Cohen Calls for Cooperative Counterdrug Effort
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
MANAUS, Brazil, Oct. 18, 2000 Nations of the Western Hemisphere need to band together in a cooperative effort to help combat drug trafficking, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here Oct. 17.
Speaking to about 25 national defense ministers at the fourth Defense Ministerial of the Americas, Cohen called drug trafficking a cancer that will spread if left untreated. He said the drug trade, insurgency and paramilitary forces threaten Colombia, one of South America's oldest democracies.
"Working together, we hope to help Colombia in their time of need and prevent the conflict from shifting Colombia's problems to its neighbors," he said in his prepared text. Organized crime will flourish and spread whenever huge profits can be made with little risk of apprehension, prosecution, conviction or incarceration, he said.
He pointed out that the United States spends 82 percent of its national drug control budget to reduce the U.S. demand for drugs. It also helps Colombia fight drug traffickers by providing military training, transportation and equipment, he said.
Congress has imposed limits on the number of U.S. military and civilian personnel involved in the region, however, Cohen noted. "We do not, under any circumstances, intend to become involved militarily in Colombia," the secretary stressed.
"Each country throughout the Americas must decide for itself what role, if any, it will play," he said. "Some may choose to provide information support. Some may choose (to provide) financial support. Others may decide it's not in their interest to take any action."
Drug trafficking was but one of the common challenges facing the Western Hemisphere that Cohen mentioned. In the wake of the Oct. 12 terrorist bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, Cohen also urged the defense ministers to defend against terrorism, particularly in cyberspace.
"I just want you to think about the prospect of any dedicated professional -- not to mention teen-age hacker -- who could conceivably shut down your air traffic management control system ... ," he said. "Or someone who could shut down your power distribution system or close down your financial centers with the click of a button. Information assurance is something we all need to talk about."
Since the last Western Hemisphere defense ministerial in 1998, Cohen said, defense officials have made "astonishing progress" toward furthering cooperation. The United States and other countries have joined forces to provide relief from Hurricane Mitch and other natural disasters. Local officials have resolved long-standing border disputes between Ecuador and Peru as well as between Argentina and Chile.
"We want to continue to build upon relationships that have been established, to reduce the tensions and look for ways we can tear down walls of mistrust and suspicion and animosity," Cohen said. He called on the ministers to find ways to build a common approach to deal with common threats.
The 34 democracies in the Western Hemisphere share a common vision of promoting peace, economic and social justice and international cooperation, Cohen said. Their goals, he noted, are to advance regional security operation, increase civilian defense expertise, encourage democratic civil- military relations and reinforce the trend toward civilian leadership in security affairs.
"I urge each country to accelerate its commitment to achieving these goals and applaud the progress already achieved," Cohen said in his text.