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German Marshall Fund Security Conference

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Friday, November 20, 2009

     Thank you, Peter. It’s an honor to be here for the first Halifax International Security Forum. When Minister MacKay invited me to this gathering some months ago, I was all too pleased to accept – and not just because the accommodations are a little more plush than at the former military base in Cornwallis, where we held the RC South meeting last November.
     A special thanks to the German Marshall Fund for putting this event together. The Marshall Fund, since its inception nearly four decades ago, has been an important source of expertise on the transatlantic relationship. The importance of these bonds was reinforced to me 10 days ago when I addressed the Reagan Library’s 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That celebration, and the life- and freedom-affirming events we commemorated, were a reminder of the longstanding cultural, political, and security bonds between the two continents, and, more importantly, a reminder of what can be achieved when we stand together to advance common interests and confront common threats.
     As this conference is the first of its kind in North America, I’d like to address some of the security and defense issues that are especially pressing to this continent, and in the Western Hemisphere writ large. At the Summit of the Americas in April, President Obama urged a “new sense of partnership” to fulfill the promise of prosperity, security, and justice for the people of this hemisphere. He called for a sustained engagement based on mutual respect, common interests, and shared values – a message that I would like to amplify today.
     This engagement and this partnership are so necessary because the emerging security challenges we face are increasingly interconnected, and the non-traditional threats require a collective approach. These challenges – from narco-trafficking to natural disasters – require an uncommon degree of coordination among the national-security, homeland-defense, and criminal-justice agencies of our governments – as these threats do not fit into the neat, discrete boxes of 20th century organization charts.
     In the next few minutes, I will discuss some of those security challenges, highlighting promising areas of cooperation, and offering some thoughts on the way ahead, particularly as relating to human rights and the role of our militaries. In all of these areas, the United States aspires to be a partner of choice in the Americas – a friend of every nation and every person seeking a future of security, dignity, and freedom.
     A starting point for this discussion is the long-standing relationship between the United States and Canada – the subject of my meeting this afternoon with Minister MacKay. I know that Afghanistan is on everyone’s mind – with the president soon to announce his decisions on the way ahead for the United States and our partners. In Afghanistan, the Canadian military has more than distinguished itself in battle in some of the most dangerous parts of the country. Canada has been a major contributor to the international military coalition, with more than 2,800 troops currently deployed, plus a strong commitment to support future development and governance efforts. It was Canadian soldiers, along with our British, Dutch, Danish, and Estonian allies, who largely held the line in the south before U.S. reinforcements arrived in strength earlier this year. With more than 130 fallen heroes – among the highest of coalition members on a per capita basis – the Canadian army has certainly paid the price and borne a heavy burden in Afghanistan. We call on our other allies and friends to do what they can on behalf of this noble and necessary campaign – an effort that will, as I said last week, require more commitment, more sacrifice, and more patience from the community of free nations.
     The formal defense ties between the United States and Canada date back to 1940, when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister King signed the Ogdensburg Declaration and established the Permanent Joint Board on Defense – an arrangement of lasting value to this day. Last year, I was pleased to join Minister MacKay in Colorado Springs for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the North American Aerospace Defense command – festivities that marked a half-century of shared commitment by the United States and Canada to protect our continent. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and especially since the attacks of [September] 11th, NORAD has evolved from focusing almost exclusively on detecting a nuclear first strike to confronting an array of diffuse threats to our homeland from land, air, and sea:
      • In 2006, the United States and Canada signed an expansion of the NORAD agreement to include a maritime warning mission;
      • Last December, we signed a new emergency management cooperation
agreement; and
      • The U.S. military is prepared, as needed, to provide support to security efforts for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

     We have also been encouraged to see Canada taking a more active security role across the hemisphere, and globally as well:
      • Canada has provided police training in Mexico to combat the drug cartels;
      • Canada has helped build the capacity of Jamaica’s Counter-Terrorism Operations Group, a unit of the Jamaica Defense Force that thwarted an airline hijacking in April without any casualties;
      • Canada has demonstrated hemispheric leadership, hosting the 2008 Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas at Banff – a gathering which, in addition to fostering dialogue among neighbors on defense and security matters, created a region-wide working group to improve cooperation for disaster assistance; and
      • Internationally, last year a Canadian admiral led Combined Task Force 150, a multi-national fleet comprised of about a dozen warships to patrol the waters off the Horn of Africa for pirates and terrorists.

