March 16, 2021
USNORTHCOM-USSOUTHCOM Joint Press Briefing
Air Force General Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, U.S. Northern Command; Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command
STAFF: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank you for joining us, everyone that's here in the PBR and everyone that's joining us via Zoom.
This afternoon, we have Admiral Craig Faller, the commander of USSOUTHCOM, and General Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, here to speak a few words to you and take your questions. In just a moment, they will provide you their opening statements.
I want to remind everyone online, please keep your devices on mute unless you're speaking. We will try to balance questions here from the floor and out to Zoom and the phone, and let's try to keep things to a question and a follow-up.
With that said and without further ado, leave it to you, sir.
ADM. CRAIG FALLER: Thank you.
And thanks for taking the time to join us here today and thanks for the important job that you all do, telling the story of our military. And it's important to the world, really.
It's a pleasure to be here, alongside my friend and shipmate, General Glen VanHerck. Our teams work shoulder-to-shoulder together to confront the threats and challenges of this hemisphere.
And the two biggest threats are China and transnational criminal organizations. As the INDOPACOM commander stated in his hearing last week, China is the greatest long-term strategic threat to the security in the 21st century, the Chinese Communist Party's insidious, and corrosive and corrupt influences at work globally and in this region.
Some examples include their pursuit of multiple port deals, loans for political leverage, vaccine diplomacy that undermines sovereignty, state surveillance I.T., and the exploitation of resources such as illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
Transnational criminal organizations also pose a serious threat to regional security and sovereignty. They profit from a multi-billion-dollar-a-year enterprise that thrives on corruption and contributes to tens of thousands of American deaths every year.
These transnational criminal organizations are a threat to us here in the United States and to our partner nations. This is a national security imperative, and it drives irregular migration as we're seeing today.
SOUTHCOM's focus is exactly in line with the secretary's guidance in the National Defense Strategy. It's to counter these threats by building strong partnerships.
An example where U.S. presence and commitment to these partnerships matter occurred during our COVID response. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, our partners stepped up and increased their involvement to nearly 60 percent of narcotics disruptions.
In similar fashion, when our partners requested assistance combating the spread of the virus, we responded immediately. To date, SOUTHCOM has committed more than $56 million in funding for 464 projects, donating much-needed equipment and supplies to 28 countries. This is part of the broader U.S. government investment of more than $230 million in COVID response, the largest of any country.
With an already fragile region, our partners in Central America were struck by Eta and Iota, two powerful Cat 4 and 5 hurricanes that displaced millions and caused billions in damage.
Within hours of the first request for assistance, Joint Task Force-Bravo, our only rapidly deployant unit in the region, began rescuing people. Our team saved more than 850 lives and transported more than 1.2 million pounds of relief supplies.
At home, we focus on building our team through strict force health protection measures for our workforce, and the elimination of unacceptable behaviors which are like a cancer to trust and unit cohesion and readiness. These include racism, sexual assault, harassment, and extremism.
This hemisphere's our neighborhood, and it's important it's recognized in the interim national security guidance. It's a region of vital national interest. Thank you, and look forward to your questions.
GEN. GLEN VANHERCK: Well, good afternoon.
Thanks, Admiral Faller, for your opening comments to the members of the media that are joining us here today, both in person and on the phone. I look forward to today's engagement and hopefully many more in the future.
I'm honored to serve as the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command. It's great, for the second time today, to appear along -- beside Admiral Faller, as USSOUTHCOM is a crucial partner for homeland defense.
I'm hoping some of you were able to watch the testimony earlier this morning, but if you didn't, I'll be providing you with some highlights and my priorities of my commands that I shared with the Senate members.
NORAD and USNORTHCOM are separate commands charged with the critical mission of defending the United States and North America, respectively. NORAD is the binational command that provides aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning for the United States and Canada.
United States Northern Command is the command responsible for the defense of the homeland, defense support of civil authorities, and theater security cooperation with Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
Today, thousands of United States and Canadian service members and civilians serve under these two great commands and stand the watch as we defend our nations against all threats, whether posed by our competitors, natural disasters, or the global pandemic.
Over the last year, NORAD fighters, tankers and airborne early warning aircraft responded to multiple incursions into our air defense identification zones.
