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Background Briefing with Traveling Press Corps, Santiago, Chile

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
November 18, 2002

(Background Briefing with Traveling Press Corps, Santiago, Chile)

Senior Defense Official: Let me just go over the ground rules real quick. This is on background and as a senior defense official, and the purpose is really to kind of go over the two bilats [bi-lateral agreements] that occurred today: Colombia earlier this morning, and then with the Chileans late morning. I think all of you know our senior defense official, you've seen him in the plane, so...

I will point that I might have to leave a little bit earlier, I know you want to join us so we have to keep it to...we have about 15 minutes.

I'll give you some general comments about the approach of the DMA, so I'll identify a couple of themes we've picked out that we want to talk and tell you about the bilats and then ask you what you want. That's probably the best thing.

In terms of our overall approach to this, what we are trying to do is find ways to strengthen the inter-American system, which includes the OAS, includes the Rio Treaty, includes a whole range of institutions, and not just security institutions. Obviously, our bit is the security institutions.

There is going to be a big conference of all the foreign ministers of the Americas in May so we are not the only people talking about security in the Americas and there are going to take a look at the whole structure that has existed really for a hundred years and which last got looked at after World War II when the Rio Treaty came about and all that.

So this is a big time in inter-American relations and we are very much approaching this in the spirit of what can we do strengthen the Inter American system. What is happening right now is there is a big trend in the region towards trying to find ways to integrate national capabilities into broader regional capabilities and this fits into the big picture that they are doing which is to ask what is the role of the armed forces in our society and obviously nobody wants to have a region that is bristling with all kind of weapons and armies faced across each other and they have really done an incredibly job and let me scold the press for not pointing this out.

They have done an incredible job in the last fifteen years at meeting with each other, talking with each other, finding ways to build confidence. Argentina and Chile have just agreed to send a combined peace- keeping battalion to Cyprus. Ten years ago, they were glaring at each other across the border.

I had in my office just a couple of weeks ago a Salvadoran official, defense official was there to tell me that he and the Nicaraguans were interested in trying to provide civil affairs personnel for peace-keeping. I don't even need to tell you where Nicaragua and El Salvador were ten years ago. This doesn't really happen in other parts of the world, I mean this is progress.

So that leads up to the two initiatives that we are bringing down here and we are again approaching these initiatives very much in a cooperative spirit. We want to see what can we do to work with them, with the countries to work out a genuine partnership so we have not even given these things names. There is a lot more to see what we can bring to the table but now we want to see what the other countries think about this and see how we develop a cooperative approach.

That is a multilateral neighbor cooperative initiative and a regional cooperative peacekeeping initiative. I should add there is need really no need for peacekeepers within this hemisphere right now, it's all elsewhere and that is another remarkable sign because Latin America has been really inward looking for the last 30 years ago, for the last 30 years. So this again represents a step forward in their view of what global citizenship is about.

That's kind of the spirit we are approaching. If I had to summarize in one sentence, how do we strengthen the inter-American system? And please try to put this in your articles somehow, because we tried really at home, you have no idea of how important it was the nations of the Western Hemisphere unanimously an immediately invoked the Rio Treaty, right after the attacks of September 11. That was a fundamental step forward in building trust. Now there are little quivers. Mexico says, well, we need a new look at the Rio Treaty...

Q: That's what I say, Mexico is talking about withdrawing...

Senior Defense Official: They have done it. That's their way...I'm not going to characterize what they want, but the main point is that everybody agreed that it was a time for hemispheric solidarity, they all stepped up to the plate, in fact led by Brazil.

Q: ...a perspective for somebody that is not well read on this issue, as you are, why is that so significant?

Senior Defense Official: First of all, because it's in a way ironic, it is always been seen that this treaty was expected that other countries would be requesting it. No one ever thought that it would be the almighty United States -this is on background remember--that would be coming in effect, saying we have been attacked. The basic principle of the Rio Treaty is "an attack on one is an attack against all".

Q: Just like the article V of the NATO?

Senior Defense Official: Absolutely. I should point out the Organization of the American States is the main vehicle for working through all these things, it's the oldest regional association in the world, and there is all kinds of security in cooperative relations that exist within what is loosely called the inter-American system, so we are hoping that at least the peace keeping and the naval... will fit within those.

