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Cohen: Turning Neighbors to Partners

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 18, 1997 – The Western Hemisphere has entered a new era of serenity and enormous opportunity, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said April 15 in Miami. Where tyranny and fear once reigned, freedom and prosperity now prevail, he said.

"We see a hemisphere of hope and of free people with free rein to choose a better destiny," Cohen told delegates at U.S. Southern Command's Western Hemisphere Symposium.

Instead of disunity, distrust and discord, Latin America and Caribbean nations are discovering "a harmony of interests," he said. "We see the chains of poverty giving way to the chance of prosperity."

About 200 delegates from 40 nations attended the two-day conference. They focused on regional security issues including transnational threats, terrorism, narcotrafficiking, destruction of the environment and regional disputes.

All Western Hemisphere nations except Cuba are now democracies, and the United States is committed to developing strong diplomatic, economic and security partnerships among these democratic nations, Cohen said. "We see security partners, not security problems; governments chosen by the ballot, not by the bullet. We see nations who are sending envoys, not convoys; seeking broader pursuits, not border disputes. We see an explosion of commerce and trade, not of conflict and terror."

The hemisphere is home to some of the world's fastest-growing markets, he said. Nations are pursuing new trade agreements, security partnerships and military operations in the cause of peace, safety and humanity, he said. "Peru and Ecuador met this week in Brasilia [Brazil] to begin resolving a 55-year-old border dispute. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States, as well as Peru and Ecuador have peacekeeping forces serving on the border right now to ensure that peace endures."

Determined democracies in the region have weathered turbulent storms, Cohen said. El Salvador and Nicaragua elected two successive governments while their militaries remained committed to upholding democratic principles, he said. Guatemala signed a peace accord in December and has begun incorporating its citizens into the democratic process. "When a coup was attempted in Paraguay, its neighbors rose to the occasion and pressured the plotters to stand down, and thus preserved a democratic nation in their midst."

The United States has a lesson to share, Cohen said. Being open with neighboring nations on defense matters, "builds confidence and security, which, in turn, serves peace," he said.

As an example of openness between nations, Cohen said he will give copies of DoD's Quadrennial Defense Review to his democratic counterparts in the hemisphere. The report, due to Congress May 15, will cover DoD's future defense strategy, force structure and policies. The method of conducting the review may be particularly useful to other nations as they reassess and reconfigure their national defense, Cohen said.

U.S. officials have also distributed copies of the annual defense report and budget to regional counterparts. Brazil has distributed copies of its report on national dfense policies.

Another area where the United States can help new democracies is teaching about civilian control of the military, Cohen said. "The system of civilian-controlled military has worked for the United States ever since George Washington hung up his uniform and became President Washington."

In November, the Hempispheric Center for Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington will offer courses and lectures on planning and managing defense resources, forming defense policy, armed forces' role in a democracy and the dynamics of a civilian-military relationship, Cohen said. Eight members of the center's consultative committee are from Latin American or Caribbean nations, thereby providing another venue for dialogue among defense institutions, he said.

Other initiatives to further hemispheric ties include Panama's offer to host a multinational counterdrug center and Argentina's creation of a new peacekeeping training center. The United States will share technology so the militaries can fight narcotics trafficking, conduct other operations and build these military-to-military ties so critically important, Cohen said. "Our militaries are training together to serve humanitarian disaster relief operations, and they're sharing information about how to protect the environment," he said.

Cohen called on the hemispheric nations to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. He said 31 nations in the hemisphere have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, but only 12 have ratified the treaty. President Clinton is pressing the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty before it goes into effect April 29, Cohen said. "If all of the nations of our hemisphere sign and ratify this treaty, we not only can make it stronger, we can help make our half of the world free of chemical weapons," he said.

In the future, Cohen said, the United States will intensify its focus on building strong partnerships with Western Hemisphere nations "in an entire spectrum of areas -- from diplomacy to trade to environmental protection, as well as security."

Defense partnership in the region was first fostered at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas in Williamsburg in 1995 and at a second ministerial last summer in Argentina. A third ministerial is scheduled for this year in Cartagena, Colombia.

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