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Understanding the Inter-American Defense Board: What Is It and What Does It Do?

posted Apr 17, 2015, 6:09 AM by Jid Webmaster   [ updated Apr 20, 2015, 7:59 AM ]
The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) is a statutory entity of the Organization of American States (OAS); its purpose is to provide the OAS and its Member States with technical and educational advice and advisory services on matters related to military and defense issues in the Hemisphere, thus contributing to the fulfillment of the OAS Charter as per its current statutes dating to March 15, 2006.

In spite of the unequivocal nature of this mandate, some international organizations and states still believe that the IADB is responsible for undertaking its original functions, those for which it was created formally on March 30, 1942, with the purpose of “gradually preparing the American countries to defend the continent through the execution of research studies and the recommendations of measures for that effect,” according to the IADB’s website. To understand the role of the IADB and other aspects of the organization, Diálogo spoke with Chilean Army Lieutenant-General Werther Araya Menghini, Chairman of the Council of Delegates of the Inter-American Defense Board during the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC) XIII, which took place in Nassau, Bahamas at the end of January.

Diálogo: In order to put the IADB's advisory role into context, could you please explain the concept of "military and defense issues"?

Lieutenant-General Werther Araya Menghini: To give you a general overview, I'll say that the IADB's functions are primarily based on confirming international cooperation as a relevant factor in decision making. The diversity of its functions comes from implementing defense resources outside of their traditional scope, given the versatility of the equipment and facilities the IADB has at its disposal, as well as from ratifying the scenarios described in the Declaration on Security in the Americas that was adopted in Mexico on October 28, 2003.

To begin the process of implementing these functions on an operational level, the IADB has a Strategic Plan for the 2011-2016 period. As such, those of us who make up the IADB are actively participating in any and all regional and hemispheric opportunities to promote awareness on topics related to defense and military matters, which has allowed us to get the word out about our new efforts in the advisory arena and to let others know of what we are working on to benefit the OAS and its Member States.

To answer your question more specifically, in order to define the advisory role that the Board is mandated to carry out, we needed to define the term ‘military and defense issues’. On February 19, the IADB's own Council of Delegates approved the following definition:

"The term 'military and defense issues' means any activities carried out by police or military forces (in countries that have defense capabilities) within the defined framework of their constitutions and organic laws."

Diálogo: When did the IADB first partner with the Organization of American States?

Lt. Gen. Araya: The formal relationship between the IADB and the OAS dates back to October 28, 2003, with the approval of the Declaration on Security in the Americas, in which the need to clarify the legal and institutional relationship of the Inter-American Defense Board with the Organization of American States was emphasized.

Although the IADB originated within the scope of the Pan American Union (immediate predecessor to the OAS) on March 30, 1942, its status as an official agency of the latter was granted on March 15, 2006. The OAS General Assembly approved the IADB's new statutes on that date, recognizing it as an "entity" of the Organization of American States.

This significant milestone marked a before and an after in the history of the IADB. The organization itself and the role for which it was created in the context of World War II and its aftermath in confronting the threat of the Cold War, lost their significance; that is, they no longer had any reason to exist with the paradigm change that took place in the 90s. The statutes approved by the OAS General Assembly in March 2006 gave the IADB a unique structure and capabilities that allow it to play an advisory role in order to tackle current requests from the OAS and its Member States regarding scenarios that could involve both traditional threats as well as new threats, challenges, and diverse concerns.

Diálogo: The IADB's capability to represent the Hemisphere is sometimes called into question. What is your opinion in that regard?

Lt. Gen. Araya: I'd first like to comment that the IADB's legitimacy is mainly validated by its history and consists of the various services it has provided to States in the hemisphere. In other words, for 72 years, the board has advised the OAS as the premiere hemispheric decision-making body on security and defense matters. The IADB is the oldest defense organization on the planet and celebrated its 73rd anniversary on March 30.

As far as your direct suggestion is concerned, I youkan say that the IADB's hemispheric representation is substantiated by the fact that it includes 27 member countries, of which 23 have active delegations, from a total of 35 members of the OAS.