Additionally, multiple ship sortied under the operational control to defend our maritime approaches and U.S. Northern Command synchronized the department's effort to various lead federal agencies as thousands of service members deployed in the NORTHCOM AOR to aid states and local communities in the fight against the coronavirus.
Today, thousands of service members are providing life-saving vaccinations to our citizens. To date, in support of FEMA, those DOD members have administered more than 700,000, nearly 750,000 vaccines. No matter the threat, we are always ready to defend our lives of our citizens and our homelands, and we are honored to be assisting with this whole-of-government effort to end the scourge of COVID.
But COVID is just one area that has our daily attention. Right now, the threats we face and the pace of change in the geostrategic environment continues to advance. We have entered an area -- era of renewed global power competition and, at this time, we're facing two peer competitors, both nuclear-armed, that are competing against us on a daily basis.
We must adapt to all the challenges posed by this reality. Our competitors have expanded the definition of competition into economic and informational areas, and aggressively advanced their own military capabilities to hold our homelands at risk, both kinetically and non-kinetically.
We must outpace our competitors by accelerating our own efforts to transform our culture, including factoring homeland defense into every strategy, plan, force management, force design, as well as the aspects of acquisitions and budget so we can deter in competition, de-escalate in crisis, and defeat in conflict.
To do this, NORAD and NORTHCOM are concentrating our efforts on building our capability to deter and, if needed, defend against the increasingly advanced all-domain threats.
Together with the Canadian armed forces, we are in the early stages of modernization of NORAD and building additional military capabilities in the Arctic.
In coordination with the Missile Defense Agency, the United States Strategic Command and SPACECOM, we're maintaining and improving upon our ballistic missile defense capabilities. We're placing significant emphasis on left-of-launch framework that will provide decision space for our senior leaders, enabling deterrence and de-escalation options vice end-game defeat. We're advocating for investment in all-domain awareness to generate a layered sensing grid and a layered defense approach that emphasizes the use of an open-sensor data architecture and machine-enhanced processing in order to achieve information dominance and decision superiority. Through information dominance, we will grant decision-makers the increased decision space and build upon flexible response options to deter, deny or defeat every threat to the United States and Canada.
Finally, I have recently signed an unclassified executive summary of our classified NORAD and USNORTHCOM strategy. You have it here with you, as well. For those in the room, it -- it's here, and anyone else who wants it, it's posted on our NORAD and USNORTHCOM websites.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
STAFF: Thank you, gentlemen. We will now open up for questions. We'll take the first one from the booth with Lita Baldor, A.P.
Q: -- very much. Question for both of you, but first, General VanHerck, can you bring us up to date? Just how many total U.S. service members are right now participating in the COVID response? And do you expect that it has leveled off, or do you expect it to increase as -- as -- over the next several weeks?
And then for both of you, have either of you received any addition -- requests for additional support from the Biden administration to help with the surge of migrants coming across the border, either in intel, surveillance or additional troops on the border? Thank you.
GEN. VANHERCK: So I'll go first, if you don't mind -- 2,488 at this time, troops total providing vaccination support. I have 3,300 on prepared to deploy orders, and if we receive a mission assignment approved by the secretary of defense, we'll provide additional teams in support of the lead federal agency, FEMA.
I do anticipate increase in the coming weeks to provide additional support. As the vaccine becomes more readily-available, we will provide additional capability and -- and -- and support to get vaccines in arms as quick as possible.
I have not received any questions or comments or taskings from the current administration through the secretary of defense with regards to anything on the southwest border.
ADM. FALLER: The -- the violence, the horrific violence that's contributing to driving this from the transnational criminal organizations who have actually used the pandemic to their advantage and taken up a black market share of COVID response on top of those hurricanes I mentioned, Lita, have created this perfect storm of instability with conditions that rival the Great Depression in the AOR. So it's a significant effort that the nations there are undertaking.
We've stayed engaged with humanitarian assistance projects that are appropriately scoped and -- and rapid -- and small in size and rapid to -- to help, and USAID and other government agencies are -- are involved to help with the conditions that are driving this.
The secretary asked my views on the drivers, and I've provided those. And then, as we go forward, the solutions have got to be whole-of-government.
STAFF: Okay, we'll come in here from the floor. Tara?
Q: Thank you both. Admiral Faller, from the testimony this morning, you mentioned how China has been having a heavy-handed mask and vaccine diplomacy. Could you give us some specific examples of what countries they're employing this with in, you know, in exchange for 5G or I.T.? And then, how does that spending on mask and vaccine diplomacy by China compare to what the U.S. is doing?
