Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson testified in her nomination hearing for promotion to general and assuming command of U.S. Southern Command before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Currently serving as the commander of U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Richardson would replace outgoing SOUTHCOM commander Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller.
In this era of long-term strategic competition, the United States must remain the partner of choice throughout the Western Hemisphere, Richardson told the committee.
"The Southern Command region is of strategic importance to U.S. vital interests, and, if confirmed, I will synchronize our approach to security cooperation, working across all combatant commands to narrow the gaps and seams our competitors are exploiting," she said.
Today, many of the United States' closest partners in the region are still fighting bravely against the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
"We are all too familiar with the devastation caused by this deadly pandemic, and I empathize with those who have felt its horrific impacts. More than a humanitarian crisis, this devastation is changing the geopolitical landscape," Richardson said. "Authoritarian regimes and transnational criminal organizations enabled by China and encouraged by Russia are attempting to consolidate power in the region, and free societies are being directly challenged."
While U.S. competitors are attempting to profit from our partners' vulnerable circumstances, Richardson said she stands ready to support the coordinated and prioritized whole-of-government effort in support of partner nations on vaccine distribution.
Richardson said she will focus on rebuilding regional resilience by expanding U.S. security cooperation efforts and multilateral exercises, increasing international military education and training exchanges, and working with the Defense Department and Congress on innovative methods to increase levels of interoperability and global integration.
"Through a comprehensive and multilateral approach, we can strengthen regional resilience by denying freedom of movement to transnational criminal organizations," she said. "And by reducing exposure to the corrosive efforts of external state actors in our shared hemisphere, we thereby improve security of our southern border," Richardson added.
The United States draws upon the strength of the Western Hemisphere from partner nations that share U.S. values of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, Richardson said, adding the U.S. cannot take these relationships for granted or let its guard down as competitors vie for influence.
"We must hasten to pick up the pieces left by the pandemic and transform our relationships to meet 21st-century security challenges. Put simply, winning together with our allies and partners matters," she noted.
Richardson said if she is confirmed, she would look forward to continuing to serve the American people by leading the "great team" at SOUTHCOM. Just as she has worked with numerous agencies within U.S. borders, Richardson said she would work with U.S. interagency partners abroad.
"Whether [working] against COVID-19, transnational criminal organizations, the predatory actions of China, the malign influence of Russia, or natural disasters, there's nothing we cannot overcome or achieve through an integrated response with our interagency allies and partners," Richardson said.