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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Ronald D. Godard
Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the
Organization of American States (OAS)
Remarks to the Canadian Council of International Peace and Security
Ottawa, Canada, April 6, 2000

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The OAS and Hemispheric Security

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak about the OAS and hemispheric security issues, and specifically, about the changing concept of security.

Although there are different concepts of security among the member states of the OAS and no consensus on what institutions might be required to meet today's non-traditional threats, there is general agreement on the need for a review of the subject. Indeed, we are tasked by Santiago Summit of the Americas to initiate a process of review "to culminate in a Special Conference on Security within the framework of the OAS, to be held at the latest, at the beginning of the next decade."

It is no wonder that the inter-American system finds itself in a quandary over its security structure. We face a very different world today. Twenty-five years ago this month, the Republic of South Vietnam fell to the Viet Cong, ending more than three decades of U.S. military engagement in Asia. The Cold War confrontation, of course, did not end with the fall of Saigon. Less than 5 years later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, ushering in the final decade of superpower confrontations in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean. During the Cold War, core security concerns were more easily defined. There was general consensus that thermonuclear war would be bad for all life on the planet and therefore to be avoided. There was less consensus about the desirability or undesirability of a number of insurgent military or guerilla forces operating in the region that had among their aims the overthrow of the existing government and the institution of a new power structure. Each country with those problems worked them out, with more or less help from their neighbors, sometimes with the involvement of the inter-American system and more often not.

As they say, that was then and this is now. The Cold War has been replaced by a new era of Pax Informatica. We speak of new security concerns because the old concerns of geopolitical military maneuvers, if not completely gone, have definitely faded in importance. We recognize that as a blessing, but it sets the stage for the current challenges to hemispheric security.

Role of the OAS

Before I talk about the ongoing security debate in the OAS, I thought it might be useful to briefly summarize the role of the OAS since its founding in promoting security within the hemisphere. The OAS is the oldest regional international organization in the world, tracing its origins to the First International Conference of American States, held in Washington in 1889-90. This conference created a new organization, renamed the Pan American Union in 1910, which in turn became the OAS after the adoption of a new Charter in 1948. That Charter was a reflection of the times. It was a dangerous world then. We had just come out of a catastrophic World War, during which invasion from outside the hemisphere was a real danger. We were then plunged into a super-power standoff when the prospect of nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. It should therefore be no surprise to find that in the Charter of the OAS, conventional security concerns figure large in the essential purposes set for the Organization. First and foremost the OAS is "To strengthen the peace and security of the continent," it was also "To prevent possible cause of difficulties and to ensure the pacific settlement of disputes that may arise among the member states," and finally, it was "To achieve an effective limitation of conventional weapons that will make it possible to devote the largest amount of resources to the economic and social development of the member states."

The OAS and its predecessors have served as the catalyst for hemispheric cooperation and the broader "inter-American system," which now includes the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, and many other entities. The OAS has also produced a framework of regional security instruments such as the Inter-American Treaty on Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) and the American Convention on Human Rights, a large number of specialized agreements dealing with commercial matters and private international law, and -- most recently -- the conventions against corruption, on international trade in firearms, and on transparency in weapons acquisitions.

The OAS was extremely active during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, especially in the area of peacekeeping in Central America and the Caribbean area. It negotiated the end of the 1969 Honduras-El Salvador "soccer war" and stopped a resurgence of fighting on that border in 1976. It sought unsuccessfully to pressure the Somoza regime to cede to a moderate leadership before the Sandinista takeover. In the economic area, the OAS played a large part in the Alliance for Progress; its technical assistance program was substantial throughout the 1970s.

During the 1980s, however, the OAS role became much less prominent as the United States placed its emphasis on bilateral rather than multilateral diplomacy. In part, quite frankly, because of frustration over the lack of support from other OAS governments for U.S. policy objectives in Central America and elsewhere in the hemisphere. The organization was also bypassed in the Falklands Islands and Grenada crises.

With the end of the Cold War, the OAS began a dramatic turnaround in the late 1980s. This coincided with the prevalence of democratically elected governments and a growing consensus on open market economic policies. The OAS played an active role in resolving the Nicaragua conflict, notably with strong election observation missions and management of a national reconciliation program. In 1991, the Santiago General Assembly approved Resolution 1080, which requires OAS Foreign Ministers to meet swiftly and act whenever the democratic constitutional order in an OAS country is disrupted.

As a result, the OAS has played a prominent role in political crises in Haiti, Peru, and Guatemala, and was active behind the scenes during crises in Venezuela, Paraguay, and Ecuador, and most recently in a flurry of Central American border disputes. The Charter has been amended to permit suspension of governments that seize power by force, as well as to create a new Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) to lead a hemisphere-wide attack on extreme poverty.