Regarding that fact, in recent years Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, Haiti, and Jamaica have reinstated their delegations. In March 2014, St. Kitts and Nevis became a member country of the IADB, and we hope that in the near future, five more Caribbean countries will do the same (Bahamas, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada), which along with Costa Rica, are not yet part of this hemispheric organization; we also hope to see Belize and Surinam activate their delegations.

Basically, to summarize what I've said, the information provided by the IADB in its advisory role is completely validated by the organization's hemispheric representation. I can categorically assert that there is no other permanent, hemispheric organization with greater representation on this continent to address military and defense issues.

Diálogo: In the context of the IADB's new role, isn't it a stretch to use the word "defense" as part of the organization's name, when in reality, no real "defense" problems exist in our hemisphere?

Lt. Gen. Araya: Historically, support from the defense sector has been relevant to the States’ consolidation, development, and survival. The scope, organization, capabilities, and expected use of defense-related resources have always been related to the characteristics – or to the function of the threats – that have affected their safety.

The fact that the traditional threat (that is, conflict between States) may have lost the relevance it acquired during an era dominated by bipolarity does not mean that managing defense capabilities is less important in a scenario in which it's necessary, on one hand, to safeguard national interest as it relates to national State sovereignty, and on the other hand, to contain the effects of emerging threats, in which cooperation among the States is fundamental in order to effectively undertake any efforts. If both of these assertions were not real, how can one explain the fact that no country in the Hemisphere, or even in the world, has ever dismissed its military defense institutions?

According to the Declaration on Security in the Americas, dealing with new, multidimensional threats of unknown origin requires adopting multisectoral answers to anticipate the coordinated implementation of all State resources, including the defense sector, within the framework of constitutional norms and organic law.

Highlighting this fact allows me to make it clear that the management of defense resources [capabilities] has never lost its relevance, in spite of how its implementation and functions may have evolved. Therefore, [please] allow me to disagree with your assertion that "in reality, no real defense problems exist in our Hemisphere."

Moreover, these new Defense functions or roles I'm referring to are validated by the XI Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), which took place in October of last year in Arequipa, Peru. One of CDMA's central themes was an invitation for our participating states to share their experiences regarding the involvement and effectiveness of militaries in various aspects of national defense.

Diálogo: What is the IADB's greatest contribution in its advisory role to the OAS – the main hemispheric organization – on military and defense issues?

Lt. Gen. Araya: After its advisory role on military- and defense-related topics, the Inter-American Defense Board’s main hemispheric contribution is its "facilitator role" in strengthening the relationship between the OAS and those departments responsible for managing the defense-related policies of its Member States; and [in strengthening the OAS's relationship] with the hemispheric conferences and other regional and sub-regional bodies that work toward differing goals on various aspects of security-related matters.

This role promotes the exchange of knowledge, experience, and lessons learned, all of which are available in the databases of each of the mentioned cases, and which serve as input to, both, the OAS and its member countries in implementing decision-making processes on military and defense issues.

Currently, there is no other better-positioned organization to facilitate interaction within this specialized network.

Diálogo: Why does the IADB link the OAS with the different specialized conferences in the hemisphere?

Lt. Gen. Araya: Because, for quite a while, the IADB has maintained an active relationship with various conferences and bodies that specialize in security and defense matters throughout the continent and in the Caribbean countries.

On a hemispheric level, it has maintained "observer" status since 1964 with the Conference of American Armies (CAA), created in 1960; since 1962 with the Inter-American Naval Conference (IANC), created in 1959; and since 1980 with the System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA), created in 1961.

On a regional level, the IADB also participates as an observer in the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CEFAC), and as a special guest at the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC), the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC), and the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), among others.

Likewise, we maintain ties with specialized academic institutions that work on these sorts of topics.

When the IADB attends the aforementioned conferences, it represents the OAS. On the other hand, when the IADB advises the OAS Permanent Council and the Secretary General via the Committee on Hemispheric Security (CHS), it does so based on cumulative experience and data compiled throughout the year from the various hemispheric conferences.

No such organization exists within the OAS that has this type of well-connected network, and that can provide the high-quality level of consultancy services, as the IADB.

Diálogo: What type of contribution does the IADB make to its Member States?

