Rumsfeld Lauds Successes, Promotes Inter-American Stability
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
QUITO, Ecuador, Nov. 18, 2004 Defense ministers from 34 nations throughout the Western Hemisphere opened the Defense Ministerial of the Americas here Nov. 17 to discuss ways to improve inter-American security.
"This may very well be a unique moment for democracy in the Americas," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during the ministerial's opening session, "and an opportunity we should seize to promote security and liberty across the hemisphere."
Rumsfeld told the ministers and their delegations he was optimistic that the "similarity of views and commonality of interests" among them would lead them to renew and build on commitments made two years ago at the ministerial in Santiago, Chile. During that meeting, participants agreed on the need to strengthen the inter-American system and help it evolve to better combat 21st century threats.
The secretary said he's impressed by increased coordination already under way from maritime cooperation to increased participation in peacekeeping missions.
Rumsfeld praised the success of the PANAMAX maritime cooperation exercises, the last of which included nine countries focused on the security of the strategic Panama Canal. "This is an important step forward in the maritime cooperative initiatives that we discussed and launched at Santiago, and that we now call 'Enduring Friendship,'" he said.
The secretary also lauded what he called "another example of unprecedented collaboration -- in Haiti where many countries in this region are working together as peacekeepers to help a neighbor in need."
Rumsfeld said the American nations have an honorable record of peacekeeping accomplishments worldwide.
President Bush's new Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, aimed at helping countries develop their peacekeeping capabilities, is another example of this global support, he said.
"Good progress has been made," Rumsfeld said, "but much work remains to secure our region."
New threats of the 21st century "recognize no borders," he said. Terrorists, drug traffickers, hostage takers and criminal gangs form "an anti-social combination that increasingly seeks to destabilize civil societies."
Often these groups find shelter in border regions and areas beyond the effective reach of government, he said. "They watch, they probe, looking for areas of vulnerability, for weaknesses and for seams in our collective security arrangements that they can try to exploit," he said.
It's a complex challenge for everyone, he said, no one single nation can deal with alone. "It is simply not possible," Rumsfeld said.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rumsfeld said, the United States has had to re-examine the relationship between its military and law-enforcement responsibilities. "The complex challenges of this new era and the asymmetric threats we face require that all elements of state and society work together," he said. "Our citizens depend on us to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of our various security forces."
But Rumsfeld stressed that there's no one formula for how this should be done. "Every country will view this and address this task in its own way, according to its own history, constitutional principles and sovereign choices to ensure the safety of our peoples."
Strengthening sovereignty and ensuring sovereignty over national territories must be a fundamental goal, he told the ministers.
"Peace in this hemisphere will be built upon the pillars of prosperity, democracy and security," he said. "And those of us in this room know that security is the indispensable foundation on which democracy and opportunity and prosperity are built."