ADM. FALLER: To date, the U.S. response has been fulsome, as I mentioned in my opening, the largest of all the contributors in the hemisphere, over $230 million of response, and it's been focused on what our partners need. But -- but that doesn't create a gap here in the U.S., and I think that's what all the citizens of this country would -- would want and expect.
Where China has stepped ahead of us is in vaccine delivery, and -- and they're using it for global advantage, not necessarily for what they would want to do at home, and that -- that's in the tens of millions in numbers of vaccines that they've provided.
And then there's nine of 16 countries that still support Taiwan are in this hemisphere, and you can look at the countries that are receiving support and those that aren't, and you can see that they're -- China's using it to further push countries away from their line-up with Taiwan. The New York Times had a -- an excellent piece on this today, citing two of the regions, countries and what China's doing.
But they're not just using it for diplomatic; they're using it to create favorable economic conditions for state-owned enterprises, and particularly, in 5G, where it's well known what a deal with Huawei does to your sovereignty. It provides a direct path to China, and they're using this to leverage the playing field against any sort of deals that would go against Huawei, for one example. And so that -- those would be a couple examples of using the -- the pandemic to China's advantage.
Q: Just to follow up on that, can you name specific countries where this mask for -- you know, in exchange for Huawei is having --
ADM. FALLER: Well, I think the -- the New York Times cited one, and I'd keep the others private in the interest of the intelligence and -- and things that we have.
Q: And then you'd also mentioned that in a trip you made in September to Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, some of the military partners you met with had a hollow-eyed look. And it was kind of shocking to hear you use that term. How worried are you that the pandemic, transnational crime will actually add demands on SOUTHCOM to bring military presence there to help out?
ADM. FALLER: Go back to 2019. There was a lot of instability in the region in places that we wouldn't normally expect. Take Chile. There was instability in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, which did a very good job of -- of handling it in a -- in a very professional human rights-oriented way. Up into Central America, Venezuela continues to be just a cesspool for all things bad, and that was 2019.
Now, we add a pandemic on top of that, and the negative 7.4 percent on average GDP hit that the countries have taken, the impacts of major storms. We're very concerned of the fragility of these states, and we're watching it extremely closely, and to what impact that has on security forces' ability to maintain that security. Because you have to have security in order to have economics and prosperity and freedom and there are a number of important elections coming. And our best way to inform this is as a supporting member in a diplomacy-led initiative, and -- and learn as much as we can about the environment and the information world and the intelligence world, and then share that with our partners in the U.S. interagency and our partner nations.
Q: General VanHerck, how many service members are deployed at the border right now? And what is the mix of reserve component versus active duty? And what is their mission in light of the president rescinding the national emergency on the border? Whose decision is it to send them home eventually?
GEN. VANHERCK: Okay. Thanks. That's a great question. So 100 percent of the forces are currently National Guard forces from 22 states under Title 10 status. Right now the mission is through the end of this fiscal year. It will be the secretary's decision going forward. There is a request on the street to ask for additional support. Ultimately, the secretary of defense will make a risk assessment supporting and continuing the mission on the border.
Does that answer your question?
Q: How many National Guard troops?
GEN. VANHERCK: Yes. So there is a total of 3,500 and change that are on the RFA for '21. There is an additional 550 or so that were provided for COVID uplift that were mobilized through the end of March. So it's 4,000, slightly over 4,000 total.
Q: The request on the street that you just mentioned, was that --
GEN. VANHERCK: So Homeland Security, CBP, would like to continue DOD support. Our mission specifically, the answer to your other piece of your question, is providing support to the lead federal agency, in this case, Homeland Security. We provide three types of support. First is detection and monitoring. So we man sites and we provide information when we see migrants or others crossing the border to CBP so they can conduct their law enforcement mission.
We also provide aviation support with the use of 24 helicopters, UH-72s, that provide detection and monitoring from an aviation perspective. And, again, they pass that off to Customs and Border Protection. And the final thing, we provide ground support. Ground support in the maintenance of vehicles so that we can free up the law enforcement capable, Customs and Border Protection Homeland Security folks to do the law enforcement mission while we provide support.
STAFF: Okay. We're going to go back to the phones. Aaron Mehta, Defense News.
