularly if it is in a war against Venezuela, which has been a thorn in Washington’s side since the dawn of the Chavez era. Specifically, I would argue that Washington would focus provide intelligence to Bogota – a precedent would be the U.S. supplying intel to the UK against Argentina during the Falklands War.
Ultimately, the question is: Is a war between Colombia and Venezuela inevitable? The fact that the crises of 1987, 2008 and 2015 did not result in conflict speaks well of how both governments preferred dialogue over war. Even more, just this past October, senior naval officers from both countries met inMaracaibo, Venezuela to discuss bilateral cooperation to combat crimes, including drug trafficking, along their common border. Such meetings are important confidence-building mechanisms to improve military relations.
Nevertheless, a maritime border in the Gulf of Venezuela has yet to be agreed upon by both governments, which will probably lead to another 1987-type incident in the future. Moreover, the Venezuelan economy remains in a dire state, and the Venezuelan government has turned to constantly accusing foreign actors, namely the U.S., of trying to destabilize it. Even more, Caracas has also accused Bogota of trying to destabilize its economy and fomenting the mega-inflation that Venezuela is currently experiencing. The bottom line here is that accusations over economic warfare and/or unresolved border issues will likely bring about a new round of incidents in the near future. Hopefully these will not end up in a conflict but, in this author’s personal opinion, the Colombian military may be wondering if Venezuela may try to ignite a conflict in order to divert attention from its internal problems (a la Argentina during the Falklands War).
When discussing maritime strength among military powers, it makes sense to focus on navies with either nuclear-powered vessels or in terms of modern equipment. When it comes to Latin America, assessing a navy’s strength is somewhat different as all tend to possess a mix of (sometimes very) old equipment, sprinkled with the occasional new vessel. The Colombian Navy has such a mix of warships and submarines – it has brand-new, domestically-manufactured, landing ships while its “new” German submarines are already over three decades old. Nevertheless, this author would conclude that it enjoys a high level of readiness (best exemplified by successful operations against maritime crimes). While nobody wants war, if it does occur, Colombia’s Navy is certainly a powerhouse to be reckoned with.

CIMSEC: Determining Success: TRADEWINDS 2015 and Lessons Learned

"Determining Success: TRADEWINDS 2015 and Lessons Learned"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Center for International Maritime Security
October 7, 2015
Originally published:

