In these days of shrinking U.S. defense budgets, the Obama administration is looking to South America to help monitor and protect the Asia-Pacific region in the years ahead.
During visits to Colombia, Brazil and Chile this past week, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta underscored their importance as military partners in the Pacific, where China is challenging U.S. influence in a number of countries. As those defense relationships grow, officials say it can only help U.S. economic and political ties across South America.
Defense chiefs Juan Camillo Pinzon of Colombia, Celso Amorim of Brazil and Andres Allamand of Chile brought up cyberthreats as a major concern, including incidents of hacker attacks and data thefts, U.S. defense officials said.
The three countries, said one official said, want help from the U.S. in hardening their computer networks against breaches and increasing their technological skills. The official said there is a recognition of how vulnerable they are, and they want to learn more about the nature of the threat and how to combat it.
That threat is likely to involve China, which is steadily gaining as a top trading partner and economic developer in South America. It’s surpassing the U.S. in trade with Brazil, Chile and Peru, and is a close second in Argentina and Colombia.