Q: Yes, thanks very much.
For Admiral Faller, I wanted to follow up on something that came up in the hearing a few times, simply the question about ISR assets. You have been banging the drum for a couple of years now in testimony and interviews that there is just not enough ISR. We know that's a Pentagon-wide problem.
But I'm wondering two things. One, having talked about it for a couple of years, has that situation improved for SOUTHCOM at all? Have you gotten more assets in the region? And, two, given that the budgets are expected to be coming down, or at least flat going forward, do you see any cause for optimism that SOUTHCOM might be able to actually get some ISR assets given the requirements around the globe and given the budget situation?
ADM. FALLER: Aaron, thanks. It's a great question. The -- first I'll just say that prioritization is important and it's hard. And the Pentagon has a solid process for that. And no one is ever satisfied given the global threats and demands on the level of resources to do our job. We get a fair shake. Having said that, about less than 1 percent of the ISR assets are allocated to SOUTHCOM. And their threats are growing and significant.
An area that we're hopeful in is what we call "21st-Century tradecraft," or "non-traditional ISR." And so we think about ISR, we think about big wing stuff, P-8s and big MQ-9 drones. That is important, but also important that we leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning for all the data that is out there that is available on the open source. We've had a couple of pilot programs in the past year that if converted to programs of record or are embraced more broadly show great promise. And as we think about data and information, to build the kind of all-domain awareness that we need, that General VanHerck talks about.
ADM. FALLER: Ultimately this is a global problem set. All these challenges are global and we've got to work together as NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM as one COM with all the other COCOMs to really get after this. Thank you.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. It sounds like you're asking less at this point for physical drone systems or ISR systems and more should be looking forward to kind of A.I. and the kind of hybrid fusion stuff that's going on?
ADM. FALLER: Certainly a balance. I wouldn't characterize it as less, but we've got to have the right balance going forward and there is a role for manned platforms and unmanned platforms in addition to using data in the information space. We did get a slight increase last year in response to the transactional criminal organization threat and we think that modest increase is important to sustain going forward.
STAFF: Okay, we'll come back to the floor, Abraham?
Q: Thank you. Admiral Faller, good to see you again. Could assess in your time as Commander of SOUTHCOM where the Venezuelan military stands in its support for the regime? Has it weakened? Has it strengthened? And what would need to happen for mil-mil ties to be renewed, what benefits could happen?
And General VanHerck, can you give a quick update on the status of the radar and missiles defense projects that are underway in Alaska? And are they on pace to meet our national security needs? Thank you.
ADM. FALLER: The Venezuelan tragedy continues and migration has increased over five million now on the worst migration crisis in this hemisphere. Maduro is -- illegitimate Maduro regime is fully entrenched and Cuba security forces, Russia and Iranian and China all are supporting his entrenched reign of power.
His security forces at the upper level are all completely corrupted and all in to save themselves over their country which is really unfortunate. And the right diplomatic and economic pressure's been applied, it hasn't resulted in the desired outcome. And part of that is that just challenge associated with finding people that will do the right things within a country that's corrupted and has become a haven for transnational criminal organizations, narco terrorist if you will.
Going forward we've done a lot of planning. We've done multinational planning effort with many nations in the region to look at the day after. So to your very question, what would it take to build professional security forces and provide support to a whole-of-world effort, keeping the military role appropriate and small. And it would be significant in scale but it's got to be multinational and internationally led.
GEN. VANHERCK: Great. I'll address the missiles defense first and then the radar. So currently, what I would tell you is I have the capability to defend the homeland against a limited number of missiles from a rogue actor, DPRK is where we're primarily focused, okay and not only the homeland, but Hawaii today.
Capacity is the biggest challenge going forward to ensure that we maintain the ability with the number of ground based inceptors we have to combat the additional capability that we've seen since the 10 October parade in North Korea.
To get after our future capability, we have a service life extension program that's ongoing, Missile Defense Agency is in the middle of that. That service life extension actually pulls the ground based interceptors out of the ground, goes through them with a fine tooth comb and we're able to detect pieces, equipment, parts that we need to replace and we are updating some of the boosters to give us additional capability as well.
But the big thing we get out of that is reliability. To look at parts and history of those parts and pieces on the missiles themselves that will give us a better indicator of future reliability and capability.
