SPPD Dean Jack Knott Tours the Southern Command
By Cristy Lytal
USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development Dean Jack H. Knott spoke to a packed audience about his firsthand experiences in Guantanamo Bay and Central and South America while participating in the 78th Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, last fall.
The week-long conference focused on the Southern Command, which is responsible for all U.S. military activities in Central and South America in addition to participating in disaster response in these areas, including Haiti.
Knott and approximately 50 other civilian leaders – including three mayors, a senatorial candidate and other business, nonprofit, university and government luminaries – kept military hours and traveled to Central and South America in a C-17 military aircraft. The leaders learned about the Southern Command’s biggest challenges, from the operations at Guantanamo Bay to the ongoing war against drug trafficking.
“These issues are hugely important,” Knott said. “The region is right on our border. It’s right next to us.”
The conference began in Washington, D.C., with a tour of the marine barracks and briefings from senior officials, including the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the leader of the Southern Command. Iraq and Afghanistan were major topics, along with China’s rapidly developing military technology, as well as trends in modernization and nation building.
On day two, Knott woke at 3 a.m. to fly to Guantanamo Bay, where 220 prisoners are still being detained. Many are held in a maximum-security area, which Knott also visited.
“We have the problem of how to balance human rights with American security,” Knott said, “and the number of people, despite the closure of Guantanamo Bay, that we have in these facilities is growing, not declining.”
The next leg of the conference brought the issues of the drug trade into sharp focus. At a Caribbean Air Force base in Curaçao designed for the detection of drug trafficking, military personnel stationed there recently witnessed drug cartels using “semi-submersibles,” vessels that travel two to three feet under the water and cannot be detected by radar. They also have seen the diversion of traffic through land routes in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, which has led to a huge rise in violence in these societies.
Knott toured Colombia, including its capital city Bogotá, a special training base outside Tolemaida and a naval base at Cartagena. These visits made him keenly aware of the policy issues presented by the continuation of large-scale drug trafficking, regional security and the fragility of the Colombian democracy.
The final two stops were Panama City and Miami, where the Coast Guard briefed them about the protection of cruise ships and the prevention of drug trafficking and illegal immigration.
“I was quite struck by the multilateral and bilateral cooperation between Colombia and the U.S., between Panama and the U.S., and between several other countries around the Panama Canal’s security and disaster relief,” said Knott said.
Throughout the conference, Knott was impressed by what he called the “dedication, professionalism and skill of the service men and women.” He also complimented the intelligence of the senior leadership; the stunning technology and equipment; and the overall organization, planning and operational ability of the military.
He concluded his remarks by raising thought-provoking questions about the United States’ ever-evolving international role.
“We have become almost unique in the world in terms of the role we play in global security and in responding to natural disasters,” he said. “It is enormous — the equipment, the people, the resources, the intelligence that goes into it. And the question facing our country going forward: Is this the role we can sustain?”
In 25 years, Knott predicted, China, Brazil and India will become major military powers. “It’s going to be a multi-polar world, and we need to be prepared for that,” he said. “That’s a very different kind of world.”
He left the conference with the sense of the importance of military policy to public policy.
“I came away with the sense that this is central to what we are as a country,” he said. “It’s central to our future. And it affects communities all around our country.”