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Southcom Commander Says Partnerships Key to National Defense in Western Hemisphere

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 08, 2022) -- In just four months of leading U.S. Southern Command, there's one thing that's become apparent to Army Gen. Laura J. Richardson. The key to addressing security threats in South America, and by extension to the U.S. itself, doesn't just lie with America's own military but with the militaries of the partner nations already there.

"In my initial travels in the region, it has become obvious to me that our partners are our best defense," Richardson told members of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "We must use all available levers to strengthen our partnerships with the 28 like-minded democracies in this hemisphere, who understand the power of working together to counter these shared threats."

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Threats in South America, Richardson said, include transnational criminal organization as well as the meddling of both China and Russia.

In South America, she said, China continues to expand economic, diplomatic, technological, informational and military influence, which challenges U.S. influence in those areas.

"Without U.S. leadership, negative PRC influence in this region could soon resemble the self-serving predatory influence it now holds in Africa," she said.

Also, a threat in South America is Russia, Richardson said.

"Russia, a more immediate threat, is increasing its engagements in the hemisphere, as Putin looks to keep his options open and maintain relationships in our neighborhood," she said.

Earlier this year, Russia's deputy prime minister, Yury Borisov, said he could neither affirm nor exclude Russia would send military assets to Cuba or Venezuela, Richardson told lawmakers.

Then, just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Borisov visited Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. All are nations Richardson said maintain close ties with Russia and which offer Russia a foothold in the western hemisphere.

"Finally, recent visits between the presidents of Brazil and Argentina with Putin in Russia, demonstrate and concerning potential broadening of Russian ties in the region," she said.

Farther north, Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command said the U.S. needs to do more to be ready for operations in the Arctic.

One thing he said is needed now is presence and persistence in the Arctic, and all the infrastructure required to do that. That could include, he said, maritime infrastructure, such as ports deep enough for cruisers, destroyers or Coast Guard cutters, for instance.

Also needed are communications capabilities to operate north of the 65th parallel and infrastructure from which to operate daily air missions not only in Alaska but across Canada and into Greenland as well.

One lawmaker asked VanHerck how Northern Command plans to improve training for U.S. forces to ensure they are ready to operate in the Arctic.

Right now, VanHerck said, the U.S. doesn't have a ready force to operate in the Arctic, but he said he hopes he'll see efforts to fix that in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

"I'm ... encouraged by the strategies -- the department has a strategy and the services all have strategies," he said. "Now the question is, are we going to fund those strategies? I look forward to seeing the FY23 budget to see if we do fund as part of the Arctic strategy, the actual capabilities that you're talking about."

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