HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – The United States and other Western Hemisphere nations must increase cooperation and collaboration for their continued security, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates addressed defense leaders from around the world at the Halifax International Security Forum.

Noting that the challenges facing Western Hemisphere nations have changed since the end of the Cold War — a period of tension that inspired the United States and Canada to establish the North American Aerospace Defense Command — Gates said he wants the United States and Canada to build on this legacy of cooperation and interoperability to face the challenges of new threats.

“This engagement and this partnership are so necessary because the emerging security challenges we face are increasingly interconnected, and the nontraditional threats require a collective approach,” Gates said.

And it requires more than simple defense cooperation, the secretary said. Threats such as drug trafficking, terrorism, smuggling and others require “an uncommon degree of coordination among the national-security, homeland-defense and criminal-justice agencies of our governments,” the secretary said.

The nations are working together more closely. In 2006, Canada and the United States agreed to expand the NORAD mission to include maritime warning. The two nations also signed a new emergency management cooperation agreement in December, and the U.S. military is prepared – at Canada’s request – to assist the nation as it hosts the Winter Olympics early next year.

One area where cooperation is needed is in the Arctic, as global warming has increased access to the normally ice-bound region. While there are disagreements – Canada asserts that the Northwest Passage is in Canadian waters, and the United States and Western European nations say it is an international waterway – there are areas of cooperation.

“We share an interest in developing more icebreaking ships for mobility and improving domain awareness to support search-and-rescue operations in light of increased tourism up north,” Gates said.

Russia, Canada, Norway, Demark and the United States have claims on parts of the Arctic. “Even as the U.S. ‘resets’ relations with Russia, we will work with Canada to ensure that increased Russian activity in the Arctic does not lead to miscalculation or unnecessary friction,” Gates said.

The nations of the hemisphere have to band together to handle natural or man-made disasters, Gates said, noting recent examples of that cooperation. Canada and Mexico assisted New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The United States assisted Haiti last year after Hurricane Ike hit the island nation, and helped El Salvador last month after rainstorms caused mudslides in that Latin American nation.

Global warming could cause more frequent and intense storms, Gates said, and the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review will examine how the U.S. armed forces can respond to such natural disasters. But man can be the biggest threat, he added, and the nexus of drug trafficking and terrorism poses a danger to both the United States and Canada.

“The same means and routes used to transport drugs could also be used for dangerous weapons and materials,” Gates said. Smugglers have used semi-submersible vessels that can carry tons of drugs and are difficult to detect, he said.

The terrorist group known as FARC has used ungoverned areas of Colombia to grow and refine drugs, and must be met with the force of law, Gates said. “We cannot expect to make headway on narcotics without a multifaceted, multinational comprehensive approach to the problem,” he said. “We need to work together to fortify judicial institutions and the rule of law.”

Gates emphasized that this must be accomplished in ways respectful of human rights. Police in many countries often are outgunned by their adversaries, and military forces have stepped in. Colombia and Mexico are working to instruct soldiers in how to defeat the enemy while respecting the rights of the people, the secretary said.

Gates also stressed that the military should not be the lead agency in confronting many of the threats in the Western Hemisphere.

“It is important to keep front and center that the military is in a supporting – not a lead – role in dealing with most of the problems,” he said, though he acknowledged that in some situations, only the military can provide the manpower, logistics, transportation or expertise to handle crises or threats.

Through increased cooperation and collaboration, the secretary said, Western Hemisphere nations must address these issues before they find themselves working through them at a disaster site.

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