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American Forces Press Service

Panetta to Meet With Top Officials in Peru, Uruguay

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2012 – During this week’s trip to meet with leaders of Peru and Uruguay and his counterparts at a conference of defense ministers of the Americas, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will implement elements of the 2012 DOD Strategic Guidance related to the Western Hemisphere, a senior defense official said yesterday.

In articulating priorities for a 21st-century defense, the guidance document described pursuing new partnerships in Latin America through innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches to achieving security objectives.

Yesterday, in advance of Panetta’s visit, the department released the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement.

The statement “seeks to explain how that strategic guidance will shape our engagement in the region, how it’s applied to the region, and so will add further detail as to how we will implement that strategic guidance in the Western Hemisphere,” the defense official told reporters who are traveling with the secretary.

“It articulates our goal as consistent with the strategic guidance,” he added, “and I think it’s important that the secretary will not just be … releasing it but in fact will be implementing it while he’s there.”

Panetta will do this, the official said, by working with nations there on efforts that involve bolstering humanitarian assistance and disaster response, strengthening multilateral defense institutions in the region, and supporting the growth of mature, professional defense institutions.

To fine-tune the disaster-response process, at the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas this week in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the Chilean government will put an initiative before the ministers, the defense official said.

The Chileans, he added, will propose creating an online database that militaries in the region can use to coordinate in real-time the provision of assistance to countries affected by a natural disaster.

“One of the lessons learned from Haiti was not a lack of assistance … but there was very little coordination, a lot of duplication, and we didn’t do as good a job as perhaps we should have in saving lives,” he explained. “With this mechanism that Chile is proposing, we will be able to do that better.”

If the project is approved, the official said, it will be the first time since the conference began in 1995 that the meeting produces “something tangible, concrete and actionable and that is about saving lives.”

The United States, he added, very much supports the Chilean effort.

DOD officials also seek to help strengthen multilateral defense institutions in the region, where many countries, including Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Brazil and others, are what the defense official called “security exporters.”

Such countries, he said, contribute in significant ways to regional and global security, including by acting as U.N. peacekeepers, and by helping build capacity and train armed forces and police in Central America and other nations.

“On the margins of the Summit of the Americas [in Cartagena in April], Colombian President [Juan Manuel] Santos and President Barack Obama signed an action plan to coordinate efforts forward,” the defense official said.

“We will be leveraging that experience, that capability, those lessons learned from many countries in the region to coordinate our efforts in a way that will avoid duplication in Central America,” he explained.

“In October,” he added, “we’re building a detailed action plan where we and the Colombians will coordinate who does what … so we leverage … the resources and capabilities we have to effectively do capacity building and training and other things in Central America and in other places.”

The United States and Canada also have a work plan involving Central America, he said.

“We’re doing more of this and it’s consistent with the secretary’s vision in the guidance and in the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement to develop innovative approaches and innovative partnerships to deal with what are essentially very complex challenges that we face in the hemisphere,” the official added, including illicit trafficking and transnational organized crime.

As part of the effort to support the growth of mature, professional defense institutions, in Peru Panetta will offer the government participation in a program called Ministry of Defense Advisers, or MODA.

The MODA program is active in Afghanistan and now the department is expanding it to engage countries outside Afghanistan, like Peru and Montenegro.

If Peru accepts, MODA will embed a technical expert in the ministry of defense for up to two years. The expert will provide consistent technical advice on issues like budgeting, acquisition, procurement, planning and strategic planning, the defense official said.

MODA is offered to countries that have participated and have had success in another program called the Defense Industrial Reform Initiative, or DIRI. For this program, teams travel to and work for a week or two at a time with ministries of defense on similar technical issues.

In Peru, the official said, “the Secretary … will explain [the MODA program] to his counterpart, and then it will be up to us to follow up and make sure that we can tailor the program to exactly what the Peruvians think is most appropriate and effective for them.”

In the Western Hemisphere, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala now participate in the DIRI program, the official said.

Besides humanitarian assistance and disaster response, other topics to be discussed at the defense ministers’ conference include peacekeeping, the Inter-American Defense System, and security and defense, meaning the role of the military in nondefense situations like drug trafficking.

“Peacekeeping is an area of mutual interest and where there is a huge demand signal on the part of the United Nations,” the senior defense official said. “We recognize the importance of having troops and capabilities available to respond to those demand signals.”

The U.S. Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, or GPOI, works with countries like Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador and others to train and equip peacekeepers and refurbish peacekeeping training centers “to help them ramp up and be ready to deploy if … requested by the United Nations and the government decides it wants to participate,” he added.

Since 2007 the United States has provided $7 million in GPOI funds to the Peruvian government -- a good example, the official said, of a low-cost, high-impact project “that yields quite a bit in strengthening our partnerships in the region to achieve common objectives.”

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