Gen. Kelly Speaks at Summit

Southern Command’s Gen. John Kelly says sequestration will diminish drug-fight capabilities and response to disasters.

By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA,  FL (Feb. 28, 2013) – U.S. Southern Command Gen. John Kelly may have one of the least volatile areas of the world to watch over, but deep cuts in the Department of Defense will nonetheless impact on-going drug interdiction efforts and diminish the U.S. military’s ability to respond to humanitarian needs in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Speaking at the University of South Florida Thursday for the 2013 Florida International Summit, Kelly covered a wide-range of issues from relative stability of Latin America and the Caribbean to the emerging threat of cyber warfare. With just hours to go before the automatic budget cuts brought on by sequestration, Kelly said one of the biggest impacts in his area would be the military’s ability to intercept drug traffickers, one of the prime missions in his area of responsibility.

U.S. Southern Command, headquartered near Miami, is one of nine unified Combatant Commands in the Department of Defense and is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

Kelly said the Department of Defense has already cut $500 billion and now faces an additional $500 billion in cuts under sequestration. He said among the services the military has provided that will be affected are its responses to natural disasters, like the Haiti earthquake and tsunamis in Asia.

“You can’t do more with less,” Kelly told the gathering of about 125 people at the Patel Center for Global Solutions for a daylong event on Latin American diplomacy, development and security issues.

“I am not arguing for anything, I am just saying the reality is you cut a trillion dollars out of the defense budget, you have a very different military and very different capabilities,” Kelly added.

Among what will be impacted are high-seas drug interdiction efforts that keep billions of dollars of drugs from reaching land, where they are more expensive to contain. Noting that the smugglers caught in transit are often brought to federal court in Tampa for prosecution, Kelly described a process where the military is able to seize more drugs in transport than U.S. law enforcement for a fraction of the cost.

On other hot-button issues, Kelly told the audience:

·         He hopes better relations between the U.S. and Venezuela will materialize some day, but otherwise remained mum on specifics. Kelly said of President Hugo Chavez, who has cancer: “Chavez is a human being, so I sympathize with him. He’s in a terrible, terrible fight. He’s going to lose it. He has a terrible cancer. .. I wouldn’t wish anyone the life he is leading right now. But it would break his heart how little anyone thinks of Venezuela in the big scheme of things.”


·         Cyber security is an under-appreciated threat that has the potential to wreak havoc on U.S. financial institutions, on air safety and a myriad of other fronts. “It’s a threat without borders, its instantaneous,” Kelly said. “…There are scenarios that are just scary, scary, scary in terms of what could happen,” Kelly went on. “Whether they turn off the air traffic control system in the United States. On any given hour of the day, there are 10,000 airplanes in flight in the United States and its possible every one of them could become uncontrollable. Financial companies could be wiped out. We have already seen trillions of dollars of proprietary research and development as well as production  information stolen.”


In one light-hearted moment answering a student’s question on cyber security and how to protect against it while also protecting citizens’ privacy, Kelly quipped on the Tampa socialite caught up in an email scandal between former CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer: “Isn’t Jill Kelley from around here?”

“No one wants anyone to read our personal emails or our letters to our loved ones or friends, or people we shouldn’t be writing emails to,” Kelly added.