Gates to Meet With Western Hemisphere Partners
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2010 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will leave for South America tomorrow, first to meet with his counterpart in Chile and then to attend a meeting of Western Hemisphere defense ministers in Bolivia.
In announcing the trip at a news conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Chile is “among our closest partners in the hemisphere.”
“We have, among other shared interests, a mutual desire to develop regional mechanisms to support disaster relief,” Morrell said. “The capabilities that Chile has developed in this arena were on full display to the world this year, from its remarkable response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck in February to the extraordinary rescues of the 33 miners trapped underground for 70 days.”
The visit to Chile will be Gates’ second as defense secretary; he first visited that country in October 2007. A senior Defense Department official told reporters in a background briefing today that this weekend’s visit follows a series of military visits and exchanges between the two nations over the past two years.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has visited Chile during that span, as have the service chiefs and Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, the official said.
In addition, the official said, high-level delegations met in June in the tenth round of Defense Consultative Committee talks between U.S. and Chilean officials as part of a long-standing strategic dialogue, the official said.
Gates will meet with Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet in the Chilean capital of Santiago during his visit. Ravinet met with Gates at the Pentagon in September.
The senior official said Gates’ visit to Chile is “an effort to underscore the importance we place on the defense relationships with Chile.”
Noting the “deepening relationship” between the U.S. and Chilean militaries, the official said interoperability is one area that provides an opportunity for furthering military-to-military cooperation. Interoperability becomes especially important as Chile continues to increase its level of international engagement, the official said. And with a new defense reform law that calls for the branches of the Chilean military to work together more, Gates’ visit provides a chance to share lessons the United States learned in a similar undertaking, he added.
“It’s clear that Chile wants to be much more engaged and involved in the international arena from the defense side,” the official said. “There are, and have been, 500 Chilean troops as part of [the U.N. stabilization mission] in Haiti since 2004. They’ve had U.N. contingents in Cyprus and Bosnia and other places.”
In addition, the official said, Chile and Argentina are working together on a joint peacekeeping task that is scheduled to be ready in 2012 to deploy when needed.
“There are many areas of common interest and common objectives,” the official continued, “and I think the secretary is very interested in solidifying, institutionalizing and strengthening that, in light of the meeting [Gates and Ravinet] had here in September.”
The need for a mechanism to channel disaster relief will be a key agenda item for the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas that Gates will attend this weekend in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Morrell said.
“This will be the secretary’s second CDMA, and he believes this forum can and should play a vital role in fostering cooperation with other governments and militaries in the Western Hemisphere,” he said.
During the conference, Morrell added, Gates will have bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil and El Salvador.
The conference is the ninth in a series that began in 1995, the senior defense official told reporters in the background briefing.
“The idea … is to promote regional and sub-regional cooperation, find opportunities for greater regional cooperation [and] find areas that we can identify as common challenges,” he said. “So it is not only a place for dialogue, but I think and we hope it increasingly will be an area in which we can really get down to addressing some of the common problems at the hemispheric level.”
Beyond the formal sessions, the official added, the conference provides a unique opportunity for the Western Hemisphere’s defense ministers to meet informally to discuss areas of bilateral and multilateral interest.
The official said this year’s conference has three themes: peace, trust and cooperation; democracy, the armed forces and society; and regional security of humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
He explained that the first theme has to do with the need for transparency in defense budgets and weapons purchases to build confidence and avoid confusion or misunderstandings about any given nation’s intentions. The second theme, he said, concerns societal issues in military services, such as diversity and the role of women, as well as military education and doctrine. The third theme seeks a common approach and mechanism for synchronizing military disaster response efforts.