The next step would be a next generation capability. That decision has not been made by the department, it is currently with the Deputy Secretary of Defense to bridge between the current capability and adding an additional 20 interceptors.
With regards to radar in Alaska, the long-range discrimination radar is on-track. Next month they'll begin initial testing capability with power up and I look forward to initial operational capability in September where I plan to go to Clear, Alaska, to see the radar in action.
Q: So on track to meet your national security needs or do things need to step up?
GEN. VANHERCK: My assessment is we're on-track right now. My number one requirement with Missile Defense Agency is, as I've talked to Jon Hill is timing. To not have any slips in the delivery of that capability.
Q: Thank you. Admiral, how concerned are you that countries in the south are vulnerable to infiltration by terrorist organizations like ISIS and others? And what is your assessment to the activities of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization also on the south?
ADM. FALLER: Certainly we never take our eye off the terrorism ball. And the ISIS has been a global threat and we've -- I think done an adequate job with our international defeat ISIS coalition to push that back. But there is an ISIS connection into the hemisphere and we've disrupted a few ISIS plots. We also see Al Qaida connections into the hemisphere. It's a -- geography matters. The narrowest point of the Atlantic is across from Africa to Brazil. We track that very closely working with FBI and other agencies.
And the hemisphere has a significant Lebanese diaspora population and there are absolute connections to those -- that population in Lebanese Hezbollah that go right back to Iran. And so it's important that we never take our eye off the terrorism ball but I don't want to leave a sense of over confidence. We have a limited amount of intelligence assets to which to do that. And we're constantly looking and challenging our own assumptions about what we know and about we don't know.
STAFF: Okay, we're going to go back to the phone lines. Jeff Seldin, VOA.
Q: Thanks very much for doing this, really appreciate it. For General VanHerck, you spoke a little bit about your concerns during the hearing this morning about the border and how border security is national security. Have you seen any evidence that terrorists are actually trying to cross the southern U.S. border? And if so are they Sunni terrorists, ISIS, Al Qaida or are they Shia terrorist linked to Hezbollah or terrorist linked to other global organizations; perhaps supremacist organizations like those that we see fighting in Ukraine and Russia?
And to Admiral Faller, to what degrees are China and Russia working together or building on each other's efforts to kind of muscle out the U.S. in the southern hemisphere?
GEN. VANHERCK: So I'll go first. So I can't go into the intelligence that I see with regard to what nations, what's coming across the border. But I will tell you that I have seen intelligence that gives me reason to be concerned about what comes across the border. So you are correct. Border security is national security. And we need to know exactly who is coming across that border and what their intent is.
And how we get there is a policy decision but it has homeland defense and national security implications.
ADM. FALLER: In terms of Russia and China, Russia continues to try to spoil and undermine U.S. interest globally. A real good example in 2020 is the heavy volume, the heavy increase in their activity in social media. Outside the Russian language, Spanish language is their number one volume. So think 3 million to 17 million increase in the -- in the amount of viewers. And a lot of that was disinformation aimed at discrediting the United States.
China, too, is globally engaged and engaged in this hemisphere to -- to further their interests in economic dominance. We see and are looking with our fellow combatant commanders at areas where China and Russia may be collaborating. That's a -- that is a particular focus of ours and is a concern where and when we see it. And Venezuela is the most notable example, where, at the diplomatic level, they were certainly and continue to be engaged to block any effort at U.N. solutions or global solutions.
STAFF: Okay, we'll come back to the floor. Lucas?
Q: Admiral Faller, would you call what's going on the southern border a crisis?
ADM. FALLER: Lucas, good to see you. The -- I -- I look at my area of responsibility and I look at the -- the violence and the insecurity in Central America, and I would say there is a crisis in -- in Central America in terms of their ability to maintain their democracies and move forward in a way that sustains their -- their personnel.
On the border, I would say -- and I think I echo my shipmate here that all nations deserve secure borders and that's part of what's got to be a layered defense.
Q: So it's a crisis in Central America but not at the border? Is that what you're --
ADM. FALLER: I'm -- I'm -- I'm not going to comment on something that's out of my area. There's a crisis in Central America.
Q: General, same question. How would you characterize what's going on on the southern border?
GEN. VANHERCK: I would say that it's a symptom of a broader problem that -- it kind of manifested itself over the last year or so. I'm not going to go into the politics of whether we name it a crisis or not, Lucas. The fact of the matter is, we need a safe and secure border and understand who's coming across the border. But let me expand this more broadly.
