Defense Ministerial to Focus on Inter-American Security
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
QUITO, Ecuador, Nov. 15, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and 33 more defense ministers from throughout the Western Hemisphere are joining here today for the Defense Ministerial of the Americas conference, focused on strengthening the inter-American security system.
Rumsfeld arrived here Nov. 14 to begin the conference, the sixth of its kind since 1995. It provides a forum for defense ministers and their delegations to discuss a wide range of security issues affecting the region.
In addition to taking part in the ministerial, Rumsfeld is expected to have bilateral meetings with defense ministers from Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Chile and a multilateral meeting with ministers from Central American nations.
This year's ministerial will focus on hemispheric security and mutual trust measures to foster better relationships among the nations, explained Gen. Nelson Herrera-Nieto, Ecuador's minister of national defense, in his welcoming letter. Another key topic theme will be civilian-military relations and the roles the armed forces play in each country, he said.
Herrera-Nieto noted new threats that have emerged in the 21st century, many of them on a global scale.
"To face them, nations must seek to make cooperation an effective tool for designing a new defense architecture," he wrote. "We trust that the common endeavor by our member countries will materialize in a commitment to hemispheric security to match the scope of these new threats."
A senior defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters the stage is set for a successful conference. "Countries are genuinely motivated by real- life security problems," he said.
Discussions on regional security-cooperation agreements are expected to key in on strengthening regional support for Colombia and promoting the "Enduring Friendship" naval cooperation initiative by encouraging exercises such as PANAMAX in Panama, the official said. Also likely to be on the table are the Regional Democratic Security Strategy under discussion by Central American nations and U.S. support for that concept.
The ministerial will also focus on ongoing regional discussions about the proper roles and responsibilities for the militaries and coordination of military and police roles, the official said.
These talks will include identifying threats and matching capabilities to those threats, he said. They will also address regional concerns about the connections, or possible connections, among terrorists, drug traffickers and organized crime.
The goal, the official said, is to help close any seams in the security network that "this nexus of terrorism, drugs and organized crime can exploit."
Currently Colombia is the only nation in the region struggling with a terrorist or insurgency problem, the official said. "But the countries are keenly aware that if you wait, as Colombia did for years before fixing the problems," he noted, "you suddenly have something that's a lot harder to fix than if you address it right off."
Similarly, he said, "Many of the countries that never before felt they had a drug problem are now feeling it."
The ministerial will also focus on strengthening peacekeeping capabilities in the region.
The defense official said the U.S. delegation will express continued support for Latin America's contribution to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti. Brazil is leading the effort, which includes nine Latin countries in what the official called an unprecedented team effort for the region.
Rumsfeld is also expected to thank Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic for contributing troops to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Also on the table during the ministerial is what the defense official called a promising new program area for the region: science and technology cooperation.
The United States hopes to explore further cooperation in the "Southern Cone" countries that include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. "We want to assert our commitment to cooperation in science and technology in the region," the official said.
Since 2002, the Defense Department has launched several initiatives that support science in Latin America. These include a new Office of Naval Research Bureau in Chile and the U.S. Army Materiel Command research bureau in Buenos Aires, the official said.
The last ministerial, hosted by Chile in 2002, focused largely on terrorism, with participating countries demonstrating "a great deal of goodwill toward the United States" and a desire to help, the defense official said.
This ministerial will take on broader themes, he said, expressing optimism that the "great deal of agreement" exhibited in Santiago will carry over to this meeting and that the ministers would address a range of issues.
"These ministers have really serious, real-time, real-life concerns about what to do to provide security in their countries," he said.