USA/Mexico — Northcom Chief Cites Mexico Partnership as Top Priority

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., June 1, 2010 — Con­fi­dent in the strength of the U.S.-Canada secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship, the new com­man­der of North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand and U.S. North­ern Com­mand said he’s turn­ing his focus south­ward.

“The Num­ber 1 pri­or­i­ty is going to be our part­ner­ship with Mex­i­co. There is just no ques­tion,” Navy Adm. James A. Win­nefeld Jr. told reporters here last week. Win­nefeld is tour­ing the south­west­ern U.S. bor­der region today, accept­ing the invi­ta­tion extend­ed by Ari­zona Sen. John McCain dur­ing Winnefeld’s April con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. It’s Winnefeld’s first vis­it there since assum­ing com­mand on May 19, and he told reporters he’s look­ing for­ward to get­ting a deep­er under­stand­ing of the issues involved. Although detailed plans are still being worked, the up to 1,200 Nation­al Guard troops expect­ed to deploy to the U.S.-Mexican bor­der as part of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s bor­der-secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive aren’t expect­ed to report to Win­nefeld. The Guard mem­bers will serve under Title 32 author­i­ty, paid for with fed­er­al funds but under their state gov­er­nors’ author­i­ty.

How­ev­er, Win­nefeld sees him­self as instru­men­tal in help­ing to ensure the Mex­i­cans under­stand what their role will be – and more impor­tant­ly, what it won’t be.

“This is not mil­i­ta­riz­ing the bor­der. There is no intent to do that,” the admi­ral said. “This is a civ­il sup­port mis­sion that is a bridge until some of the $500 mil­lion that the pres­i­dent has iden­ti­fied to plus up the [fed­er­al law enforce­ment capa­bil­i­ty along the bor­der] gets into place.”

Win­nefeld rec­og­nizes the impor­tance of per­cep­tion. “We have to make sure it is shaped appro­pri­ate­ly so we don’t achieve a tac­ti­cal vic­to­ry and end up with a strate­gic loss, par­tic­u­lar­ly with our part­ners in Mex­i­co,” he said.

Obama’s plan ensures these and oth­er issues are addressed, he said, and rec­og­nizes that both coun­tries have a stake in con­trol­ling cross-bor­der traf­fick­ing.

“We are look­ing at stuff going south” – pri­mar­i­ly cash and weapons – “as much as we are look­ing at stuff going north” – nar­cotics and oth­er illic­it mate­ri­als, Win­nefeld said. “And that is impor­tant to our part­ners.”

He empha­sized the impor­tance of the U.S.-Mexico part­ner­ship and the role North­com can play.

Work­ing in coop­er­a­tion with U.S. South­ern Com­mand, Win­nefeld sees “tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty” to build clos­er ties between the U.S. and Mex­i­can mil­i­taries in ways that both coun­tries find accept­able.

“The mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship with Mex­i­co we have has nev­er been bet­ter,” Win­nefeld said. He cred­it­ed efforts made by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. Vic­tor “Eugene” Ren­uart, Winnefeld’s pre­de­ces­sor at North­com.

It’s an equal part­ner­ship built on full respect for Mexico’s sov­er­eign­ty, he said.

The rela­tion­ship-build­ing also rec­og­nizes that address­ing these chal­lenges does not require U.S. boots on the ground, Win­nefeld said, at least in the oper­a­tional sense.

“We are just not inter­est­ed in doing that and the Mex­i­cans are not inter­est­ed in hav­ing us [to] do that,” he said. “But, there is a tremen­dous amount of oppor­tu­ni­ty in between that” to share train­ing, infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence and to help the Mex­i­can mil­i­tary build capac­i­ty and capa­bil­i­ty.”

Win­nefeld empha­sized dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing the impor­tance of both Northcom’s and NORAD’s rela­tion­ships, par­tic­u­lar­ly with Cana­da and Mex­i­co. “I’ve observed that there are no oth­er com­bat­ant com­mands where sup­port for their part­ners [is] more impor­tant than these two,” he told the Sen­ate pan­el.

NORAD, which cel­e­brat­ed its 52nd anniver­sary this year, stands as a tes­ta­ment to the endur­ing U.S.-Canadian defense rela­tion­ship, Win­nefeld told reporters.

Win­nefeld expressed con­cern dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that drug-deal­ing and oth­er crim­i­nal car­tels threat­en U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty as well as the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment. He praised Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon’s lead­er­ship and courage in con­fronting these chal­lenges.

Dur­ing his vis­it here last week, Mullen empha­sized the impor­tance of strength­en­ing the rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Mex­i­co.

“We’re look­ing for ways to assist them and sup­port them where they ask us to sup­port them,” he said at a town hall ses­sion. “I also think there are won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to strength­en the rela­tion­ship between our coun­tries and between our mil­i­taries.”

It all boils down to trust, Mullen said, and the abil­i­ty to see issues from anoth­er country’s per­spec­tive.

“It is crit­i­cal that you try to see it from their per­spec­tive,” he said. “They are a neigh­bor. They are a good friend. And we want to do as much as we can to sup­port them.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)