Shaping Security beyond Borders

By Kiernan, James Patrick | Americas (English Edition), January-February 2004 | Go to article overview

Shaping Security beyond Borders

Kiernan, James Patrick, Americas (English Edition)

The Special Conference on Security, held in Mexico last October, brought together foreign ministers and other high-level officials from the thirty-four members of the Organization of American States in an effort to design a new security structure for the Western Hemisphere that moves beyond traditional military definitions and recognizes a series of "new threats, concerns, and other challenges of a diverse nature." These include poverty and social exclusion, disasters, diseases, environmental degradation, and cyber-security, as well as terrorism, arms and drag trafficking, and "the use of weapons of glass destruction and their means of delivery by terrorists."

The two-day conference concluded with the adoption el the Declaration on Security in the Americas, a wide-ranging and comprehensive document that affirms past commitments of the member states and the principles enshrined in both the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, as well as in inter American security agreements adopted over the past sixty years. Importantly, the Declaration includes the clear commitment to deal with all security issues within the framework of respect for human rights and democracy.

The draft of the Declaration on Security was negotiated by the representatives of the OAS member states in Washington over an extended period of time. Mexico's ambassador to the OAS, Miguel Ruiz-Cabanas, who headed a working group in charge of preparing the declaration, explained that it was more than a political declaration, it was also a "plan for cooperative action on security issues." Ambassador Luis Enrique Chase Plate of Paraguay stressed that "the important thing is that, even with the governments' diverse perspectives and interests, a consensus has been reached on the principles, perspectives, and measures related to hemispheric security" and were incorporated into the draft.

While the Declaration on Security in the Americas includes strong statements about the security of states that are affected in different ways by both traditional threats and new threats, it also reaffirms that the basis and purpose of security is the protection of human beings: "Security is strengthened when we deepen its human dimension. Conditions for human security are improved through full respect for people's dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms, as well as the promotion of social and economic development, social inclusion, and education and the fight against poverty, disease, and hunger."

Making reference to the Declaration of Bridgetown, adopted by the member states at the OAS General Assembly in Barbados in 2001, the Conference underlined the "multidimensional approach to security," a concept of security for people as well as for states. The Declaration on Security in the Americas also declares that "each state has the sovereign right to identify its own national security priorities and to define strategies, plans, and actions for addressing threats to its security, in accordance with its legal system and with full respect for international law and the norms and principles of the Charter of the OAS and the Charter of the United Nations. The security architecture in our Hemisphere should be flexible and provide for the particular circumstances of each sub-region and each state."

President Vicente Fox of Mexico, speaking at the closing of the Conference, expressed the differing views but basic principles of the OAS member countries incorporated into the Declaration. "Of course, our security depends on how well we tackle such Scourges as drug trafficking, illegal trafficking in weapons and people, terrorism, and organized transnational crime in general," Fox said. "But it depends, mostly, on our ability to reverse the serious inequity, poverty, and underdevelopment that beset our nations. These are the main threats to stability and governance in our countries and our communities." Adding to President Fox's remarks, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said that "no country can ignore the economic, political, social, health, and environmental aspects of security, because it is in those areas that many of the real concerns of our countries lie today. …

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