As we know, today's security concerns have broadened to encompass far broader terrain than external military aggression. There is the fight against illegal narcotics. The OAS developed a drug abuse control program (CICAD) -- launched in 1987 -- that has developed model legislation and fostered cooperation across the broad range of narcotics issues. In 1996, it negotiated the Anti-Drug Strategy for the Hemisphere, which provides the policy context for the multilateral evaluation mechanism recently negotiated and now becoming operational.

In another area -- building democracy -- the unit for the promotion of democracy, which the U.S. has strongly supported, has worked to strengthen democratic institutions and continues to organize election observation missions, most recently in Panama and Guatemala, and as we speak, the mission in Peru is playing a pivotal role. In 1997, the Washington Protocol took effect, amending the OAS Charter to permit suspension of a member state whose democratically constituted government is overthrown by force.

Democracy, of course, goes hand-in-hand with the protection of human rights. The OAS' highly respected Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continues to hear cases involving allegations of human rights abuses and issue recommendations to OAS governments, or refer the cases to the Inter-American Court. The Commission also conducts on-site visits, issues country reports, and focuses attention on thematic areas through the use of Special Rapporteurs, the most recent of which is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

Another entity has been added to the hemispheric family to combat terrorism. The Inter-American Commission Against Terrorism was established in October 1999 to coordinate member states activities against terrorism, including special training, and to facilitate exchanges of information on the subject.

The Current Discussion of Hemispheric Security

It is clear that the OAS has played an active role in enhancing the security of the hemisphere. Recently, at a discussion on security issues, the Argentine delegate commented that his government now was more secure than when it spent five times more on the armed forces. Especially through its work with Security and Confidence-Building Measures and new conventions, the OAS has significantly contributed to this more secure environment.

But where does the OAS stand today on the evolving concept of hemispheric security? The OAS Committee on Hemispheric Security recently held a two-day special meeting that concerned itself with the emerging definition of security threats and the institutions and processes that should deal with those threats. The participants discussed the current risks to peace and security in the hemisphere and conflict prevention and resolution. They evaluated hemispheric instruments that relate to peace and security such as the OAS Charter, the Rio Treaty, and the Pact of Bogota. They examined the institutions and processes of the inter-American system such as the Summits of the Americas, the Defense Ministerials of the Americas, and the Inter-American Defense Board. Finally, they considered subregional security arrangements, such as the Caribbean's Regional Security System, the Framework Treaty on Democratic Security in Central America, and the Political Declaration of Mercosur, Bolivia, and Chile as a Zone of Peace. The common thread that ran through all of these discussions was the recognition that these institutions and processes need to be updated to reflect today's realities.

But what are, in fact, those realities? Some will answer: "It depends." It depends on the size of the country, it depends on a country's stage of development, it depends on a country's location. While the U.S. recognizes that certain security concerns are not as applicable -- for instance to small island states -- we also believe it is virtually impossible in today's world to define security in strictly domestic terms. A U.S. list of security concerns would have to include, on the one hand, transnational threats, such as narcotics trafficking, terrorism, natural disasters, environmental disasters, cross-border criminal enterprises, and massive illegal immigration; and on the other hand, threats to democracy and human rights. In both categories, all of the hemisphere's governments bear a responsibility to do everything they can to combat these serious problems, standing ready to provide bilateral or multilateral assistance upon the sovereign request of a country in need.

Special Concerns of Small Island States

There are important differences in how security concerns are viewed by the various members of the Organization. We range, after all, from this behemoth which is the United States with a population of 270 million to tiny St. Kitts and Nevis with 40,000. The contrast in size points up one important distinction -- that being the very different security needs of small island states in the Caribbean. Many of these states do not have traditional military forces, relying instead on relatively small police forces or special security units. These countries often define their security concerns far more broadly than larger states. In addition to obvious threats, such as narcotics trafficking, additional worries of the small island states range from the devastating effects of natural disasters to the always-painful consequences of economic adjustments as a result of globalization. The OAS is studying ways to address these broader concerns within a security context, but the process will by no means be simple. We must guard against defining every challenge as a security issue, lest the concept become meaningless. As an organization, the OAS must be careful about labeling problems that are primarily economic or social as security issues, or else we may find ourselves using the wrong tools to fix real problems. As we redefine the mission of our armed forces, there is a danger of mission creep, and sometimes mission megalomania. Faced with pressure to justify force levels, you can find yourself with service chiefs claiming a role in non-traditional security areas where they have previously had none. Civilian entities rather than the traditional armed forces may be the appropriate institutions to address many of these non-traditional threats. Each country has to work out the balance within its own national experience, in some cases a mixed civilian and military response may be required.

