Perry Center Hosts Diplomats for Washington Security and Defense Seminar
WSDS 2022 Group Photo
18 Nov 2022

The William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies recently convened representatives from the Latin American and Caribbean diplomatic community for its 2022 Washington Security and Defense Seminar (WSDS), held November 1-3, in Washington, DC. The annual three-day seminar featured more than 30 top officials, scholars, and policy experts who provided insight on the development and implementation of US national security and defense policy, particularly in relation to the Western Hemisphere. The unique forum provided 72 participants from 21 countries in the Americas an opportunity to engage and exchange perspectives with individuals representing entities with wide-ranging equities in US security and defense policy, including the US Congress, academia, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, and departments across the US interagency.

Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the Organization of American States Ambassador Alejandra Solano lauded the inclusion of civil and diplomatic perspectives in the dialogue and felt she contributed “the perspective of non-military countries like Costa Rica seeking to strengthen regional security and fight regional threats in regional ways.” Sessions on key issues confronting the security and defense sector, such as subnational diplomacy, countering corruption, climate change, and cyber vulnerabilities, complemented orientations on the US budget process, electoral system, civil-military relations, and security cooperation.

Complex policy environment

Perry Center Director Dr. Paul Angelo noted that the complexity of US policy development is “a reflection of the fact we live in an open and transparent society with a lot of opportunity for open dialogue. You are not always going to get a single, consolidated answer from the US government because there is oftentimes not a single, consolidated opinion about the proper policy to deal with the challenges we confront.” However, understanding US interagency structure, roles, relationships, and processes will shed light on “how to make Washington work for you and how to advance our joint priorities.”

Guatemala Delegate to the Inter-American Defense Board Colonel Pablo Baldomero de León Franco stated, “This seminar is very important to us, especially working here in Washington, DC […]. In just three days, we learned a lot about topics of interest to Guatemala and to the whole hemisphere.” The sessions helped to illuminate how US policy works, how the Department of Defense works with others, and how to benefit from programs offered — “things that are sometimes unknown or unclear,” he said.

Democratic development a priority

“No region impacts the United States more directly than the Western Hemisphere,” states the recently released US National Security Strategy (NSS). In a timely address to participants, Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez discussed his role and the development of the 2022 NSS. He noted, “The Western Hemisphere portion of the NSS is one of the most robust since the Cold War […]. Our attempt this time around was to develop a geopolitical understanding of our interests in Latin America.” He underscored that “the hemisphere’s democratic development is fundamentally in the national security interest of the United States, regardless of the political ideology of those who are elected […] what matters is how you are elected and how you govern.” Accordingly, the United States will try to engage with any democratically elected government to find ways to work together to advance shared interests and make democracy succeed in the Americas.

Integrated approach to cooperation

Integrated deterrence is central to the US National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the work of the Department of Defense. In discussing the concept of integrated deterrence, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton explained that “an integrated approach to cooperation in this hemisphere is about developing and combining our strengths to maximum effect while being respectful of individual countries’ sovereignty and choices: an integrated approach that makes our operations more seamless […] and allows us to exercise resilience in the face of collective transboundary threats.”

Resilience in defense relationships

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere Daniel Erikson emphasized the need for resilient defense relationships that have the “flexibility to adapt to new challenges and ability to be sustained during periods of political change.” Dialogue that leads to shared understanding and relationship building, such as that facilitated by the Perry Center in forums like WSDS, contribute to this effort. President of National Defense University US Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Plehn highlighted the value of these relationships, saying “the best way to address regional security challenges is a team effort with a whole-of-government, whole-of-nations approach” and that “getting to know each other in advance of a crisis is priceless.” To that end, National Defense University recently updated its mission statement to reflect the importance of an integrated approach.

“The bottom line,” Dr. Angelo summarized for participants, “is that the US government is here to partner with you so please see us, and particularly the Perry Center, as a resource going forward […]. Everybody has a seat at the table here.”

WSDS 2022 was organized by Dr. Fabiana Perera and Dr. Pat Paterson of the Perry Center.

Written by Darla Jordan
Originally appears in Diálogo Américas Magazine, reproduced with permission