Trilateral Defense Ministers Meeting Continues to Build North American Security Framework

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Trilateral Defense Ministers - North AmericaAs an exten­sion of the North Amer­i­can Lead­ers Sum­mit which was held in Feb­ru­ary, the defense min­is­ters from the U.S., Cana­da and Mex­i­co qui­et­ly met (in May) to dis­cuss con­ti­nen­tal secu­ri­ty issues. Dur­ing the con­fer­ence, they addressed shared defense and secu­ri­ty chal­lenges. This includes threats posed by cyber attacks and transna­tion­al crim­i­nal organizations.

The North Amer­i­can secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship has evolved with Mex­i­co being increas­ing­ly viewed as a val­ued part of the con­ti­nen­tal defense team. The U.S., Cana­da and Mex­i­co are build­ing the frame­work for greater coop­er­a­tion on com­mon secu­ri­ty issues. They are expand­ing secu­ri­ty arrange­ments and are fur­ther estab­lish­ing new insti­tu­tions at a con­ti­nen­tal lev­el. The tri­lat­er­al defense min­is­ters meet­ing, which received very lit­tle media atten­tion is part of the process of inte­grat­ing mil­i­tary plan­ning and coor­di­na­tion into a North Amer­i­can secu­ri­ty perimeter.

On April 24, Mex­i­co’s Sec­re­tary of Nation­al Defense Gen­er­al Sal­vador Zepe­da Cien­fue­gos and Naval Sec­re­tary Admi­ral Vidal Fran­cis­co Soberon Sanz host­ed the Sec­ond Tri­lat­er­al Meet­ing of North Amer­i­can Defense Min­is­ters with their coun­ter­parts, U.S. Sec­re­tary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Cana­di­an Defense Min­is­ter Robert Nichol­son. A joint state­ment explained that, “Threats to North Amer­i­ca and the hemi­sphere are increas­ing­ly com­plex and require coor­di­nat­ed respons­es. Build­ing upon the tri­lat­er­al col­lab­o­ra­tion under the North Amer­i­can Lead­ers Sum­mit process, we remain com­mit­ted to enhanc­ing our com­mon under­stand­ing of those threats and devel­op­ing effec­tive and effi­cient approach­es need­ed to address them.” It went on to say, “With this foun­da­tion, our coun­tries con­tin­ue to work togeth­er to address the secu­ri­ty and defense chal­lenges that our con­ti­nent faces. We acknowl­edge that transna­tion­al threats require transna­tion­al respons­es and are com­mit­ted to fur­ther­ing our col­lab­o­ra­tion.” The Inau­gur­al Meet­ing of North Amer­i­can Defense Min­is­ters was held in March 2012.

The min­is­ters’ joint state­ment also iden­ti­fied spe­cif­ic areas where they seek to expand tri­lat­er­al defense coop­er­a­tion. This includes work­ing togeth­er to strength­en hemi­spher­ic defense forums, devel­op­ing an updat­ed con­ti­nen­tal threat assess­ment, iden­ti­fy­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to syn­chro­nize secu­ri­ty on the south­ern bor­der, as well as shar­ing infor­ma­tion regard­ing cyber defense chal­lenges. In his speech at the tri­lat­er­al meet­ing, Sec­re­tary of Defense Chuck Hagel acknowl­edged that, “Cyber secu­ri­ty is anoth­er threat, like transna­tion­al crime, that knows no bor­ders.” With that in mind, he pro­posed that all three coun­tries, “estab­lish a cyber-work­ing group to iden­ti­fy poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties to work togeth­er to share best prac­tices and lessons learned.” Dur­ing their meet­ings, Sec­re­tary Hagel also not­ed that the defense min­is­ters agreed that, “com­bat­ing transna­tion­al crime at the strate­gic lev­el is best addressed by the secu­ri­ty group under the North Amer­i­can Lead­ers Sum­mit.” Nev­er­the­less, he empha­sized that, “we need to ensure that coor­di­na­tion at the tac­ti­cal and oper­a­tional lev­el continues.”

In his speech, which focused on secu­ri­ty issues fac­ing North Amer­i­ca, Sec­re­tary Hagel fur­ther elab­o­rat­ed on how the tri­lat­er­al defense meet­ing is, “mov­ing beyond the con­cept stage and is becom­ing a venue to devel­op new oppor­tu­ni­ties for deep­er col­lab­o­ra­tion and new approach­es to more effec­tive­ly address shared threats and chal­lenges. We have iden­ti­fied impor­tant areas where we can work togeth­er as equal part­ners. As we move for­ward, the dis­cus­sions today will fur­ther strength­en the foun­da­tion for con­tin­ued coop­er­a­tion in meet­ing defense and secu­ri­ty require­ments for our three nations.” In order to con­tin­ue their impor­tant tri­lat­er­al dia­logue, Sec­re­tary Hagel has offered to host the next defense min­is­te­r­i­al in 2016.

Back in Feb­ru­ary, Cana­da and Mex­i­co also announced plans to fur­ther strength­en defense rela­tions. As part of the tri­lat­er­al defense meet­ing, they offi­cial­ly signed the Dec­la­ra­tion of Intent on Defense Coop­er­a­tion. The agree­ment, “fur­ther solid­i­fies defense rela­tions between Cana­da and Mex­i­co, and demon­strates com­mit­ment by both coun­tries to con­tin­ue coop­er­a­tion in areas such as mil­i­tary train­ing, sup­port to civil­ian author­i­ties, defense research, defense materiel coop­er­a­tion, defense indus­try mat­ters, as well as oth­er areas of impor­tance to defense and security.”

Cana­di­an Defense Min­is­ter Robert Nichol­son described how, “The Tri­lat­er­al Meet­ing of North Amer­i­can Defense Min­is­ters has giv­en us a valu­able oppor­tu­ni­ty to fur­ther deep­en our coop­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion towards our com­mon goals of ensur­ing the secu­ri­ty of our cit­i­zens, and our con­ti­nent. Sign­ing the Dec­la­ra­tion of Intent on Defense Coop­er­a­tion with Mex­i­co is a demon­stra­tion of this coop­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion, and shows Canada’s com­mit­ment to deep­en­ing the defense com­po­nent of Canada’s long­stand­ing, friend­ly rela­tions with Mexico.”

Increased U.S. inter­est in con­ti­nen­tal defense con­tin­ues to have an impact on Cana­di­an and Mex­i­can secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. Both coun­tries are fur­ther adopt­ing Amer­i­can secu­ri­ty pri­or­i­ties, which rais­es con­cerns regard­ing sov­er­eign­ty. Under the guise of stop­ping drug and illic­it arms traf­fick­ing, the U.S. seeks to fur­ther extend its mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty appa­ra­tus into oth­er regions. The tri­lat­er­al defense min­is­ters meet­ing is part of the ongo­ing efforts to estab­lish a ful­ly inte­grat­ed con­ti­nen­tal secu­ri­ty perime­ter and rep­re­sents anoth­er impor­tant step towards a North Amer­i­can Union.