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Western Hemisphere Nations Gather to Discuss Regional Security

By: Jacquelyn S. Porth

Cooperation in times of natural disasters leads the agenda

WASHINGTON – Delegations from 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere will descend on Banff, in Canada’s Alberta province, during the first week of September to build partnerships and solidify practical cooperation in areas ranging from natural disaster response to peacekeeping support.

Canada will host around 650 delegates for the VIII Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA) September 2-6. The conference, held every two years, is organized this year on the theme of “Hemispheric, Regional and Sub-regional Defense and Security Enhancement: Confidence-Building through Cooperation and Collaboration.”

Canadian Defense Minister Peter Gordon MacKay says his country hopes to provide an atmosphere that will encourage the kind of dialogue “which has strengthened defense and security relations in the hemisphere.” The gathering sets out to advance regional security cooperation, increase civilian defense expertise, promote civil-military relations and reinforce civilian-led militaries.

The conference has been held since 1995, when the first meeting was held in Williamsburg, Virginia, to offer regional civilian and military leaders a mechanism to address security issues. Attendees endorsed a set of principles highlighting that democracy forms the basis for mutual security.

At each subsequent meeting, CDMA delegations reaffirm the Williamsburg Principles:

• Mutual security depends on democracy preservation.
• Military and security forces have a critical role in supporting and defending sovereign democratic states’ legitimate interests.
• Regional armed forces should be subordinate to democratically controlled authorities.
• Defense transparency measures should be promoted through greater civilian-military dialogue and exchanges of data including defense expenditures.
• Disputes should be settled through negotiations, and confidence-building measures should be adopted.
• Defense cooperation can be expanded via voluntary participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions and through support of regional activities to counter narcoterrorism.

John Cope, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for National Strategic Studies, says these meetings are important confidence-building measures. “The plenary and many side meetings facilitate frank discussions and better understandings of policy issues and national positions among these defense leaders.”

Canadian Major General Doug Langton says he has observed that each nation has its own notion of what constitutes an appropriate role for its military or security forces and there is no “hemispheric norm.”

Carlo Dade, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas in Ottawa, told America.gov that hemispheric military police relations are a subject of special interest to Canada.

The U.S. delegation to the 2008 meeting will include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, head of the U.S. Southern Command Admiral James Stavridis and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Johnson.

Although the subject of human rights is not on the main agenda this year, Johnson says the subject is “a core interest of the U.S. delegation.” The subject will likely arise in side discussions. The International Committee of the Red Cross will have an observer presence.

Sub-themes for this year’s gathering include generating military assistance for regionally or nationally hosted events like the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada and peacekeeping support in places like Haiti.

Central and South American countries contribute more than 6,600 personnel to global U.N. peacekeeping efforts. Central American nations plan to establish a multinational peacekeeping battalion by November under the auspices of the Conference of Central American Armed Forces. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic will contribute.

Argentina just inaugurated a new forum known as the Association of Latin American Peacekeeping Centers through which members can exchange peacekeeping experiences. Members include Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay, with the United States, Canada, France, Spain and Russia as observers.


The need for cooperation during natural disasters is a key agenda item since many such disasters occur in the Western Hemisphere, especially during hurricane season. The United States, for example, helped Ecuador in March 2008 when rains prompted flooding of 25 percent of the country. The U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. military personnel worked together to bring in humanitarian relief including flood clean-up kits, bio-hazard waste bags, 9,000 disposable gloves and $45,000 worth of bedding, mosquito nets and other items.

But there have been earthquakes, volcanoes, tropical storms and health crises, too, driving the need for airlifted water, toilet paper and intravenous drip bags. The United States flew USAID supplies to Nicaragua in September 2007 in the wake of Hurricane Felix. It also conducted disaster assessments and provided logistical support for the Dominican Republic in November 2007 and for Belize and Peru in August 2007.

U.S. delegates to the conference will highlight the current Continuing Promise 2008 mission that is a collaborative operation between the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Brazil and Spain and non-governmental organizations Project Hope and Operation Smile to provide medical and civil engineering support to six Caribbean nations.

As part of that mission the USS Boxer deployed to Colombia, Peru, El Salvador and Guatemala from May to June of this year. The USS Kearsarge is spending four months visiting the region with stops in Nicaragua, Panama, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. The crew is providing medical care, health screening and veterinary services. Building schools and repairing local infrastructure are also part of the humanitarian mission.

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