The Western Hemisphere Alliance: The OAS and U.S. Interests

Report Americas

The Western Hemisphere Alliance: The OAS and U.S. Interests

November 20, 2001 8 min read
The Honorable Roger Noriega

Opportunities abound in the Americas--not merely to build a trade area embracing 800 million consumers, but to forge a community of nations committed to common values of free enterprise, democracy, and the rule of law.

More prosperous and stable democracies make better partners in protecting our interests and confronting new challenges close to home. At a time when serious people in this town are going to work on "homeland security" and "perimeter security," it is only natural to expect that simple geography will accord the Western Hemisphere considerable attention.

Even before September 11, the region was moving toward the center of our thinking. One practical reason for that is because President Bush personally cares about the region. A second is that we share a commitment to representative democracy and free-market economic policies.

These values--and the decision to work together to advance them--were reaffirmed early in the Bush Administration. At the Quebec Summit in April, President Bush committed the United States to a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The President describes his vision of a region "trading in freedom."

Despite all of the distractions confronting a President running a war, that strategic vision for the Western Hemisphere is being advanced, practically as I speak. Talks on a bilateral trade accord with Chile have continued apace, despite the change in Administrations. Tomorrow, the House is expected to take up the renewal of the Andean Trade Preferences Act. And after Thanksgiving, the House Leadership has promised a vote on Trade Promotion Authority.

The skeptics in this room might have room to complain if we were only pushing forward on just one or two of these initiatives. But the fact that we are genuinely hopeful about advancing every one of these regional trade initiatives speaks for itself.

Against the backdrop of the successful launching of a Doha Round on global trade--achieved in the middle of a war, no less--is evidence that we have a government that can do more than one thing at a time.

The old hands in this room have been around long enough to know that this is true because we have a President who does more than "care"--he cares enough to insist on action. Indeed, the President has not let up on his agenda for the Americas, which was honed in consultation with his 33 counterparts.

But the Quebec Summit in April prescribed more than trade. It ensured that the FTAA would not be merely a mercantile arrangement, but a community of nations committed to common values. And, on this front, the Americas are living up to their promise.

It is poetic, I suppose, that on the very day that terrorists launched horrific, devastating attacks against our core political and social values, the nations of the Americas reaffirmed those values by approving the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima.

And, if you haven't read that Charter, you must.

Fundamentally, the document flatly asserts that "an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state constitutes ... an insurmountable obstacle to its government's participation" in the inter-American system.

Even when you read the "fine print," I think you will be impressed.

The document defines the "essential elements" of "representative democracy"--that is to say, the "democratic order"--in very specific and inclusive terms, including:

  • Respect for "human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the free exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage";
  • "pluralistic system of political parties and organizations";
  • "separation of powers and independence of the branches of government";
  • "freedom of expression and of the press"; and,
  • "constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority."

The document allows any member state or the Secretary General to trigger a response by the Organization of American States, calling for the "immediate convocation" of a meeting of the Permanent Council to consider the facts, deploy diplomatic efforts, or use other political mediation.

If there is a clear interruption of democratic order, or if an undemocratic alteration is not remedied, the Charter calls for a General Assembly that may, among other things, suspend the offending government from the inter-American system--which requires a two-thirds vote of the member states.

This Charter contemplates a gradual, measured response to political crises. This is not a cookie-cutter approach, and it does not rush to suspend a member state. In fact, the dissuasive influence or the proactive, remedial measures contemplated under this Charter are perhaps its most important contribution.

This Charter builds on a practical legacy in which the OAS advances values that will make all of our nations stronger by making each of our nations stronger.

You keep score: In Peru, the OAS knocked the blocks out from under the Fujimori regime. In Nicaragua, the OAS reassured all sides that elections earlier this month would be fair. In Haiti, the OAS has recovered credibility and clout with all parties and is still doing quiet work to broker a political settlement that opens up political space.

We pursue these goals as a community not because one government or another is imposing an agenda. We do so because we are compelled by our shared values to do so. And that solidarity has shown through since September 11.

Since the infamous terrorist attacks, every region of the world has had to take stock of how best to fortify its community against terrorism and other transnational threats. Due to the permanent dialogue at the OAS, U.S. leadership and engagement, and practical summitry that literally has produced a workplan for the Hemisphere, the Americas were already geared up to respond to the post-September 11 reality.

The OAS member states have collectively answered the call to confront global terrorism, pledging solidarity and cooperation and mandating specific actions from the inter-American community. Notably, the Rio Treaty members have unanimously approved a resolution that puts the Hemisphere foursquare within the global coalition confronting terrorism.

Resolutions approved at the OAS are not mere rhetoric; they provide the framework for action. They represent legislation that sets policy for the OAS member governments. Moreover, the resolution pursuant to the Rio Treaty constitutes legally binding commitments by each of the parties to the Treaty.

That Rio Treaty resolution states clearly that these "terrorist attacks against the United States of America are attacks against all American states...."

Specifically, the Rio Treaty parties are committed:

  • "To use all legally available measures to pursue, capture, extradite, and punish" any persons involved in the September 11 attacks or any persons harboring the perpetrators; and,
  • To "render additional assistance and support to the United States and to each other" to address the September 11 attacks and "to prevent future terrorist acts."

The OAS foreign ministers--including those states that are not party to the Rio Treaty--also called upon "all member states and the entire international community to take effective measures to deny terrorist groups the ability to operate within their territories."

The ministers declared that "those responsible for aiding, supporting, or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these acts are equally complicit in these acts."

On October 16, a committee meeting under the Rio Treaty unanimously declared full backing for the U.S. military action and other measures against terrorism and reaffirmed the pledge to assist the United States.

The Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism met last month--and will meet again later this month and again in January--to devise urgent steps that governments in the region should take to fight terrorism. The initial focus is on drying up sources of financing and ferreting out their illicit assets, as well as encouraging stronger border controls and airport security.

How this Committee is conducting its work is an example of the multilateral commitment to this effort: The U.S. chairs the Committee, Argentina is a very active vice chair, El Salvador chairs a subcommittee designing the Committee's workplan, Colombia chairs the panel on money laundering, and Peru heads the subcommittee on border controls.

In addition, a working group of the OAS Permanent Council--led by the Mexican delegation--has begun a thorough but urgent drafting process that we expect will develop a regional accord for fighting terrorism that is both forward-looking and practical. This regional accord could potentially serve as a model for the rest of the world, given the exceptional degree of unity of purpose and resolve within the Hemisphere.

From this outline of activities, it should be clear that the battle against terrorism is not solely a military undertaking. These measures to fortify the Americas against international terrorism begin with civilian-led, law enforcement authorities--designed to impose the rule of law against criminal terrorist groups.

As we tend to the current crisis, we also have a collective eye on the horizon. We have begun an intense process to review the Hemispheric security architecture and produce a blueprint for addressing the post-Cold War security picture. The United States hopes that this collective, cooperative exercise will not merely identify and respond to threats, but allow us to seize on opportunities to fortify our community.

In conclusion, let me observe that thanks to a bipartisan policy in the Americas, the OAS has been gradually evolving into a more results-oriented organization that can advance a common agenda of promoting democracy and human rights, fighting terrorism and illicit narcotics, and bolstering economic development and trade.

In the Americas, multilateralism does not mean pursuing the lowest common denominator, but, rather, advancing the highest common ideals.

Since the horrific attacks of September 11, our Hemispheric solidarity is galvanized as never before--not out of fear, but by an iron-willed resolve; not out of any doubts about our common ideals, but by a strong determination to stand together to defend them.

The Honorable Roger F. Noriega is the Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States.


The Honorable Roger Noriega