     Canada and the U.S. are both Arctic nations – an item on our bilateral agenda today and a subject of a panel at this conference. We share an interest in developing more icebreaking ships for mobility and improving domain awareness to support search-and-rescue in light of increased tourism up north. Even as the U.S. “resets” relations with Russia, we will work with Canada to ensure that increased Russian activity in the Arctic does not lead to miscalculation or unnecessary friction.
     I should also use this occasion to say that the United States still remembers warmly the prompt and generous Canadian response to Hurricane Katrina – a package consisting of warships, helicopters, 900 troops including combat engineers, and thousands of pounds of relief supplies.
     Which brings me to the first of several shared security challenges we face in this hemisphere: the threat from natural hazards.
     Katrina was the most devastating of a number of natural calamities that have hit the region in recent years. As our neighbors to the north and south came to the aid of the U.S. during those dark days, the resources of the U.S. military are available when the people of this hemisphere are struck by natural disasters – from the response of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in Haiti after Hurricane Ike last year, to work by U.S. Army and Air Force personnel providing life-saving aid just last week after devastating flooding and mudslides hit El Salvador.
     The melting of the polar ice cap in the Arctic, plus the frequency and intensity of weather events in this hemisphere – with the corresponding need for military humanitarian assistance missions – calls for a greater attention to the security implications of climate change. For the first time, our Quadrennial Defense Review – at the direction of the U.S. Congress – will examine the U.S. armed forces’ ability to respond to the impact of global warming.
     We also know that the unprecedented freedom of movement in this hemisphere, while providing enormous economic benefit, also allows more opportunities for dangerous, criminal elements to exploit gaps and weaknesses – in governance and sovereignty – within and between our nations. This situation creates an alarming potential nexus between the traditional scourge of narco-traffickers and the emerging threats posed by international terrorist networks. The same means and routes used to transport drugs could also be used for dangerous weapons and materials. Drug runners, for example, still use low-flying aircraft, but they are also building home-made, semi-submersible vessels that can carry tons of cargo and are very difficult to detect in open waters.
     In Colombia, the FARC showed how an outlaw group can use ungoverned space to re-arm and re-train while funding operations through the narcotics trade. But the progress Colombia has made in recent years with U.S. assistance also shows that it is possible to counter, and ultimately defeat, these threats – and to do so in a way that is consistent with respect for human rights and the rule of law.
    In all, when it comes to interdiction and law enforcement, we cannot expect to make headway on narcotics without a multi-faceted, multi-national comprehensive approach to the problem. We need to work together to fortify judicial institutions and the rule of law; in this way these nations will be better prepared to counter these pernicious threats. In concert with other U.S. government agencies, the NGO community, Canada, and other nations we can assist in providing the breathing room needed for Western Hemisphere democracies to develop their fullest economic and political potential.
     The role of the Department of Defense – and it is a limited role – is to detect and monitor trafficking while providing the training and equipment that allows our partners in the region to pursue drug gangs and stymie the flow of illegal narcotics. The United States, for its part, is committed to reducing its demand for illegal drugs and also to stopping the flow of illegal guns and cash across our southern border. Toward this end, the President has made it a priority to ratify the illegal trafficking in firearms convention.
     To deal with the narcotics trade and other challenges, in addition to our bilateral assistance efforts, we are also looking to encourage more collaboration among other nations that traditionally have not worked together on security matters:
      • The U.S. government and our Caribbean partners are organizing the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, a multi-national effort to combat illicit trafficking with other international partners invited to participate as observers;
      • Some $45 million has been directed to build upon best practices and develop new modes of cooperation in the Caribbean. One area of focus will be counter-narcotics, as drug gangs under increasing pressure in Mexico may seek to route more of their products through the Caribbean; and
      • The U.S. Southern Command hosts the annual Tradewinds exercise with a number of Caribbean militaries – the goal being to improve regional coordination in areas such as search and rescue and drug interdiction.

