Defense ministers from the nations of the Western Hemisphere met this month in an effort to cooperate more closely on security issues and discuss how to defend their democracies in a world of new threats. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld represented the U.S. at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas meeting in Santiago, Chile. Mr. Rumsfeld noted that while only fourteen countries in the hemisphere were considered democracies when he served as Secretary of Defense about a quarter of a century ago, almost the entire hemisphere has embraced democracy today.
“Our hemisphere faces a number of old threats,” said Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, “drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage-taking, piracy, and money laundering -- and new threats such as cyber-crime and still unknown terrorists which can emerge without warning.”
As events since September 11th, 2001, have made clear, terrorists respect no borders. As Mr. Rumsfeld said, “We all are working to consolidate the democratic progress of the region; set military priorities in our democratic societies; identify and better understand new threats of the twenty-first century; and transform our military capabilities to meet those emerging threats.”
The U.S. is grateful for the support of its neighbors in the global war against terror. The countries in the region recognized the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. as an attack against the entire hemisphere. And the foreign ministers meeting at the Organization of American States ten days after the September 11th attack called on member states “to take effective measures to deny terrorist groups the ability to operate within their territories” and to strengthen regional and international cooperation against terrorism.
At last year’s Summit of the Americas, President George W. Bush described his vision of a hemisphere where “democracy, prosperity, and security” flourish. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, “Security is a cornerstone of that vision. It is the critical foundation without which democracy and prosperity are not possible. The freedom and prosperity of our peoples depend on our ability to defend our common values. Only if we work closely together can we do so.”