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Remarks By Secretary Rumsfeld Plenary Session - Defense Ministerial of The Americas

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 17, 2004

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Remarks By Secretary Rumsfeld Plenary Session - Defense Ministerial of The Americas

            Mr. Chairman; fellow ministers, good morning.


            First let me add my thanks to our Ecuadorian hosts and the people of this beautiful capital city for their warm hospitality and the fine arrangement of this conference.


            Two years ago, when we met in Santiago, we agreed on the need to strengthen the inter-American system and to cooperate to be better able to combat the new threats of the 21st century.  After listening to the interesting remarks of our colleagues that have spoken before me, I must say that I am confident that this conference will result in a renewed commitment towards that important goal.


            A few days ago, I saw a notable example of such collaboration when I toured the Panama Canal.  The Canal, of course, is important to Panama, but it is also important to the region, to the hemisphere, and indeed the world.


            Nine countries of this region recently participated in the PANAMAX exercises concerning the security of the Canal, and I am told that a larger number will participate in the next exercise.  This is an important step forward in the maritime cooperative initiative that we launched in Santiago and that we now call “Enduring Friendship.”


            We have seen another recent example of unprecedented collaboration in Haiti where many countries in this region are working together as peacekeepers to help a neighbor in need.  The nations of the Americas have a record of accomplishments in peacekeeping activities and many peoples on other continents have been the beneficiaries of this noble mission of peacekeeping.


            President Bush has announced a new program of support for global peacekeeping, which I foreshadowed in Santiago two years ago.  Good progress has been made, but much work remains to better secure our region.  The new threats of the 21st century recognize no borders.  Terrorists, drug traffickers, hostage takers, and criminal gangs form an anti-social combination that increasingly seeks to destabilize civil societies.  These enemies often find shelter in border regions or areas beyond the effective reach of government.  They watch, they probe, looking for areas of vulnerability, for weaknesses, and for seams in our collective security arrangements that they can try to exploit.


            Minister Uribe, I would like to stress my respect for the progress made by the government of Colombia and the people of Colombia in the fight against forces opposing civil society.  The challenges we all face are complex and it is increasingly clear that there is no one nation that can meet these challenges alone.  I repeat there is no one nation that can meet these challenges by itself, it is simply not going to be possible.  Since September 11, 2001, we have had to conduct an essential reexamination of the relationships between our military and our law enforcement responsibilities in the U.S.  The complex challenges of this new era and the asymmetric threats we face require that all elements of state and society work together. 


            Our citizens depend on us to clearly define the roles, the missions, and the responsibilities of our various security forces.  Of course, every country will do it and will address this task in its own way, according to its own history, its constitutional principles and sovereign choices to ensure the safety of our peoples.  Strengthening sovereignty, and ensuring effective sovereignty over our national territories must be a fundamental goal.


            Peace in our hemisphere will be built upon the pillars of democracy, of opportunities, and security.  And we in this room, given our responsibilities know that security is the indispensable foundation on which democracy, opportunity, and prosperity is built. 


            As I have traveled throughout this region, I have been struck by a new spirit of openness, of collaboration, and friendship.   This may very well be a unique moment for democracy in the Americas because of the similarity of views and commonality of interests, and I think we have an opportunity that we should seize together to advance security and liberty across our hemisphere.


            Mr. Minister, colleagues, thank you very much.

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