Small Wars Journal

Book Review: Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command

Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command

by James G. Stavridis

Published by National Defense University Press, Washington D.C. 261 pages, 2010.

Reviewed by Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein, MSC, USN

Download Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command free of charge.

Admiral James Stavridis currently serves as Commander, United States European Command (EUCOM) and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). From 2006 to 2009, Admiral Stavridis commanded United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquartered in Miami and has published a recent book on the national security challenges and opportunities of our hemisphere. It is too easy to be focused on the crisis of the moment, such as events in Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula or China, that we take for granted the problems that could escalate in our own hemisphere. Admiral Stavridis discusses how the United States can engage South America with an eye towards mitigating problems before they become a crisis. His advocacy is that the America's is our shared home, yet the 460 million people occupy one-sixth of the Earth's surface all of whom have had diverse political histories from the Portuguese influence of Brazil, the Spanish influence of Chile, to the poorest and most vulnerable experience of the former French colony of Haiti. Each one has its own story to tell of colonialism, and some have legitimate historic grievances with United States policy. Yet the book reminds readers that by 2050, 30 percent of United States citizens will be of Hispanic origin. It also serves to highlight that the Americas have the mutual ties of liberal democracy that bind the United States with other countries in our hemisphere. Admiral Stavridis is conscious of the perception that the United States as an imperialist nation in the region, with memories of backing up such dictators as Chile's Augusto Pinnochet, and detests Americans who condescendingly call Central and South America, "America's backyard."

Sections of the book focus on the terrorism threat, whereby the Shiite Islamist Group Hizbullah uses South America as a facilitation node for fund raising, and to provide the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with strike options in this hemisphere. Brazilian authorities arrested a suspect linked to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Also mentioned is Colombia's success story against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) a Marxist group that devolved into base narco-terrorism, and has seen a 50 percent drop in their membership. Mexican drug cartels are a destabilizing influence along our southern border, who have adopted intimidation techniques from al-Qaida videos such as beheadings and improvised explosive devices targeting Mexican security forces.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the book is Admiral Stavridis restricting of SOUTHCOM to elevate it from a joint command to an interagency command. We often talk about how the United States military has perfected jointness and that the next phase is cultivating officers who can operate within and among different agencies. The author has instituted a new command structure that ties in the Department of State, USAID, and other Federal Agencies in a whole of government approach to the hemisphere. Admiral Stavridis is also an advocate of Humanitarian Service Group, much like a Carrier Strike Group provides an offensive capability centered on a carrier, the Humanitarian Service Group would be built around the Hospital Ship USNS Mercy or USNS Comfort. They would provide relief assistance and reconstruction on many Caribbean, Central and South American nations attempting to change perceptions of a new generation of children and families towards the United States. Of note, the cover of the book features a photo of the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort. The chapter on trafficking shows looks at the problem from the United States as well as the South and Central American nations and ties the narcotics problem to new markets such as Spain and even within South American nations themselves coping with problems of addiction and crime. Readers will see a photo of a Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS) that maintains a low radar profile and carries 15 metric tons of drugs into the United States from the sea.

The book ends with a chapter, entitled "Youth Matters," and the author's discussion of the youth demographics and what to do has application in the Middle East and South Asia which is experiencing a youth bulge of its own. There are many ideas in this book not just for those with an interest in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere, but for those with an interest in how to operationalize the whole of government approach. I would have liked a discussion on how SOUTHCOM with its new interagency structure works with other Combatant Commands organized along more traditional joint lines, such as NORTHCOM, are there any problems aligning the combatant commands on issues of mutual interest. In addition, I will be eager to read about how this SOUTHCOM's new structure reacts to such abnormal events like the 2009 Haitian Earthquake that left upwards of 320,000 people dead.

Download Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command free of charge.

Commander Aboul-Enein is author of "Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat," published by Naval Institute Press. He is Adjunct Islamic Studies Chair at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Commander Aboul-Enein wishes to thank Ms. Dori Corley who recently completed her undergraduate work in International Relations at Boston University for her edits and commentary that enhanced this book review.