     An example of what can be achieved: Recently Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala – working together with the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force-South – detected, monitored, and then captured a semi-submersible craft that was carrying several tons of drugs. We are encouraging partners from outside the region – many with a keen interest in stemming the flow of drugs to their own countries – to participate in these efforts. The United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Spain, for example, have liaison officers at Joint Interagency Task Force-South and participated in Operation Carib Royale and Operation Carib Venture.
     The Department of Defense is prepared to provide military assistance when needed and where appropriate. But progress on complex security challenges requires a commitment of resources and political will from our partners as well. Working with Mexico and Central America, supported by funds appropriated by Congress, the Merida Initiative seeks to support efforts to counter drug trafficking organizations. We are truly grateful for the support we have received from Congress enabling these efforts. We think first of Mexico’s northern border, but Mexico’s southern border is equally challenging. Efforts to help our Central American and Caribbean partners to counter drug trafficking organizations will focus on improving their ability to monitor and to react to violations of their air and maritime domains.
     Before closing, I’d like to make two further points.
     First, I believe it is not only possible, but it is imperative, that we take on these shared threats in a way that is respectful of human rights and human dignity. Violent crime represents a major threat to security in much of the Western Hemisphere. The police forces in a number of countries are overwhelmed and often outgunned, creating a culture of insecurity. Some countries have assigned law enforcement responsibilities to their military forces. Strong human rights programs are vital when conducting military responses in such complex environments. It is clear – even to this veteran of CIA and Cold Warrior – that security gains will be illusory if they lack the public legitimacy that comes with respect for human rights and the rule of law. The U.S. military has faced some of these issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the treatment of detainees, and in the protection of civilians. We have much to learn from each other in the human rights realm.
     As I mentioned earlier, Colombia has recognized the need to observe these norms in its campaign against the FARC, and despite setbacks has shown increased determination to root out human rights violations. And even as Mexico battles ruthless drug lords committing unspeakable crimes, the Mexican government is working to address rights concerns through training programs in its armed forces. The United States has made it a point to integrate human rights instruction into our joint training and education in programs such as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies.
     The second, and related point pertains to the role of the U.S. military. Though I am addressing these issues as Secretary of Defense, it is imperative to keep front and center that the military is in a supporting, not a lead role, in dealing with most of the problems I’ve described this afternoon.
     The work of U.S. regional combatant commands in security cooperation and building the defense capacity of partners remains essential. To be sure, there are certain capabilities – manpower, logistics, technology – that only the military can provide. Indeed, many years ago, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld said in reference to peacekeeping that it’s not a soldier’s job but sometimes only a soldier can do it. Nonetheless, there is some discomfort among civilian NGOs and agencies about what is seen as an increasing role by the U.S. military in development, humanitarian assistance, and, in some cases, public diplomacy.
     On a number of occasions, I have emphasized the importance of rebuilding and modernizing the civilian instruments of U.S. national-security apparatus, and I’ve warned against a “creeping militarization” by default of some aspects of our foreign policy if those deficiencies aren’t addressed. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have committed to achieving a better balance between defense capabilities on the one hand and civilian development and diplomacy capacity on the other. This shift applies to homeland security capabilities as well, such as the Coast Guard and border patrol.
     For much of the Western Hemisphere, the issue is more the proper role and authorities of the military relative to law enforcement, politics, and civil society. These are difficult matters, and I believe that gatherings such as this one can go a long way toward gaining a better understanding of these issues, to benefit the people of this region.
     In working through these issues, and in confronting the range of vexing security challenges that this century has presented us, the nations of this hemisphere should know, along with our trans-Atlantic partners, that the United States is committed, in President Obama’s words, to a “new chapter of engagement” – one that is comprehensive, sustained, and reflective of the aspirations of the people of the Americas.
     I thank the German Marshall Fund for the opportunity to speak today, and I look forward to taking a couple questions.
     Thank you.

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