Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called for greater cooperation and coordination among Western Hemisphere nations, as he addressed the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas in Brasilia today.
Austin said the nations of the hemisphere are bound together not only by geography, but by common values, common purpose and a common belief in democracy. "We believe that the entire Western Hemisphere can be secure, prosperous and democratic," he said.
Democracies in the region care deeply about human rights, human dignity and the rule of law, Austin said. "The more we deepen our democracies, the more we deepen our security," he said.
The security is threatened and the world is becoming an ever more complex place. "We're fortunate to live as neighbors in a hemisphere of peace, but we must still be candid about our common challenges," he said.
Our common problems demand common action — from disaster relief to migration. Our shared challenges demand what I've called the power of partnership."
Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense
Austin cited the challenges that arose from COVID-19 and challenges from some nations to the rule of law and human rights. Climate change is threatening the region and nations of the hemisphere need "greater capacities to respond to natural disasters," he said.
Finally, he noted, "autocratic powers are working to undermine the stable, open, rules-based international order in our region, that includes efforts by the People's Republic of China to gain regional influence," he said.
Hemispheric leaders have pledged to work together to address regional concerns, most recently at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last month. The climate crisis has forced nations to work together as hurricanes, sea-level rise, heat waves and more do not recognize national borders. "Our common problems demand common action — from disaster relief to migration," he said. "Our shared challenges demand what I've called the power of partnership."
The defense ministers are discussing integrated deterrence in their deliberations. This is the heart of the American National Defense Strategy. "Integrated deterrence means working seamlessly across domains, theaters and the full spectrum of conflict," Austin said. "And it means working closely with our unrivaled network of allies and partners."
This strategy means having military forces that are ready, capable "and under firm civilian control," Austin said. "And it demands defense ministries that serve their citizens transparently and without corruption."
Austin announced that there is $115 million in the DOD budget for fiscal year 2023 for partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. "That will boost our investment in security cooperation in the hemisphere to more than half a billion dollars since 2020," he said.
In addition, the U.S. helped partner countries with vaccines and medical help during the pandemic. That will continue, Austin said, and added that the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will sail to the region in the coming months to help those nations particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
Austin also stressed that the democratic nations of the hemisphere must work together to recognize the full potential of all our people. "That means ensuring that women are free, safe and equally able to contribute to defense and security," he said. The secretary particularly singled out the exchanges under the Women, Peace and Security program in more than 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere.