By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
PUNTA DEL ESTE, Uruguay, Oct. 8, 2012 – Nations of the Western Hemisphere are a family sharing many of the same threats that confront them across borders and oceans, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Panetta spoke at the plenary session of the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas. The themes of the conference include defense and security, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The secretary called these themes a central part of efforts to enhance regional security and increase cooperation between military forces in the hemisphere.
“Over the last two decades, our people, our economies, our cultures and our values have become even more connected, not just because we are neighbors but because we are one family in this hemisphere,” Panetta told participants from many nations.
“We have seen a remarkable transformation in defense collaboration in this hemisphere,” he added.
“All of you, representing the nations of this hemisphere, are contributing more and more capabilities to meet our collective defense responsibilities in the 21st century,” the secretary said.
Last week, Panetta released the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement, a framework for implementing the new U.S. defense strategy across Latin America.
In the Western Hemisphere, according to the new policy, the United States will reinvigorate its defense partnerships and pursue new ones, consistent with President Barack Obama’s approach to the region, the secretary said.
The statement’s three objectives include promoting the following:
- Strong national government institutions that allow all nations in the region to address legitimate threats to the state and their citizens.
- Shared action against shared threats through more effectively and efficiently coordinating defense forces.
- Multilateral mechanisms and institutions, like the current conference and the Inter-American Defense Board, to achieve consensus on the direction of hemispheric defense collaboration.
“On the issues of defense and security, the United States recognizes that it is sometimes difficult to determine whether transnational threats to peace and stability are matters of defense or law enforcement,” Panetta said.
In some cases, he added, countries have turned to their defense forces to support civilian authorities.
“To be clear, the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution,” the secretary said. “But as partners, the United States will do what we can to bridge the capability gaps between armed forces and law enforcement.”
The United States is committed to do so in a manner respectful of human rights, the rule of law and civilian authority, he added.
“We can and we will provide a helping hand, but ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own,” he said.
On humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the United States supports the Chilean initiative to accelerate and coordinate support for civilian-led relief efforts, Panetta said.
Nations of the hemisphere have faced earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and fires that have destroyed lives and property, he added, and they must work together to provide immediate, comprehensive and organized relief to their citizens.
The Chilean initiative facilitates a rapid and fully integrated response to disasters, the secretary noted, adding that “we should implement that initiative now so that we’re ready to respond quickly and effectively when the next disaster strikes.”
On peacekeeping, countries in the Western Hemisphere have assumed an impressive leadership role by engaging, addressing and improving United Nations peacekeeping, Panetta said.
“Since the turn of the 21st century, 13 countries from this hemisphere have contributed to or led multinational security operations and U.N. peacekeeping missions around the globe,” he added. These included part of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, composed mainly of Western Hemisphere nations working side by side to accomplish their mission.
In a new era of defense cooperation in the hemisphere, Panetta said, “Our goal is to work with those nations that want us to help them to develop their capabilities so that they can defend and secure themselves. Our interest is to work with you, not against you.”