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Defense Ministerial of the Americas IV, Opening Plenary Session
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Manaus, Brazil , Tuesday, October 17, 2000

It is a great pleasure to be in Manaus, in Brazil’s magnificent Amazon, in the company of friends from throughout the hemisphere. I am sure all would agree that Brazil has done a superb job preparing the way for productive discussions at this fourth Defense Ministerial, and we should applaud [Brazilian] President [Fernando Henrique] Cardoso, Defense Minister [Geraldo] Quintao, and their staff for their outstanding efforts.

The Defense Ministerial of the Americas (DMA) process provides an essential venue in which to reaffirm and advance our commitment to mutual security. I believe this meeting will impart a major impulse to achieving a common vision of democracy, peace, economic and social development, and international cooperation. But in doing so we must confront complex, transnational challenges. Our response requires a flexible security framework—adaptable to the different circumstances of the various sub-regions—that allows each of us to cooperate in ways consistent with our own national values and traditions.

As the 21st Century begins, hemispheric security relationships have evolved toward partnerships based on mutual respect—anchored by the belief that representative democracy is the foundation of political legitimacy and is indispensable to peace, stability, and development. Against that backdrop, the rule of law and respect for democratic institutions represent our collective goals and our shared commitment in this hemisphere. We all seek to advance regional security cooperation, work with each other’s ministries to increase civilian defense expertise, encourage democratic civil-military relations, and reinforce the trend toward civilian leadership in security affairs—all of which serve to strengthen democratic institutions and encourage international cooperation.

The United States takes seriously its commitments in the region. Since the last ministerial, we have turned over the Panama Canal in a smooth transition to Panama and have worked with other nations in Central America, the Caribbean and the Andean sub-region to develop alternative operating locations. At the time of the last ministerial, many countries here were working together to provide relief from Hurricane Mitch, and since then, the US and others have continued to cooperate with Caribbean and Central American nations to assist in responding to devastating natural disasters. Indeed, our nations frequently have demonstrated the importance of working together to solve thorny problems.

Border disagreements have historically been a source of tension, and occasionally have led to actual conflict. Recent years have seen tremendous progress in this area. Long-standing border disagreements have been resolved between Ecuador and Peru, and between Argentina and Chile, in examples of how difficult issues can be surmounted when nations collaborate.

I hope we can bring this spirit of cooperation to the challenges now facing our friend, Colombia, where the drug trade, insurgency, and paramilitary forces threaten one of South America’s oldest democracies and stable economies. The US is concerned that the "spillover" of those problems to neighboring states, which has been increasing in recent years, will only worsen if we do nothing. Working together, we hope to help Colombia in their time of need and prevent the conflict from shifting Colombia’s problems to its neighbors.

Because the US bears special responsibility for confronting the drug problem at home, we will continue to devote the majority of our National Drug Control Budget—approximately 82%—to reduce the demand for drugs in the US, to enforce laws domestically, and to monitor our own borders.

The United States applauds your collective efforts to adopt confidence and security-building measures designed to prevent misperceptions and ease bilateral tensions—in particular the commitments we each have undertaken in the San Salvador and Santiago Declarations. Implementing these measures, such as notification of military exercises, defense information sharing, exchange of exercise observers, expansion of educational programs, and increased communications in border areas, can all greatly contribute to fostering openness and inspiring confidence among neighbors. I urge each country to accelerate its commitment to achieving these goals and applaud the progress already achieved.

In some regions, such as the Southern Cone, countries have moved beyond confidence and security-building measures and are now implementing normal defense cooperation measures ranging from joint exercises to the possibility of cooperative defense acquisition. In a historical sense, this is a momentous transformation that both reflects and reinforces the deepening of democratic institutions.

At this, my last Defense Ministerial, I must note that since my tenure began in 1997 -- through the Ministerial in Cartagena to today -- it has been gratifying to see the things your nations have accomplished in adapting to the security realities of the post-Cold War world. I commend you for a job well done, and urge you to keep the momentum going.

We are fortunate that DMA provides a forum in which to seek a common vision of Inter-American security. That vision recognizes that within this vast hemisphere lie multiple regions, each of which is characterized by its own circumstances. Each region faces its own challenges, and each nation must respond in the manner that best suits its national and regional situation.

Amidst that diversity, however, there are unifying aspects to the challenges we confront and sharp differences between today’s threats and those upon which our security architecture was built a half century ago. In Manaus, we have an opportunity to advance our consultative process by seeking consensus on the nature of transnational threats and the means to work collaboratively to confront them.

In conclusion, I once again extend special thanks to our gracious, efficient and effective Brazilian hosts for making this possible. Together, we represent the most peaceful region of the world, where we have the unique opportunity to address hemispheric defense issues and the sustainment of productive engagement into the 21st Century.