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Defense Ministerial of the Americas (Banff, Alberta)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Banff, Alberta, Wednesday, September 03, 2008

      Thank you, Minister MacKay, for hosting this gathering and welcoming us to Banff. It is wonderful to be here with my fellow ministers in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.
     Minister MacKay, we all appreciate your commitment to the security of this continent and the lasting contributions Canada has made toward promoting cooperation on hemispheric and global defense matters.
     The theme of this year’s conference, “Confidence Building through Cooperation and Collaboration,” is particularly important given the array of challenges we all face: terrorism, transnational crime, natural and man-made disasters, trafficking in persons, cyber threats, and smuggling weapons of mass destruction.
     While these threats may appear daunting, we cannot forget how far we have come in the past few decades and especially since the Cold War. Sweeping changes have brought about an impressive transformation in the Americas. Democratic ideals, open markets, social justice, respect for individual freedoms and human rights, the economics of choice, and courageous actions to protect our citizens all keep us free from the tyrannies of crime, terrorism, and instability.
     Challenges to democratic governance and regional stability remain, but there is also growing recognition throughout the hemisphere that we must stand together against common threats. And in some ways, we are already doing so:
     • The Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, is pursuing options to improve domain awareness and patrol capabilities in the area;
     • The nations of South America are discussing the formation of a regional defense council to improve military cooperation and exchange information;
     • More than a half dozen nations in this room – and more than 90 nations around the world – have signed the Proliferation Security Initiative to prevent criminals from obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons; and
     • Mexico and Central American nations are partnering with the United States to combat drug cartels, as outlined in the 2007 Merida Initiative.
     I have met with a dozen or so leaders throughout this hemisphere during my tenure. I have been impressed with your commitment to solving security issues that are essential for economic growth and our collective well-being. We must find ways to capitalize on our individual strengths, while also respecting and honoring the sovereignty of each nation here today.
     Many of us are confronting important questions of how to organize our ministries, our militaries, our security forces, and our national security structures to defeat the threats we currently face.
     For example, combating transnational crime, defeating terrorism, and responding to national disasters requires coordinated action across a range of government departments and agencies. In certain cases, militaries may be called upon to play a supporting role to civilian authorities when responding to these threats – but the exact nature of their role requires careful thought and discussion within each nation’s government and society.
     By the same token, in areas such as law enforcement and public administration, civilian capacity may not match the expertise found in many of our armed forces. It is important that non-military capabilities receive adequate manning and funding – a point I emphasize frequently with respect to our State Department’s budget.
     When I meet with my colleagues from the Americas and around the world, a consistent challenge I hear about is the need to work more collaboratively with legislatures and parliaments. The more we can educate legislatures and their staffs, to improve their expertise on defense matters, the better choices they will make when it comes to security funding and policy.
     Over the next few days, we should consider new ways we can work together toward common goals. As suggested by the Minister of Barbados and others here today, a good place to start might be mutual assistance during natural disasters, which one of the working groups will discuss tomorrow. In many cases, countries rely upon the assistance of the United Nations and other international organizations in the response to natural disasters. While the Conference of Central American Armed Forces and other organizations have taken positive steps forward, we still do not have a comprehensive, hemisphere-wide mechanism to channel outside assistance to disaster areas effectively. We should ask what more we can do to improve international response capabilities. For example, perhaps the Organization of American States could ask its Inter-American Defense Board to propose protocols for defense support of civilian authorities during natural disasters in areas such as communications and mobility of people and supplies. The way ahead involves creative answers to domestic questions on the relationship between security forces and civilian institutions.
     I will conclude with Nobel Laureate, Gabriel García Márquez, who said, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” We have a collective dream: a free, prosperous, and secure hemisphere. By working together, we can transform that dream into reality and embrace the great promise and potential of the Americas.