More than five hundred civilian and military leaders from throughout the Western Hemisphere are meeting in Canada this week to collaborate on regional security. Delegates and defense ministers will discuss peacekeeping issues such as peacekeeping support in places such as Haiti, providing security arrangements for nationally-hosted events like the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada, and other concerns of common interest to the thirty-four nations represented at this year’s Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, an effort that started in 1995 and has convened every two years since.
The first meeting, held in Williamsburg, Virginia, set the groundwork for close regional security cooperation in a way that promotes civil-military relations and reinforces civilian-led militaries. Indeed, the first Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas set out - and subsequent conferences have affirmed - that the mutual security of the hemisphere's nations depends on the preservation of democratic government. Disputes should be settled by negotiation, not military action, and to further this, confidence-building measures should be adopted through regular meetings such as the one now under way in Canada.
Each nation has its own concept of what constitutes an appropriate role for its military or security forces, but conferences such as this one provide an opportunity for nations to exchange ideas and insight on security needs and operations.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Johnson, part of the U.S. delegation led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said that although human rights issues aren't on the main agenda this year, they remain a core interest and will likely be the subject of side discussions. Other themes include strategies for combating terrorism and drug smuggling.