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Speech


10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Punta Del Este, Uruguay, Monday, October 08, 2012

Muchas gracias.  Buenos dias.  Mr. President, Mr. Minister, my fellow Ministers, military leaders who are here, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen.  

It is truly a great honor to have the privilege for me to be here in Uruguay, and to be with so many distinguished leaders to talk about defense cooperation in the Americas.  I’m particularly pleased to be able to participate in this conference, which has become I believe the premier forum in the Americas to discuss ways to advance peace and security across the region and around the world.    

When this forum was established in the mid-1990s, I was serving in the U.S. government as Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton.  The Cold War had ended and we confronted a changed security environment with an array of new challenges.  In this hemisphere and around the world, national economies were growing and becoming more integrated.  Senior leaders in the Administration at that time, including Defense Secretary Bill Perry, knew that by virtue of shared geography – by virtue of shared challenges in the post-Cold War world that we were living in – it would be even more important to strengthen defense ties across the Americas.

This forum remains a central part of all of our efforts to enhance regional security and promote greater cooperation between Western Hemisphere military forces.  Over the last two decades, our people, our economies, our cultures, and our values have become even more connected not just because we are neighbors but because we are one family in this hemisphere.  And as one family, we confront many of the same threats that face our nations across borders and across oceans, from terrorism, to drug trafficking, to nuclear proliferation, to humanitarian disasters.  We cannot deal with these threats alone or in isolation; we can only deal with them if we work together. 

We have seen a remarkable transformation in defense collaboration in this hemisphere.  All of you, representing the nations of this hemisphere, are contributing more and more capabilities to meet our collective defense responsibilities in the 21st century.  We have an historic opportunity to renew and strengthen these defense partnerships.  We have an historic opportunity to create “a new era” in our relationship – an era of broad and constructive hemispheric defense collaboration. 

As part of our new defense strategy in the United States, we are strongly committed to strengthening our defense partnerships in the Americas and in other regions of the world.  Last week, I released our Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement which describes this new era that I discussed, and will guide our approach to defense cooperation across the region.  The statement recognizes that the nations in this region have a growing capability and willingness to help address the security challenges of the 21st century.  Our Western Hemisphere defense policy also states that the United States will reinvigorate our defense partnerships and pursue new ones on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest consistent with President Obama’s approach to the region.

The statement includes three objectives:

  • First, strong institutions of government.  It is essential that our nations have strong national institutions of government in order to address legitimate threats to the state and to our citizens;
  • Second, shared action.  If we face shared threats, then we need shared action by more effectively and efficiently coordinating our defense forces; and
  • Third, multilateral forums.  If we are to have shared actions, we must have forums that can bring us together.  The purpose of multilateral mechanisms and institutions like this conference, like the Inter-American Defense Board, the whole purpose of that is to achieve consensus on the direction of hemispheric defense collaboration.

Therefore, the themes of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping, and defense and security are very appropriate for this 10th CDMA. 

On Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, the United States supports the Chilean initiative to accelerate and coordinate our support for civilian-led relief efforts.  Nations of this hemisphere, including my own, have faced devastating disasters – earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, fires – that have destroyed lives and property.  As one family, we have a responsibility to work together to provide immediate, comprehensive, and organized relief for our people.  For example, following the destructive earthquake in Haiti, millions of people faced a desperate shortage of food, clean water, and shelter – and urgently needed those supplies from neighboring countries. 

Western Hemisphere nations worked together to provide much-needed help, but we lacked a mechanism to collaborate in real-time and focus our efforts where they were most needed.  That’s what the Chilean initiative is all about – rapid and fully integrated response.  We should implement that initiative now so that we’re ready to respond quickly and effectively when the next disaster strikes.

On peacekeeping, countries in the Western Hemisphere have assumed a very impressive leadership role by engaging, addressing, and improving United Nations peacekeeping.  Uruguay has in particular been a leader in that area.  Since the turn of the 21st century, 13 countries from this hemisphere have contributed to or led multi-national security operations and UN peacekeeping missions around the globe.  That includes the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which is comprised mainly of Western Hemisphere nations working side-by-side to accomplish their shared mission. 

On the issues of defense and security, the United States recognizes that sometimes it is difficult to determine whether transnational threats to peace and stability are matters of defense or matters of law enforcement.  In some cases, countries have turned to their defense forces to support civilian authorities.  To be clear, the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution.  But as partners, the United States will do what we can to bridge the capability gaps between armed forces and law enforcement.  And we are committed to do so in a manner that respects human rights, the rule of law, and civilian authority.  We can and we will provide a helping hand, but ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own.

Let me conclude by noting once again that we are in a new era of defense cooperation in this hemisphere.   This era is characterized by nations that have the capability and willingness to share the full range of security burdens and responsibilities.  Unlike the past, the United States is not interested in establishing permanent bases or in assuming the dominant role of defending others.  Our goal is to work with you, nations that want us to help them to develop their capabilities so that they can defend and secure themselves.  Our interest is to work with you, not against you. 

Let me quote from the conclusion of our Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement:

“During the past decade, a remarkable transformation has taken place in the Western Hemisphere.  Across the region, countries are doing more than they ever have before to advance peace and security within and beyond their borders.  Their efforts are promoting security and stability not only in the Americas, but across the globe – and provide the United States with an historic opportunity to renew and strengthen our defense partnerships across the region.”

My nation welcomes this new era of Western Hemisphere defense cooperation, standing together with our neighbors and our friends to advance peace and prosperity as true security partners.  At the very core of our relationship is that we are one family of nations – now and forever.  “Somos una familia de naciones, hoy y siempre.” 

Muchas Gracias.      

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