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Secretary of Defense Speech

Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas

As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Arequipa, Peru, Oct. 13, 2014

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Thank you, Minister Cateriano, for hosting this gathering and welcoming us to Arequipa.  Since this forum was established more than two decades ago, it has served as an important venue for discussing major challenges facing our region, and finding ways to strengthen our defense cooperation.  

I am here today to underscore the United States’ commitment to partnering with the Americas…to maintain peace and stability in our hemisphere, and to help build global security. 

As you all know, in the Western Hemisphere today, the most pressing security challenges – from organized crime to ungoverned spaces – do not respect national borders.  Nor do their consequences, such as the migration of unaccompanied minors.    

No nation can address these challenges alone.  We must work together to confront them. 

That is why it is welcome news that many nations in the region are becoming exporters of security – working with neighboring countries to provide training, build capacity, and address urgent security needs.

Colombia, for example, has trained thousands of security forces from over a dozen countries in the region, building on the success of their National Training Center in Tolemaida, which I visited last week.

Chile, where I was yesterday, has included Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, and Honduran units into its peacekeeping battalion that is supporting the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

And two months ago, the United States was proud to join with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Paraguay for the Partnership of the Americas exercise, which helps build our combined capability to execute peace support operations, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief missions. 

The United States remains committed to partnerships that strengthen the integrity and effectiveness of defense institutions, and enhance our ability to operate together.  

Our hemisphere’s multilateral defense institutions, and the Inter-American Defense System, are critical for this kind of collaboration.  I realize that not all countries are completely satisfied with this system, but the United States encourages your active engagement.  We need a more integrated, not a more fractured, architecture of cooperation…because the challenges we face span our entire hemisphere. 

The Security Implications of Climate Change

Today, this region has become one of the most stable in the world.  In many nations of the hemisphere, economies are growing and democracy is flourishing.  

But we must be ready to confront emerging and future challenges to ensure this progress marches on.

One of those emerging challenges, environmental security, is a major theme of this week’s conference, and it provides us with an opportunity to discuss the security implications of climate change.

Climate change is a “threat multiplier”…because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies – and to produce new challenges in the future.  

The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere.  Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability.  Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.

We have already seen these events unfold in other regions of the world, and there are worrying signs that climate change will create serious risks to stability in our own hemisphere.  Two of the worst droughts in the Americas have occurred in the past ten years…droughts that used to occur once a century.

In the Caribbean, sea level rise may claim 1,200 square miles of coastal land in the next 50 years, and some islands may have to be completely evacuated.  According to some estimates, rising temperatures could melt entire glaciers in the Andes, which could have cascading economic and security consequences.

These climate trends will clearly have implications for our militaries.  A higher tempo and intensity of natural disasters could demand more support for our civil authorities, and more humanitarian assistance and relief.  Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains, and critical equipment.  Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed. 

DoD’s Plan to Address Climate Change Risks

The U.S. Department of Defense takes these risks very seriously, and that is why today we are launching a new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.  Building on one of the main themes of this year’s CDMA, this roadmap lays out our plan for confronting the challenges posed by climate change.

This roadmap shows how we are identifying, with tangible and specific metrics, and using the best available science, the effects of climate change on the Department’s missions and responsibilities.  We have nearly completed a baseline survey to assess the vulnerability of our military’s more than 7,000 bases, installations, and other facilities.

Drawing on these assessments, we will integrate climate change considerations into our planning, operations, and training.  Last year, for example, I released the Department of Defense’s Arctic Strategy, which addresses the potential security implications of rapidly melting Arctic ice.

Working With Regional Partners on Climate Change

To address the risks posed by climate change, we will work with partner nations, bilaterally and through organizations such as the Inter-American Defense Board and the CDMA.  We will share our findings, our tools for assessment, and our plans for resiliency.  We will also seek to learn from partner nations’ experiences as well. 

The U.S. military has already completed a joint assessment with its counterparts in Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago on the defense implications of climate change.  I welcome the recent decision by the Inter-American Defense Board to accept this report for further study, and encourage using that forum to broaden our nations’ collaboration.  I also encourage our Armed Services’ Conferences in the hemisphere to explore the security implications of climate change.  And I invite more nations to participate in our Defense Environmental International Cooperation program.   

I recognize that our militaries play different roles and have different responsibilities in each of our nations.  I also recognize that climate change will have different impacts in different parts of the hemisphere.  But there are many opportunities to work together.

In two months, the United Nations will convene countries from around the world here in Peru to discuss climate change.  Defense leaders must be part of this global discussion.  We must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change, and we must be pro-active in addressing them.

I am confident that, in partnership, we can tackle the wide spectrum of challenges facing our hemisphere.  Working together, we can ensure that this region becomes even more peaceful, prosperous, and free in the years ahead. 

Thank you.