Thank you, Senator Inhofe. I want to join you in welcoming our witnesses, General Robinson and Admiral Tidd. We thank you, your families, and the many men and women who serve under you, for your commitment to our nation.
General Robinson, your mission is to protect the homeland, to deter and defeat attacks on the United States, and to support civil authorities in mitigating the effects of attacks and natural disasters. We saw this demonstrated in DOD’s support to the states and territories affected by hurricanes, wildfires, and floods this past year, and we thank you for that. You are also dual-hatted as the Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which brings unique responsibilities and partnering opportunities with Canada to deter and defend against threats to our nations.
You are also responsible for the operation of our homeland ballistic missile defense system. We look forward to hearing about your priorities for further improvements to the ground-based missile defense system. This is particularly important in light of the growing threat from North Korea.
Lastly, your relationship with the military leadership in Mexico, along with your collaboration with Admiral Tidd and other federal agencies, is critical to promoting security along our southern border. A number of problems at that border originate in the SOUTHCOM area of operations, and efforts to address those problems. require a whole-of-government approach.
Admiral Tidd, you are on the frontlines of a significant threat facing our nation – the opioid crisis. In 2016, we saw 64,000 deaths from drug overdoses – an increase from the 52,000 in 2015. What has made the crisis worse is that more and more Americans addicted to opioids are turning to other dangerous drugs that are flowing into our borders from Central and South America and Asia. The flow of heroin and cocaine, and other drugs like fentanyl into the country is exacerbating this crisis. Cocaine production in Colombia is up, and it is destabilizing the countries of the Northern Triangle as it works its way to our border and destroys lives here.
I wasvery encouraged to hear that SOUTHCOM held an opioid conference last week, which brought all the government stakeholders together to work on the problem. Because it is important to recognize that while our military has an important role to play in the fight against narcotics in this country, we will only win against this threat with adequate resources for domestic agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Admiral Tidd, I look forward to hearing from you about the outcome of the conference and about SOUTHCOM’s efforts to counter the flow of narcotics into the United States.
In addition, China and Russia have been increasingly active in Central and South America, committing millions of dollars of investment and partnering with Latin American militaries. Admiral Tidd, as you noted in your written statement: “China has pledged $500 billion in trade with Latin American countries and $250 billion in Chinese direct investment over the next ten years. Increased economic cooperation…and the continued provision of financing and loans that appear to have ‘no strings attached’ provide ample opportunity for China to expand its influence over key regional partners and promote unfair business and labor practices.”
I am concerned that because of the cuts to our State Department and USAID, we are not doing everything we can to position ourselves as the partner of choice for our neighbors in the region. Admiral Tidd, I would like to hear from you on how China and Russia are investing in Central and South America, and how they pose a national security threat to the United States.
Finally, we are all observing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and would like your perspective on how much longer the regime there can survive and how the crisis will effect neighboring countries. I am especially concerned about Colombia which is already struggling to implement its disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process and is ill-equipped to deal with a long term refugee problem in its border region.
General Robinson and Admiral Tidd, thank you again for your service.