WHINSEC vital to era of engagement

Our national security interests are in play across the globe — two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple fronts in the war on terror and lingering concerns over the intentions of potentially hostile nations such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. This environment of heightened sensitivity and risk makes it all the more important we are working in concert with our neighbors in our own backyard so we don’t face these challenges alone. This “era of engagement” demands we develop and utilize all the tools at our disposal to develop the relationships necessary to ensure stability in our hemisphere, and one such important tool is the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

WHINSEC is located at Fort Benning, Ga., — formerly was a part of my Congressional District — and was authorized under the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Authorization Bill, falling under the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The mission of WHINSEC is to develop training partnerships for military personnel, law enforcement officials and civilians in support of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS). In short, to develop friendships that allow the United States to partner with our geographic neighbors — nations like Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Chile and Peru — on issues important to democracy and security in the Western Hemisphere.

The benefits of these strategic partnerships are clear in both our traditional and untraditional national security interests. In the Global War on Terror, partnerships developed through WHINSEC have resulted in many of the participating nations contributing resources and personnel, thereby alleviating some of the demands placed on our own troops.  However, I would maintain the less obvious ways our cooperative partnerships benefit the United States are equally as important in regard to the safety and security of our citizens. 

Border security and cracking down on drugs and gang violence have been some of the most significant impacts of WHINSEC. Simply put, in order to curb the increase in violence and drugs crossing into the United States, we must take all steps necessary to ensure our borders are secure. Increasing resources and personnel at the border is important, but engaging with nations in the Western Hemisphere to eliminate the problem in their own countries before it spreads is imperative. 

For example, we must work with our southern neighbor, Mexico, if we are to curb the recent spike in drug trafficking and gang violence that can largely be linked to Mexican drug cartels. In one weekend in March, more than 50 people were brutally murdered due to drug violence in the Mexican cities of Acapulco and Ciudad Juárez — a city known to be ravaged by drug-related gang violence and having one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Unfortunately, we are seeing this manifest on our own streets as well, and it’s clear the influx of drugs and related violence being exported from Mexico is getting worse. Take my home state as an example: In the last two years, 77 members of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel were arrested in the Atlanta area by law enforcement personnel.

We can either take steps to address these matters here in the United States — after the drugs and violent offenders have already arrived on our streets, in our neighborhoods and at our schools — or work with our Mexican counterparts to shut it down on their side of the border. Clearly, the latter scenario is preferable, and if we are going to be successful in our efforts, engagement through tools like WHINSEC is critical.

WHINSEC’s training in counter-drug operations and narco-terrorism analysis is second to none. Personnel from our Latin American partners — including Mexico — are instructed in counterdrug operations and tracking narco-terrorists. Since December 2009, the Institute has trained over 700 students from 24 countries, and 11,000 have participated in leadership programs since the Institute’s inception. Additionally, not only has WHINSEC helped make U.S. streets safer, it has had a positive impact on crime rates within participating nations — which is why many nations are increasing their level of participation.

I have been honored to serve on the Board of Visitors for WHINSEC for eight years, and I urge my fellow Members of Congress to visit the school to see firsthand the important work that is being accomplished there. 

WHINSEC is open to visitors every working day and invites people to sit in class, talk with students and faculty and review instructional material. This is perhaps the most open, transparent and welcoming organization in the Department of Defense, and one of the most critical in our fight against terrorism, illegal immigration and illegal drugs. We should be proud of the strategic friendships developed at WHINSEC and continue to grow and expand its mission in this era of engagement.

Rep. Gingrey (R-Ga.) serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is a former Member of the House Armed Services Committee.