Two major hurricanes, COVID, instability created by transnational criminal organizations, all of these are indicators and reasons why people want to leave Central America, South America and Mexico to come to our nation.
So the broader problem -- when I say symptom, counternarcotics, migration, human trafficking, they're all symptoms of transnational criminal organizations who are operating oftentimes in ungoverned areas -- 30 percent to 35 percent of Mexico -- that is creating some of the things we're dealing with at the border.
And so, we need to take a whole-of-government look at that problem. I think it's a national security imperative that we must look at. And why I look at it from a homeland defense perspective, Lucas, is it creates potential vulnerabilities and opportunities for actors around the globe.
And so you heard Admiral Faller talk about China influence. The same thing happens when there's ungoverned areas and instability and potential government failures that China, and Russia, and other nations will attempt to exploit that. And it's right here in our own neighborhood, in our own hemisphere. And so that's why I think that's a significant thing that we must look at.
Q: If FEMA is being sent to the border and there's a request for the National Guard to stay on the border, what would you call it? How would you characterize what's going on down there?
GEN. VANHERCK: I'd need to go back -- I was there in December before what -- what you see is ongoing. I would go back to my comments that I just made. What we see ongoing on the southern border is a compilation of multiple things -- it's not a single thing -- that have driven what we're seeing as far as migration into this country.
Q: And last, are you seeing any signs that North Korea could be readying some kind of missile test in the coming days?
GEN. VANHERCK: I'm not going to go into specific intelligence. We always plan to defend the homeland. We always keep a look at our ability to deter as well as respond if -- if needed.
STAFF: Okay. Wafaa?
Q: And general, I have one question about North Korea. How worried are you about the latest report that North Korea might be testing a new generation, maybe, of its intercontinental missiles?
GEN. VANHERCK: Yes, so in the parade -- the public parade we saw on the 10th of October, we saw additional capabilities, an additional missile. Now, they're up to three missiles that we assess could strike our homeland.
I'll go back to what I told Lucas, we always maintain the ability to defend our homeland and, obviously, the right to defend the homeland. We're postured each and every day through ground-based interceptors which create deterrence by denial.
I'll go back to the foundation of our defense and homeland defense is our nuclear triad and our nuclear deterrence capabilities. Take the nuclear deterrence capabilities, combine that with our ground-based interceptors and ballistic missile capabilities and I think we have a good posture for deterrence.
STAFF: We're going to go to the booth for a couple. First up, Peter Loewi Asahi Shimbun. Okay, then we'll move to Jeff Schogol Task & Purpose.
Q: Hi. Can you hear me all right?
STAFF: All right, if -- Peter, if you're on, you go ahead.
Q: Thanks very much. General, you mentioned this morning it would be helpful for you if the U.S. joined the U.N. Convention on the Laws of the Sea. Are there other treaties or declarations that you think the U.S. should ratify to help you do your job? And that question also goes to the admiral as well, working in the Southern Hemisphere.
GEN. VANHERCK: Yes, so I -- I don't have any specific other treaties that we should ratify going forward. We're in a different era of competition now, with two peer competitors that are both nuclear-armed.
My recommendation would be, as we look to future treaties, that we not put ourself at a disadvantage to one nation, China or Russia, as we think about treaties. That we should consider all options, and the factors and impacts of treaties would have with regards to both of those nations.
ADM. FALLER: With respect to the Law of the Sea treaty, I completely concur with General VanHerck that we should ratify that. I think that a number of Navy leaders over time have had that opinion.
We are a nation of laws and we see excessive maritime claims at sea -- very problematic for the rules and norms of international behavior. Look at the South China Sea. Look in this hemisphere at Venezuela's excessive claims. And so, ratifying that would be an important legitimacy statement for us.
As to others, I -- I have no comment on that and I would leave that to policy.
Q: On -- on -- on the legitimacy aspect that you just mentioned, would ratifying, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights add any weight to our criticism of other countries that are perpetuating human rights abuses?
ADM. FALLER: I don't have an assessment of that.
I would say that we focus and have the only combatant command-embedded human rights training program. We've increased its capacity in the last year. It's a game-changer for us because we've really shown that we've been able to work inside ministries of defense and inside partners' military structures to ensure that their training programs, their education programs mirror our own and that we have an assessment methodology to look at their use of force and their involvement to ensure that it's appropriate, responsible, and professional.
