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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (As Prepared)

Good morning. It’s great to be here with you. 

Let me thank Minister Paulo Sergio and our Brazilian hosts for bringing us all together today.

We’re gathering at an important moment for the region that we all call home—a moment that calls for deeper cooperation and a renewed spirit of common purpose.  

As President Biden has said, democracy is the hallmark of the Americas. And we believe that the entire Western Hemisphere can be secure, prosperous, and democratic.

Our countries aren’t just bound together by geography. We’re also drawn closer by our common interests and common values—by our deep respect for human rights and human dignity, our commitment to the rule of law, and our devotion to democracy. 

That spirit is captured by our Inter-American Democratic Charter. And we’ll continue to work to achieve its full promise.

Ladies and gentlemen, the more we deepen our democracies, the more we deepen our security.

Now, we’re gathered here as ministers of defense. And we’re all facing an increasingly complex and rapidly evolving security environment. We’re fortunate to live as neighbors in a hemisphere of peace, but we must still be candid about our common challenges.

The COVID pandemic has taken a terrible toll in our region.

The rule of law, human rights, and human dignity have come under attack in our region.

Our neighbors need greater capacities to respond to natural disasters in our region.

Climate change is threatening the future of the children in our region.

And autocratic powers are working to undermine the stable, open, rules-based international order in our region.

That includes efforts by the People’s Republic of China to gain regional influence.

Now, many of our national leaders have recently demonstrated their commitment to tackling those challenges.

You can see that in the signing of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection at the Summit of the Americas last month.

And you can see it in the expanding recognition that no country can find lasting security without tackling the climate crisis. From the rising dangers of soil erosion to the growing number of Category 4 and 5 storms, climate change is making it harder for all of our forces to operate. 

In our interwoven world, security challenges just don’t stop at borders. Our common problems demand common action—from disaster relief to migration. And our shared challenges demand what I’ve called the power of partnership.

So I’m especially pleased that this CDMA has chosen to discuss the theme of integrated deterrence. That’s central to my Department’s National Defense Strategy. Integrated deterrence means working seamlessly across domains, theaters, and the full spectrum of conflict. And it means working closely with our unrivaled network of allies and partners. 

Now, credible deterrence demands military and security forces that are ready, capable, and under firm civilian control. And it demands defense ministries that serve their citizens transparently and without corruption.

So today, I am pleased to announce that in fiscal year 2023, the U.S. Department of Defense will allocate more than $115 million in funding to our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.  That will boost our investment in security cooperation in the hemisphere to more than half a billion dollars since 2020.

And we’ll continue to work together to strengthen our partnerships.

Let me highlight two efforts that underscore our commitment to tapping the full potential of the people of our region.

First, we understand the anguish caused by the pandemic. So over the past two years, my Department has carried out more than 630 COVID-related humanitarian-assistance projects in our region, valued at nearly $110 million.

We’ve also delivered more than 70 million doses of lifesaving vaccines throughout the Western Hemisphere.

And this fall, my Department is planning to send a Mercy-class hospital ship, the U.S. Navy Ship Comfort, to the region for close to two months. It will help provide critical medical care—and help ease the strain on hospitals hit hard by the pandemic.

And second, we’re going to work with our partners to recognize the full potential of all our people. That means ensuring that women are free, safe, and equally able to contribute to defense and security.

So since 2020, my Department has led more than 15 exchanges on Women, Peace, and Security in more than 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere. And building on Argentina’s excellent work over the past year, I’m pleased to announce that the United States will be the host of the ad hoc working group on Women, Peace, and Security during the next CDMA cycle.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m grateful for the work that you and your ministries do to ensure that this hemisphere shines as a beacon of liberty, prosperity, and security.

And the United States will continue to do our part.

As President Biden said at the Summit of the Americas, “It is our duty to show our people the power of democracies to deliver when democracies work together.”

We’ll invest in regional solutions that deepen our shared security.

We’ll work together to build transparent, civilian-led, and effective defense institutions.

And we’ll work in partnership with our friends and neighbors to ensure that this remains a region of peace. 

Thank you very much.