The OAS Response to New Security Concerns

What then is the role of the OAS in addressing these evolving security concerns? The OAS needs to devote more attention to transnational threats and possible cooperative responses to them. Already, we have some mechanisms that address, in part, these new types of concerns. I previously mentioned CICAD, which combats drug abuse. Recently, the OAS created the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction to find ways to mitigate or prevent the effects of periodic natural calamities that befall the Americas. I believe we should also look at using established security institutions, such as the Inter-American Defense Board, to take on new roles that cover the broader nature of hemispheric security threats. That said, the OAS cannot forget that "traditional security" worries are still with us. In the last few months, we witnessed no fewer than one attempt at an extra-constitutional change of power -- Ecuador -- where the security forces played a key role, and three quiescent border disputes -- Honduras-Nicaragua, Nicaragua-Costa Rica, Guatemala-Belize -- flaring up into full-blown crises with the respective armed forces blustering at each other like in the bad old days.

Conflict Prevention and Resolution

To address these persistent "traditional" security problems, the inter-American system requires revitalized collective security mechanisms and conflict prevention instruments. Such mechanisms should strengthen the existing commitments for collective security and seek to facilitate multilateral responses to common security concerns.

Last year, the OAS looked in detail at conflict prevention and conflict resolution. In our view, conflict prevention and resolution in the Americas should include the following activities: (1) peaceful resolution of remaining border and territorial disputes between states; (2) prevention of destabilizing accumulations of conventional weapons and the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction; (3) prevention of the spread of illicit firearms; (4) the establishment of early warning and conflict resolution mechanisms, such as a center for conflict prevention and crisis management; (5) continuation of the Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) outlined in the Santiago Summit Plan of Action and the Declarations of Santiago and San Salvador, including transparency in military acquisitions and budgets.


This last point regarding confidence and security building measures, I might note, is especially important to the United States. A key pillar of hemispheric security is the Summit Action Plan and Declarations of San Salvador and Santiago on CSBMs. More work needs to be done on universal implementation of those commitments. The U.S. places great importance on increasing transparency and openness in military matters, and in using such openness to build confidence among nations. Universal progress on implementation in our hemisphere should be a goal.

The U.S. View

The United States firmly believes that hemispheric security is based on four indispensable pillars -- democracy, prosperity, good neighborly relations, and peace. Each pillar is essential for the region to deal effectively with internal and external threats to regional peace and security. The passage of OAS General Assembly Resolution 1080 in 1991 was a watershed in institutionalizing democratic governance in the hemisphere and acting jointly when such was threatened. Resolution 1080 symbolized not just our common commitment to democracy, but an important transition in a new era of peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere.

In Santiago and in Miami at the Summits of the Americas, our Presidents and leaders envisioned a hemisphere in which our democracies are consolidated, our economies are integrated, and our security is indivisibly enhanced through dialogue, mutual confidence, and transparency. Today, in pursuit of that mandate we are called to "Promote regional dialogue with a view to revitalizing and strengthening the institutions of the Inter-American system . . . ." An essential part of this work for the OAS and its member states will be a common expression of principles on hemispheric security based on existing Inter-American institutions and processes.

Our commitment to democracy must be reinforced by a security architecture that reflects our common values and principles -- commitment to democracy, freedom, justice, and the protection of human rights. It requires that our nations have the appropriate means to support the hemisphere against transnational threats in ways that reinforce those common values. We must recognize the interconnectedness of policing, military requirements, and democratic security. These are all part of our region's ongoing need to define security in the context of today's security environment.

Finally, we need an inter-American security system that is inclusive. At this point, of the 34 member states, only 18 or 19 actively participate on the Inter-American Defense Board. Only 13 have ratified the Pact of Bogota. Only 22 have ratified the Rio Treaty, and only seven have ratified its protocols. With a couple of exceptions, the Caribbeans are not participants in any of the inter-American security instruments; neither is Canada. Whatever we come up with from this review must be a structure which all member states find relevant to their security concerns and in which they can enthusiastically participate.


In conclusion, let me state the obvious: we have a lot of work to do. Despite the clear consensus that our concept of security must be changed and updated, there is still room for honest disagreement between the governments and experts of the hemisphere on precisely how security threats should be defined and how best to counter them. Too narrow a definition of security will leave us unprepared to deal with the unique concerns of smaller countries. Too broad a definition, however, runs the risk of assigning false priorities and inappropriate resources to fundamentally different types of problems. I, and my government, however, are confident that we in the Western Hemisphere have an unparalleled opportunity to address these difficult questions in a time of relative calm and prosperity. The path will not always be easy or obvious, but the potential rewards will be great.

[end of document]

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