And so, the importance of human rights is a statement of our values. And values are the most important thing to be a trusted partner in this hemisphere -- 28 democracies that we work with. They have values that mirror our own, and constitutions that mirror our own, and oaths that mirror our own. It's the glue that holds us together.
STAFF: Okay, we'll go to Jeff and then we'll take one from the floor here.
Q: Would you describe the groups in the United States as the oath keepers as insurgent groups? And General -- and Admiral Faller, is it SOUTHCOM's concern that if China makes in-roads in Venezuela that the other South American countries could fall like dominoes?
GEN. VANHERCK: So, I think that first question was for me. And I -- it's irrelevant what we call them. Extremists, you name it, that's something that's unacceptable and we need to continue to work. I would tell you that that's not directly as part of my mission, but it's something that we keep an eye on. I'd work with law enforcement with regards to extremist activities.
ADM. FALLER: I'd just comment on extremism that there's a range of behaviors that are unacceptable. And this one of them. They just erode at good order in discipline and trust and the health of our commands and our -- and we're working hard to address that and root it out and get to a position where it gets to zero.
With respect to China, the -- China is involved in Venezuela and has held sway because of the large debt that Venezuela owes China. We look at debt diplomacy globally and it's working in this hemisphere as well. That's not the only source of leverage that China has and uses in their growing economic coercive cloud. It includes I.T. leverage, it includes resource leverage.
A big focus on this hemisphere is the hemisphere is a -- has a very positive water resource and food production. China's focused on gaining the right leverage on that and then they use that leverage in international forums to push towards China's view of a rules-based world order.
I don't know -- don't really know or understand the part of your question, Jeff, on domino analogy. What I see is that partners want to partner with the United States. And that's -- goes right back to values and from a mil-to-mil standpoint which is what I can comment on, they want to -- our partner nations want to emulate the professionalism and the expertise of the United States military. We don't take that for granted.
It's a position that we've got to work hard at and that's where we focus. And if we focus on that with the right foot print and the right amount of resources, and in this hemisphere a very modest amount goes a long way, we're going to stay the trusted partner and we'll stay the course.
Q: Could you tell how do you deal with Iranian ships that coming to Venezuela? Do you have any concerns about that ships? Have you searched these ships before? Have you stopped them? Could you a -- many more explain for that issue please?
ADM. FALLER: It's a travesty to Venezuela with one of the largest oil reserves has only used that reserve to benefit the illegitimate Maduro regime, and so there are international sanctions and international pressure and then there are nation states that have assisted Venezuela in skirting those and Iran is at the top of that list.
So, our role in support of our diplomats and our policy here in Washington is to understand the environment, call that domain awareness and intelligence collection, and then process that information and share it with our partners.
And so that's been our role in this, is to understand and share and then provide that information and allow our diplomats to call it out -- call Iran out on that and to use that for further leverage in the, what must be, a diplomatic solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
STAFF: We've got time for one more.
Q: Thank you. Admiral, you talked about Chinese economic expansion in South America and especially on the issue with building ports projects over forty of those. Do you assess that at a certain point China will leverage this economic expansion to have permanent military presence or installations to service its Navy? Because the threat you're talking about seems in a civilian domain and the way to deal with is it increase American investments and to bring in different model of economic activity.
However, when it comes to security, in addition to the issue of 5G networks there is this military aspect. Have you -- have you seen any development on that front?
ADM. FALLER: Yes. Secretary of Defense's guidance to us, very clear that China is the -- is the pacing threat and the number one challenge that we have to work and we have to work globally as a team on that.
So, my assessment of looking what China has done throughout Asia and about -- and Africa, it's a very insidious -- insidious move forward for economic -- global economic dominance and what starts as a purely commercial interest -- recognizing it's all in some ways state owned, ends up with significant military application and connection.
We look with growing alarming concern at the expansive massive blue water navy that China is using and question the intent and use of that Navy going forward. So, I absolutely think that they're on a march to do what they need to ensure the Communist Party stays intact. And I ask the question, why would they be looking at so many ports, including deep water ports in this hemisphere.
STAFF: Okay, that's all we've got time for today. I want to thank you all for joining us. Thank you gentlemen for joining us here in the PBR.
ADM. FALLER: Thanks.
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