Rowley told the conference that the wave of new threats “demands nothing less than our undivided attention to the institutionalization of robust mechanisms for information sharing, continuous cooperation and collaboration- not next year, not next month, but now”.
Rowley said that the heightened level of volatility, particularly in the area of security, which is now evident across the globe has created an undeniable imperative for closer collaboration and co-operation that supersedes that which has historically been driven by bonds of friendship.
“Indeed, even as we seek to secure our borders, preserve both democracy and sovereignty, defend our interests and promote peace and security for our citizens, the existence of supra-national and virtual web-based structures propel us to reconfigure and re-tool our defence mechanisms and cooperation arrangements for this new and unfolding reality.”
He said as events across the globe over the last year have unequivocally demonstrated, such volatility has visited the developed, the developing, the land-locked and on the coastal and island states.
“The current situation requires of us new and different perspectives, a paradigm shift. It is not enough, for example, for us to say that we have invested in the acquisition of military assets, that we have amassed armaments and are at the cutting edge of defence technology.
“It is not enough to say that we have strengthened our armed forces. It is not enough to say that we meet biennially to exchange experiences and ideas,” he added.
He said that over the past 21 years, the work of the CDMA had been driven by the Williamsburg principles that highlights the roles of the military and security force in supporting and defending the legitimate interests of states and that the armed forces must be subordinate to democratically controlled authority, and act within the bounds of the national constitutions, with full respect for human rights.
He said issues on the table at the time of that first CDMA included, trafficking in drugs and arms, crime and terrorism.
“While these issues remain valid today, the passage of time has indeed drawn us, individually and collectively, into new theatres of war which demand responses to a plethora of unprecedented and insidious threats. This is a reflection of the increasingly volatile globalised world in which we live.”
Rowley said that the need to consider options for an enhanced security and defence posture propels the region therefore to, not only address traditional threats, but to develop responses to the new and emerging threats while taking account of the changing national, regional and international environment.
But he told the conference that the situation is not unique to the Hemisphere and that the “scourges of our time do not respect size or geography”.
He recalled that outgoing United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon at this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) had expressed his “deep concern” for the state of global affairs.
But Rowley said at a time when the global community is working towards the attainment of 17 sustainable development goals, inclusive of one related to security, “the CDMA presents a much needed forum for considering more closely, the contribution which could be made by Ministries of Defence and their respective agencies, over and above their traditional defence roles.
“As we reflect on Goal 16 of the 2030 Transformative Sustainable Development Agenda of the United Nations, which points to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, we cannot help but acknowledge that notwithstanding significant development gains, the global landscape continues to be plagued by socio-economic ills inclusive of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and environmental degradation.”
Rowley said that the convergence of these and other challenges such as violent extremism, sustained conflict, use of information and communication technology for nefarious purposes, and erratic weather patterns, result in a range of unwelcome consequences for every country whether big or small.
He said that the theme of the CDMA conference “Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation in the Hemisphere in an Increasingly Volatile Global Environment”, was proposed by Trinidad and Tobago in its bid to emphasise the need for the Ministers of Defence of the Americas to explore new avenues for engagement and cooperation in security and defence matters.
“There can be little argument that the fundamental pre-requisites for any such discussion include flexibility, institutional and infrastructural agility, an appreciation of the contextual arena in which we all operate, and an openness to understanding the uniqueness of others.
“Indeed, Article 2 of the CDMA Regulations outline the purpose of this forum in addressing matters of mutual interest, and indicates that the expected output would be increased cooperation and integration,” Rowley said, noting that the regulations also reflect a recognition that the Member States of the CDMA are not homogenous in nature.
“Yet the security and defence challenges of the Hemisphere, as indeed those of the wider global community, transcend geographical, language, political, social and cultural barriers; and therefore calls for mechanisms of enhanced cooperation and collaboration.”
Rowley said that for the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, security cooperation is a pillar of the integration movement.
He said Trinidad and Tobago, as the lead country for security in the region, has been responsible for directing regional policy to enhance the security of citizens against traditional as well as new and emerging threats.
“For small island developing states such as ours, the maintenance of international peace and security is of utmost importance and we recognise that defence and security are inextricably linked to the collective welfare and prosperity of our people and the attainment of sustainable development goals.
“Notwithstanding the existence of bilateral and sub-regional agreements and treaties in the areas of defence and security, there is no overarching cooperation policy for the Americas.
“In fact, the Americas is the only region in the world that does not have a hemispheric defence and security cooperation policy. The European Union (EU), African Union (AU), and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) can boast of the existence and effective implementation of such cooperation policies in the area of defence and security.”
Rowley said he was confident that the discussions here will lay the foundation for the development of a hemispheric framework to improve cooperation and coordination among the defence and security authorities in the hemisphere.
“Moreover, we remain optimistic that, among other things, the dialogue on the thematic axis “Hemispheric Security and Defence Cooperation Policy: Beginning with Strengthened Humanitarian Emergency Assistance” would eventually lead to the adoption of a comprehensive policy framework to guide civil to military and military to military cooperation, beginning first in the area of Disaster Response and Humanitarian Emergency Assistance,” he added.
The conference is being attended by an unprecedented number of ministers of defence and delegates from the 34 nations and while this is the 12th biennial conference of defence ministers since its inception in 1995, Trinidad and Tobago is the first Caribbean country to host this event.
Trinidad and Tobago National Security Minister retired Major General Edmund Dillon said that the ministers must now be prepared to deal with issues which include crime, natural disasters in the region.
He said there was need “for an overarching hemispheric security and defence cooperation policy was based on the recognition of the increased reliance on the employment of the military for the provision of humanitarian emergency assistance in major incidents that called for sub-regional collective responses.
“Such a policy we believe will guide actions and interactions of states and the military to military level as well as civilian to military level,” Dillon said, adding that a united front is the only way to battle some of these challenges.
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