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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Hails New Era for Security in the Americas

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Oct. 5, 2012 – A transformation has taken place over the past decade in the Western Hemisphere, where countries are doing more than they ever have to advance peace and security within and beyond their borders, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

In a briefing with reporters on his way to meet with leaders and defense ministers in South America and at NATO in Brussels, the secretary said the U.S. goal for the Western Hemisphere is to help nations in the region develop military capabilities and provide for their security.

“We think that we are now in a different era when it comes to security in the Americas,” Panetta said. “The United States is no longer the sole provider of security in the hemisphere.”

In advance of the secretary’s visit this week to Peru and Uruguay, the Defense Department released the Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement, a framework for implementing the 2012 DOD Strategic Guidance in the region.

Panetta said the efforts of the nations there promote “security and stability not only in the Americas but across the globe,” and give the United States a historic opportunity to strengthen its defense partnerships across the region.

In Peru, Panetta will meet with President Ollanta Humala and with Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano and other military officials.

“Peru is a very strong democratic partner for us in South America,” the secretary said.

“The purpose of the visit,” he added, “is to pursue close cooperation between our militaries and our two countries on a range of bilateral and regional defense issues such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, humanitarian operations and information sharing.”

In Uruguay, Panetta will attend the 10th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas.

An important goal in Uruguay, the secretary said, “is to deepen our bilateral defense relationship … to enable greater cooperation between our militaries.

At the conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the defense ministers will discuss a range of important topics, Panetta said, including an important proposal to more effectively coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region.

“This is a very important step for the conference to take,” Panetta explained. “It’s the first time all of the defense ministers will have come together on taking a step towards implementing humanitarian relief.”

The United States wants to encourage these and other efforts in the region “through forums such as the defense ministers’ forum and by developing innovative, low-cost, small-footprint approaches to our shared objective,” he added.

Despite budget cuts that are taking place in the United States, including in the Defense Department, Panetta said DOD has an array of programs that can help develop capabilities in Latin America.

“At this point we feel that, as a result of not only the budget we’ve submitted but the budget that’s making its way through Congress, that we’ll have sufficient resources to … follow through on the agreements we’re making with these various countries,” the secretary said.

“I do think that there is legitimate concern about cuts that could be made in foreign aid and in programs the State Department administers,” he said.

“The best way to approach our effort at developing these new partnerships,” he added, “ … is [through] a broad-based effort that not only includes what the Defense Department can do but also what the State Department can add to that.”

During the trip, Panetta’s final stop is in Brussels at NATO headquarters for the NATO Ministers of Defense Meeting and the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council. This will be the secretary’s fifth meeting with the defense ministers.

At the meetings, Panetta said he’ll offer U.S. support for enhancing alliance capabilities, missile defense, cybersecurity, counterterrorism and countering weapons of mass destruction.

“I’ll also reassure our allies of our strong commitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan alongside [them],” the secretary added.

Cybersecurity is a growing concern across the world, Panetta said.

“Cyber is increasingly being used in ways that can undermine the security of countries,” he said, “and for that reason I think it’s important for NATO to take steps to discuss what can be done to provide cybersecurity and … what steps can be taken to ensure that we do everything possible to deter those countries that engage is cyber warfare.”

The growing number of insider attacks in Afghanistan also will be discussed at the NATO meeting, Panetta said.

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan will attend the meeting, the secretary said.

Allen “has put a number of steps in place to confront the insider threat issue and he’s done that alongside the Afghans to try to make sure we do everything we can to protect against insider attacks,” Panetta said.

“My goal is to make clear to NATO and to our allies that we are taking all steps necessary to confront this issue and that it should not be allowed to deter us from the plan Gen. Allen has put in place,” the secretary said.

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