Q: What countries are you looking at for participating in the naval initiative first and what countries are you looking at for the peacekeeping initiative?

Senior Defense Official: This is going to be deep background because I don't like to characterize other countries. What I'd say is this: that we have looked very closely at what is possible, what's available, and we have talked with some of the countries and you might find an interest in Chile and in Central America, the Caribbeans, I mean it's up to them to say what they are going to be interested in. Again, we can't really say...

Q: Do you expect to have somebody coming forward at the end of this ministerial saying, "yes we are going to participate?"

Senior Defense Official: What we have to explain is we are presenting to them what we think we could contribute to such an idea. So there's not going to be an actual initiative coming up. This is a direction, you see what I mean?

Q: But the idea is also from the U.S.?

Senior Defense Official: We can offer some very important pieces of the puzzle that are missing, you know, logistics, technical...

Q: this initiative originated through...

Senior Defense Official: This is our contribution.

It all comes down to deployability and logistics, I mean you can put together a great peacekeeping battalion here but unless you've got C-130s, you are not going to take them to Africa.

Q: Exactly. I'll say for instance, Argentina offered to support us in Operation Enduring Freedom and lived with the main problem in getting them out there. They offered a field hospital. So, ... was a problem.

Q: And that would be the sort of thing that the United States could provide? Is that some of the things that you are going to be looking at?

Senior Defense Official: I would certainly say that's one of the things that we have looked at and with both the naval initiative and the peacekeeping initiative we have done a lot of homework ahead of time to see what is there, and this is again, background, but we have actually put some serious thought into it and looked into some serious resourcing issues, we have had extensive inter-agency discussions, these are real substantive proposals and the normal practice for the States for the last 30 years has been to come down blowing the horn and not having much in the bag and we are deliberately adopting a kid of under stated approach on this because we think we have some real substantive opportunities here but they truly depend on what the other countries want to do themselves.

Q: Could you just talk in more depth about these two initiatives, what was provided to us yesterday...

Senior Defense Official: You got that on the plane?

Q: Yes, because I mean...

Senior Defense Official: Part of the problem with that is that the secretary needs to present this before we do it in any formal fashion so it's going to be difficult to put too much...

Q: Are you leaving tomorrow?

Senior Defense Official: I have a proposal for you.

Q: We have deadlines. I mean this will not appear in the paper I mean, until Wednesday or Thursday...

Senior Defense Official: I have a proposal for you, I'll have some time this afternoon and how about if I catch you and give you a little more on that, cause we want to cover the bilats and other stuff we are doing.

Q: Could you go into that? You mentioned the maritime proposal, how about the peacekeeping, what countries might be interested?

Senior Defense Official: Well you just have to look at which countries have already made substantial investment in peacekeeping infrastructure in the south. There was Argentina, Chile...

Q: Brazil

Senior Defense Official: No Brazil is always interested. They tend to have very qualitative participation in Portuguese speaking countries, so they just sent a contingent to East Timor, but you know Colombia just finished a 40-year, I think; no 30-year deployment to Sinai. Was it 20? I thought it was 30.

Q: I went in with the first Americans...

Senior Defense Official: And the Colombians were there? So there is an interesting infrastructure and the point is here they are developing these special regional capabilities, like the Central Americans feel they are very good at civil affairs and indeed they are. The Chileans have expertise in military policing for instance. Now, getting back to the naval capability for instance. This is not about feeling good or about being happy, or you known throwing a bone to the inter-American system. This is about real threats that we need to look after.

What I would do is that I would urge you to look at the map, and say for instance, just name the Caribbean is a place where there is piracy and drug trafficking and where illegal arms are shipped back and forth. On background, one of our concerns and this has been a theme of the secretary down here. He's already mentioned it, I think, is that we don't look just at the drug issue. That 's just part of the problem.

Our policy is not about drugs. We want to suppress drugs, we don't like them, but we are taking a broader look at the whole issue of security, which is why he's presenting this formulation on effective sovereignty, which is our effort to link the democratic progress and nature of the hemisphere with security. The idea is that the citizen is a sovereign in a democracy, and only in a democracy. The duty of the state to exercise the authority conferred to... throughout the entire national territory, I mean, holding security in its essence is our response to effective sovereignty.

