Hemispheric Security

Fostering Hemispheric Security and Protecting the Democratic State

In 1991, the 21st OAS General Assembly began examining security issues ranging from proliferation and arms transfers to “cooperation for hemispheric security.” In 1995, the 25th General Assembly instructed the Permanent Council to establish the Committee on Hemispheric Security, which created the region’s first permanent forum for the consideration of arms control, defense, nonproliferation, and security issues. The Committee on Hemispheric Security is composed of the 34 OAS member states, and has a chairperson and three vice-chairs that are elected for a 12-month period. Since 1991, the OAS has built an impressive record of achievement in the development of confidence and security-building measures.

OAS Foreign Ministers were meeting in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2001, to adopt and sign the new Inter-American Democratic Charter. Their response to the terrorist attacks was an immediate condemnation and a focus on a united hemispheric response. The OAS was the first international organization to condemn the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

On September 19, the 22 signatories of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, known as the Rio Treaty, met and declared that an attack against one member is an attack against all and committed themselves to providing mutual assistance in the war against terrorism.  On September 21, 2001, the Foreign Ministers of the region met again in Washington, D.C. to approve a resolution—“Strengthening Hemispheric Cooperation to Prevent, Combat, and Eliminate Terrorism” (PDF 29 KB) — calling on member states to take effective measures to combat terrorism.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the assembled ministers: “We, the united democracies of the Western Hemisphere, join the world in the global campaign against terrorism. We have pledged to deny terrorists and their networks the ability to operate within our territories. We have resolved to hold to account all those responsible for aiding, financing, and otherwise supporting and harboring terrorists.”

The Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE), reinvigorated in the wake of the September 11 attacks, met in Washington, DC on January 28-29, 2002. Delegates approved a work plan for CICTE to coordinate steps to prevent and combat terrorism in the hemisphere.

OAS members states negotiated text for the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism in November 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The final text was adopted at the OAS General Assembly meeting in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 3, 2002.

The Convention commits state parties to endeavor to become party to 10 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism (listed in the Convention), consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 1373. The Convention also commits state parties to take certain measures to prevent, combat, and eradicate the financing of terrorism and to deny safe haven to suspected terrorists. The Treaty further requires that the terrorist acts covered under the specified international conventions and protocols be criminalized as predicate crimes to money laundering. The Convention provides for enhanced cooperation in a number of areas, including exchanges of information, border control measures, and law enforcement actions.

On November 12, the President Submitted the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. Opened for signature in June 2002, the OAS convention entered into force internationally on July 10, 2003, 30 days after the sixth signatory deposited its instrument of ratification. The Convention entered into force internationally on July 10, 2003, after six countries became party. On October 7, 2005, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the President’s ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism. On November 2, 2005, President Bush signed the instrument of ratification.

The United States deposited the instrument of ratification at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, DC in a ceremony on November 15, 2005, and became party to the Convention 30 days thereafter in accordance with the Convention’s terms.

The Convention is a powerful indication of this region’s resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms, enhancing hemispheric security by improving regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism, denying safe haven to terrorists, and by facilitating the exchange of information, technical assistance, and training in a wide number of complex areas, including the prevention and eradication of terrorist financing, the improvement of border and customs controls, and the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of terrorist acts.

In 2002-03, OAS member states undertook a comprehensive review of the hemispheric security architecture, culminating in a Special Conference on Security that took place in Mexico in October 2003. The Declaration on Security in the Americas provides a practical guide for resolving interstate border tensions, lowering pressure for arms spending, promoting democratic norms, and fostering a climate of confidence, trust, transparency, and cooperation in our Hemisphere.

In addition, the OAS has been active in preventive diplomacy. The OAS, with technical support from the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH), has provided cartographers, facilitators, conciliators, offered its good offices, and brokered agreements to resolve disputes between Belize and Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and El Salvador and Honduras.

The OAS has been involved in many conflict resolution and national reconciliation activities, such as disarmament and demobilization in Colombia.

Public Security is one of the major concerns of the Americas.  In April 2008, the OAS Permanent Council convened the First Inter-American Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security (MISPA), which was held on October 7-8, 2008, in Mexico City, Mexico. The Department of Public Security (DPS) initiated a preparatory process with the participation of the institutions of the inter-American system, international and subregional development agencies, academics, and civil society organizations. The purpose of the meeting is to share successful experiences and exchange information as a basis for examining recommendations regarding public security management, the management of police forces, crime and violence prevention, citizen participation in public security, and international cooperation on security issues.

The OAS narcotics program was launched at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Traffic in Narcotic Drugs in April 1986—the first Western Hemisphere meeting to deal with all aspects of the drug problem. In accordance with the program of action adopted at that meeting, the OAS General Assembly in November 1986 created the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), which meets twice a year to direct the program and assess the drug situation in the hemisphere. Originally composed of 11 member governments, the commission has been expanded to 34 because of growing interest in the program and concern about the drug problem. The first projects were implemented in 1988. The program has identified five priority lines of action: development of domestic and international law, establishment of an inter-American drug information system, demand reduction, alternative development, and strengthening national drug commissions.

In 1996, the OAS produced a counter-narcotics strategy that will guide collective actions in the 21st century, and in 1999, it established a Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), as mandated by the Santiago Summit of the Americas. Under the MEM, experts evaluate individual country submissions documenting efforts to combat drug abuse and trafficking; the first full round of evaluations was published in January 2003. The OAS also has produced internationally acclaimed model legislation on precursor chemicals and money laundering control.

The 1994 Miami Summit of the Americas plan of action charged the OAS with finding a hemispheric approach to fight corruption. The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, negotiated under OAS auspices during 1995-96, is the world’s first comprehensive multilateral anticorruption agreement. The Convention entered into force on March 6, 1997, when Paraguay and Bolivia became the first countries to deposit their instruments of ratification. A total of 29 countries, including the United States, have now ratified or acceded to the Convention. The Convention provides for institutional development and enforcement of anticorruption measures by fostering mutual legal assistance, technical cooperation, extradition, and seizure of assets.

The OAS Department of International Legal Affairs (ILA) carries out activities, including workshops funded by the U.S., to assist member states in developing the preventive measures provided for in the Convention and in implementing anti-corruption activities specified in the Country Report recommendations published by the Committee of Experts to the Follow-up Mechanism of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (MESISIC). In September 2006, the U.S. provided a grant to the OAS, in the amount of $1,042,750, to establish an Inter-American Anti-Corruption Fund to support OAS member states in fulfilling their commitments under the Convention. Twenty-seven OAS Member States, including the U.S., are parties to the Follow-up Mechanism.

The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) is an entity of the Organization of American States of the OAS. The Board’s central role is to provide the OAS and its member states with technical, educational and consultancy services on matters related to military and defense issues in the hemisphere in order to contribute to the fulfillment of the OAS Charter.

The IADB has as one of its principal organizations the Inter-American Defense College, established in 1962. The College is the preeminent hemispheric institution dedicated to developing and providing opportunities to military officers and civilian officials from OAS member states for advanced academic courses related to military and defense issues, the inter-American system and related disciplines. Instruction is based on distinguished speakers from throughout the hemisphere who are experts on matters of defense in the Americas.

Visit the site of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs office of hemispheric security at: www.state.gov/p/wha/hs/index.htm