Lt. Gen. Araya: Just as the IADB advises various organizations and OAS agencies, it is also responsible for advising its Member States on military and defense issues.

As an example of what I just described, following are a few tasks we recently concluded and others that are underway on behalf of the Member States. These tasks are formalized by way of an application to the IADB through a country delegation, and in some cases, directly via a formal request from an authority:

The government of Peru requested the IADB's support so the Pro Tempore Secretariat can undertake its responsibility of organizing the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), which took place in Arequipa from October 12-14, 2014.

On February 7, 2014, Haiti asked the IADB for its support in drafting its first White Paper, as well as in including 10 students in the [White Paper training] course at the Inter-American Defense College (IADC).

In response to that request, we are currently in the implementation phase on the book, "A Defense Policy for Sustainable Development in Haiti," which will be officially released in May 2015. In addition, the IADC included ten Haitian students in its 54th class (June 2014- June 2015), and is considering another 10 vacancies for next year's class.

By way of its delegation, the Colombian government asked the IADB to resume training courses in demining monitoring to clear anti-personnel. They are developing the courses this year.

By way of its IADB delegation, the government of Barbados also asked for our support in drafting its White Paper. This task will begin once Haiti's White Paper draft is complete.

Likewise, as a result of recognizing the work [we] accomplished with Peru, the government of Trinidad and Tobago asked for similar support. We have currently completed four working sessions with Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of National Security, the body responsible for organizing the XII CDMA, which will take place in Port-of-Spain in 2016.

Diálogo: Within this whole context, what is the role of the Inter-American Defense College?

Lt. Gen. Araya: The Inter-American Defense College (IADC) is one of three bodies that make up the Inter-American Defense Board. It was created on October 9, 1962. The first graduating class included 29 students from 15 American nations.

The Inter-American Defense College is the only collective, international, inter-agency, academic institution in the Western Hemisphere that focuses on security and defense matters and is probably the only one of its kind in the world. With broad international participation, it provides a unique and extraordinary opportunity for the exchange of ideas, as well as a solid foundation for encouraging greater understanding of the Inter-American system with a significant degree of personal and professional collaboration between the faculty and students.

Like any other academic institution of its kind, the IADC offers its speakers [presenters] and students "academic freedom" in order to foster meaningful debates on the various topics it addresses during the year. Despite that fact, the college operates in alignment with the OAS's vision, which is to strengthen democracy, human rights, development, and security in the Hemisphere. Every OAS member country may nominate candidates to attend the IADC. Since its inception, more than 2,434 students from 24 countries have graduated from the college. Many of them have attained important leadership positions in their respective countries; notable among them are many distinguished civil and military leaders, and even presidents of nations.

Currently, the IADC's primary concern involves a matter that was set forth by the IADB's Council of Delegates and relates to implementing a process that would allow students in each annual class to obtain the academic credential of "master’s". Hopefully, this process will culminate in April of this year, with accreditation by qualified, local agencies.

Diálogo: What are the main challenges facing the Inter-American Defense Board as it reaches its 73rd anniversary?

Lt. Gen. Araya: On March 30, the Inter-American Defense Board will celebrate the 73rd anniversary since its inception. In light of its importance in and through [historical] periods marked by great conflicts, the Board is now sufficiently mature to provide consultancy services in accordance with high-quality standards. This has been demonstrated each time it has participated in the various hemispheric forums in recent history.

Therefore, I feel we have adequate experience to propose some ambitious challenges to ourselves, among which are included:

:: Continue to play an active role in the OAS decision-making process.
:: [Secure the] Affiliation of OAS member countries that do not yet belong to the IADB.
:: Continue to participate in the various Specialized Hemispheric Conferences, with the goal of continuing to be a "valid facilitator" in achieving the objectives posed at each conference, through serious, responsible consultancy of the highest caliber.
:: Widen the scope of consulting services offered to the OAS and its Member States, while bearing in mind the new roles assigned to defense resources in light of new security scenarios.
:: Strengthen the IADB's technical consultancy role to the Pro Tempore Secretariat of the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), to take place in Trinidad and Tobago in 2016.