Effective sovereignty is for us what the answer to ungoverned space is, and you can point to Colombia as a classic example. There was a de facto ungoverned space in the shape of the demilitarized zone. And this actually ties in beautifully to how the Chileans are presenting their linkage between democracy and security, because the Chileans are focusing on the state as an actor in international affairs and they are saying only the state can claim to be a democratic entity in international affairs. There's no other thing out there, no multinational body, no NGO that can say, "we are democratic." In other words, the citizens have voted for us and have given us authority. So, the Chileans have come at this from a point of view of the state and we are coming to this from the point of view of the citizen, but we converge there is an intimate connection between democracy and security, and it's found on the ground of sovereignty.

Q: Minister of Defense Bachelet said to Rumsfeld that she and the president had discussed the UN Security Council seat that Chile is receiving in January. Can you give us more on that, what did they talk about? Did they talk about Iraq, for example?

Senior Defense Official: They talked in general about the types of challenges that would be faced there. I actually was not there at the meeting that he held with President Lagos and I haven't been debriefed on it so they may have talked further about that, that should be a question you can ask him.

Again, just in general terms, it's a tremendous responsibility, the Chileans, it was really more the Chileans telling us the very serious preparations they have been taking in order to assume this responsibility, like beefing up their military advisory capabilities at the UN. They are very, very serious about this.

Q: Have the Chileans made clear that they would be opposed to any unilateral action, that they want this to go through the UN, everything to go through the UN...

Senior Defense Official: They have made very clear their position that they support this as you said, going through the UN, so as Mr. Rumsfeld has said, it's absolutely up to every country to determine how it wants to approach this issue.

Q: Have they sent us any signal on unilateral action to...

Senior Defense Official: No, not that I know of. Mr. Rumsfeld did allude to the issue in just saying that Oh well, you were going to be coming up with the inspections issue, and that was about all that was said at that point.

Q: How about Colombia?

Senior Defense Official: With Colombia, this concept of effective sovereignty is in fact what the Colombians themselves are arguing. Their whole policy is one that is seeking to extend the rule of law throughout the entire national territory and they realize their government at present is simply too small. They just have a military that is too small, because it's been under resourced for this challenge and Uribe came on a pledge to make it a lot bigger, I think he talked about tripling it even. No comment on that but he is definitely enacted a wealth tax, he is already beefing up the size of the forces, he's closing loopholes that allow certain people, college graduates to be exempt, so this is their answer to effective sovereignty. We found that this was a theme that really we share with the hemisphere.

Q: Did they discuss any human rights violations or training for the army?

Senior Defense Official: Let me just make it clear, that's something that we talk about all of the time, and as you know the Ambassador just delivered a very strong message, so that didn't come up in the meeting.

Q: When you talk about narco-terrorism, are we talking about capitalist or Islamic? There is a growing Islamic community in Colombia ...

Senior Defense Official: Throughout Latin America, yes. Most of those are perfectly law-abiding citizens just like Islamic folk you find everywhere in the United States or in the Islamic world for that matter, I mean. No, we didn't talk about that.

Q: If you could assess from the things that you talked about here and you think... there is a growing Islamic radical fundamentalists who have been taking...anywhere in South America?

Senior Defense Official: The sense that we have is that there are few areas where certain specific groups in the Middle East like Hizbollah have contacts and raise money, probably lots of money. Do they have active terrorist cell operations here? No, we haven't seen evidence of that. We are looking. We are looking very hard. We certainly don't want that to happen here.

Q: Could you mention what those areas are?

Senior Defense Official: Well, yes, the tri-border area is one. Now, those countries are collaborating with each other and cooperating with us very, very closely to monitor this and what we are finding is a lot of illegal activity, some of this geared toward raising money.

Q: Is Colombia on that list, do we have a sense that narco-terrorists and Islamists anywhere linked?

Senior Defense Official: I would say that would be overstating the real problem. Cause the FARC. I have to run. I'll be available later on...