I want to welcome your new director, Col. Richard Downie and your deputy director, Col. Patricio Haro Ayerve.
Just a few days ago I returned from a trip from Europe, where I visited with our troops stationed in Bosnia. Most of these men and women had just spent Christmas away from their families in the snow and ice of the Balkan winter. And yet, they were full of professionalism and pride in their mission, guided by a strong sense of purpose and were an inspiring reminder of the deep commitment to duty that guides all of you who wear the uniform of your country.
Some of the highest reenlistment rates in our all-volunteer force continue to be among those deployed in the Balkans. I believe that our soldiers stationed there not only share with our soldiers here in the audience the satisfaction of protecting the interests of this nation, they also see a direct and daily linkage between their efforts and the lives of those around them. They see that they are helping suffering people find their hope for a better future. And while the people of the Balkans will continue the pursuit of peace for many years to come, the raw wounds of a bloody history have indeed begun to heal.
Just this past October, Serbian people took to the streets and demanded change. Their courage and their faith in their ballots helped sweep a dictator from office. Their professional military found its guidance in the people’s voice, and so the opposition candidate came to power, something that not so long ago seemed utterly impossible.
Not so long ago such a thing also seemed impossible for much of Latin America. Indeed, when I traveled to the region throughout the 1980s, when I worked on the House Armed Services Committee staff, I remember the people I met who are now witnesses to this change. Archbishop Rivera Damas was sitting in a small office in San Salvador, speaking to reconciliation as the preferred course of solving problems. The Jesuits at the University of Central America were committed to economic rights of the poor and giving their voice and energy to their needs, and to the emergence of democratic electoral assemblies as an alternative. In the days since those meetings we have seen the end of the Cold War, and a diminishing threat of nuclear holocaust and a growing peace and prosperity for the people of the Americas.
We all bear a responsibility to learn from our history. We also have an obligation to look forward to our future. An exciting new era is unfolding around us, one full of hope, particularly for the people of this hemisphere, but also one full of dangers and challenges.
In 1995, at the first Defense Ministerial of the Americas held in Williamsburg, Virginia, then-Secretary of Defense Bill Perry said, ‘This is a time of reconciliation, renaissance and new relationships built on trust, cooperation, and consensus. The defense and military establishments of our nations must play a critical role in advancing these new relationships.’
Today, we are playing that critical role as we gather to activate the Western Hemisphere Institute which will prepare our soldiers and our defense civilians for the challenges of this new era, and will provide them with the tools to capture the promise of this bright future. And we do, indeed, see a bright future.
Today, nations in almost every corner of the globe are moving toward democracy and freedom, from Europe, where former enemies have reached across the Iron Curtain to become friends and allies, to Asia, where for the first time in 50 years, there is some hope of reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
Few regions hold as much promise as our own hemisphere. This is a region of dynamic markets and dramatic economic reforms, where 34 of 35 governments have come to power through the ballot box, where regional relationships based on shared respect for the rule of law show a strong and growing trend for interdependence. And yet, we also share concerns about new dangers and challenges we face today and will continue to confront for the foreseeable future.
There are countries that stand outside the community of nations—Iran, Iraq and North Korea to name a few—whose role on the world stage is made more questionable by their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. There are veins of instability and inequity that run throughout every region of the world, from the Middle East to the former Yugoslavia, where violence fueled by ethnic hatred and nationalism runs the risk of sparking violence in neighboring states.
There are other less traditional military threats that cross all boundaries fixed in geography. There are natural and humanitarian disasters, such as the devastating earthquake in El Salvador and Guatemala last weekend which killed hundreds and displaced thousands, and which will challenge us to come together to help these people move forward and which remind us of our common humanity and obligations to each other. There is proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to ambitious states and individuals without allegiance, narcotics trafficking and international crime, and terrorism that can touch us all, such as the recent attack on our own USS Cole.
As we enter this new century, we find that nations are increasingly addressing these transnational problems with multinational solutions. No nation can afford to face these challenges alone. The United States has relied on cooperation with partners and allies to protect our global security interests. Over the past decade we have turned many times to hemisphere cooperation to safeguard our mutual interests.
Together, we have kept the peace in our own region, signing the Rio Protocol to protect the hard-won peace between Peru and Ecuador. We have come together to rescue the victims and repair the damage from natural and man-made disasters. And indeed, even as we speak, nations represented here today are helping El Salvador in their earthquake recovery efforts, including the United States, which has contributed medical and humanitarian supplies and search and rescue assistance.
We have struggled together to find the best way to confront terrorism and drug-trafficking. Although the United States will continue to devote the majority of our national drug control budget to dealing with our domestic demand, we have supported key non-proliferation treaties and agreements. We are able to stand together and cooperate on these complex security threats, because we share a belief that representative democracy is the foundation of political legitimacy and the key to peace and stability in development. As President Clinton said at a summit of Latin American leaders held last year, ‘We must now ask how to turn this region of peace and shared values into a region of joint endeavors and common progress.’
Ultimately, our ability as nations and partners to confront future challenges with joint endeavors and common progress depends on more than shared principles. It depends upon our people, specifically on the quality of our military men and women.
And so, we will look upon the Western Hemisphere Institute to produce these men and women of quality to play an important part in supporting our regional partnerships and mutual security. Colonel Downie, that will be singularly your responsibility. We look to you for the training and education that will ensure our forces are not only capable, but are able to work together, whether it is to transport humanitarian supplies to earthquake and hurricane victims or to conduct military operations to defend our vital interests. We look to you and to the Institute to enhance the professionalism of our young citizen-soldiers, with course work that will build their leadership skills, broaden their knowledge of human rights, constitutional governance, and international law, and bring them the technical skills they will need for 21st Century military operations.
As we look to you to foster personal relationships, literally teaching your students, uniformed and civilian, alike, to speak the same language and to seek and share the same democratic ideals. Such friendships will continue to be the basic tissue that holds our nation and our region together.
I want to give tremendous credit today to Secretary Caldera. It is his vision for this institute that will allow us to continue working together to build professional military forces and long-lasting friendships for a new era. So on behalf of the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Secretary, thank you for your leadership. And, Congressman [Mac] Collins, on behalf of the Secretary to the members of the Armed Services Committee of the House and Senate, thank your for their foresight in backing this legislation under the Floyd Spence Department of Defense Authorization legislation. Thank you.
Of course, many of you have traveled to the United States for this ceremony, and it is a very good time to celebrate our nation’s commitment to democracy. In just a few days we will inaugurate a new president in this country in an orderly transfer of power. As John Kennedy remarked 40 years ago, "The margin may be thin, but the responsibility is clear."
Your responsibility today is no less clear—to prepare military professionals to protect the security of our Western Hemisphere well into the 21st Century. This institute will stand as a living memorial to the service of thousands of soldiers and civilians from across the Americas, who sacrifice so much to defend the countries that they love, to deliver the people of this region to a more promising era of freedom and democracy and justice.
You all bear a responsibility to those who came before you and an obligation to give substance to their dreams for the future. To each of you I say good luck, Godspeed, and thank you very much. [Applause.]