Between May 31 and June 24 of this year, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) carried out joint naval exercises with its partners in the Greater Caribbean. The annual exercises, known as TRADEWINDS, brought together units from over a dozen countries. Without a doubt, multinational military exercises are useful as the personnel involved in the maneuvers learn new techniques from each other as well as how to work together. Nevertheless, a major concern is how well the lessons learned are properly applied to real-world operations.
The Exercises
TRADEWINDS 2015, the 31st iteration of these month-long exercises, took place in two phases: first in Saint Kitts and Nevis and then in Belize. U.S military personnel trained with their counterparts from 18 other nations, including Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, nations from the Greater Caribbean, Mexico, and even overseas partners like the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (which both have territories in the Caribbean).Caribbean multinational agencies also present included the Regional Security System (RSS), the Regional Intelligence Fusion Center (RIFC), and the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), among others. According toSOUTHCOM, the exercises were aimed at strengthening “the capacity of Caribbean nations to respond to natural disasters, humanitarian crises and counter transnational organized crime.”
There have been several reports that enumerate and explain the nature of the exercise. For example, off the coast of Belize, the navies from Belize, Mexico and the United Kingdom carried out a simulated vessel boarding, search, and seizure operation. Mexican naval personnel from the Mexican Navy ship ARM Independencia, travelling in an interceptor boat, boarded the British vessel theHMS Severn and “simulated [the] arrests of a group of merchant mariners who tried to resist.” Other exercises included crowd control, safety techniques like clearing buildings, and gunnery with a 50-caliber machine gun. A June 10 video posted in the Coast Guard Compass, the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard, shows USCG personnel aboard a patrol boat from Grenada, explaining various techniques to their counterparts regarding how to understand the sea states and navigate effectively as they pursue a suspicious vessel.
In addition to praise from SOUTHCOM, the exercise has enjoyed the public endorsement and support from various Caribbean governments. For example ZIZ News, a Saint Kitts news agency, quoted Captain Kayode Sutton of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force as saying, “the support from the government [in Basseterre] has been tremendous… Mr. Osbert DeSuza, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister… visited the Exercise Control Centre and he received a brief as to what is going on for the entire exercise, the training, all the exercises that are going on right now.” Meanwhile, Guyana deployed its navy’s flagship, the GDFS Essequibo, to the exercise’s maritime phase, highlighting Georgetown’s commitment to display the best it has to offer to operate along its regional allies.
How to Determine Success?                                                    
During the TRADEWINDS 2015 opening ceremony in Saint Kitts,Lt. Col. Patrick E. Wallace, commander of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defense Force, declared, “I stress that the knowledge and skill that comes from this exercise is essential … However, just as important, is the strengthening of multi-national relationships." 
Making a multinational exercise successful so it can be properly applied in the real world includes coming up with realistic scenarios, as explained to this author by John Cope, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. He suggests that what’s needed are  “players (other than the US) had a major role in shaping the exercise scenario and the organization of the event so that the exercise emphasizes what they see as their needs rather than what the US/SOUTHCOM thinks are their needs, also the non-US players assume important positions in the structure of the exercise.”
A SOUTHCOM press release announcing the beginning of the exercises went over the two operational phases of TRADEWINDS 2015. But there is also a third phase, the “Key Leader Seminar,” designed to facilitate a discussion of the other phases and the way ahead. Ideally, a comprehensive report will be drafted regarding the lessons learned, as well as lessons that still need to be fully learned, from TRADEWINDS 2015. (In the interests of full-disclosure: in preparation for this commentary, I contacted SOUTHCOM for further information on the lessons learned aspect of TRADEWINDS 2015, but received no reply.)
Numerous military agencies, both U.S. and international, have published reports discussing how to properly adapt lessons learned from both exercises and operations. As the Establishing a Lessons Learned Program Handbook by the Center for Army Lessons Learned ponders, is a military organization “willing to openly discuss its mistakes, and is it willing to share those mistakes across organizational lines to make everyone better?” If not, it will be very difficult to implement an effective [Lessons Learned] program… The act of ‘saving face’ precludes individuals from admitting their mistakes.”
Hopefully phase 3 of TRADEWINDS 2015 included an open and honest discussion between representatives from the participating militaries, where there was not only praise for the event, but admitting, even if it was off the record, which areas they still need improving, in order to work in greater cohesion with the security forces of neighboring countries. Cope explains that, at least regarding the Caribbean, a base for institutionalizing operational and tactical procedures and processes that worked during an exercise may already be standard across various regional states. “Where CARICOM countries are struggling to perfect common approaches is in standardizing procedures for strategic and operational planning and strategic/political decision making. Their comprehensive disaster management process and experience with the Cricket World Cup have helped Caribbean countries, but leaders continually change.”
A PR Campaign?
Part of the problem may be simply a lack of a consistent PR campaign by regional navies (and security forces in general) to highlight the effectiveness of exercises. In other words, if a narco-speedboat is detained in the Caribbean by units of the U.S. and Jamaican coast guard services, it would be helpful if a subsequent press release could tie the hypothetical successful operation with lessons learned from TRADEWINDS. Another initiative would be to invite high-ranking government officials as well as journalists and other experts to the exercises as they take place, as this would help showcase the level of cooperation militaries from different states can achieve. This would have the added benefit of serving as a prime example to support similar exercises in the future.
At a time of budget constraints and with SOUTHCOM being the lowest-priority command center in the U.S. military, said agency needs to better demonstrate to Washington that its activities, including multinational exercises, are beneficial for both U.S. and regional security.
Concluding Thoughts
This discussion is not meant to question the validity of TRADEWINDS specifically, but rather to address multinational military exercises in general. The U.S. conducts quite a number of these in the Western Hemisphere, such as UNITAS, PANAMAX,Continuing Promise, and Beyond the Horizon/New Horizons.
Multinational exercises are important but a strong link has yet to be made between a successful naval exercise (i.e. in which units from two nations operate together to stop a suspicious vessel in the Caribbean), and whether the lessons learned from said simulation were successfully applied in the real world. Given the ongoing amounts of drug trafficking that flow through Caribbean waters, putting these lessons learned to the test would not be difficult.
Ultimately, SOUTHCOM is not lacking in exercises to increase its relations with regional allies in the Greater Caribbean and rest of Latin America; but it seems that the agency could do with a better PR campaign to explain how effective these exercises are in the long run.