It’s time for greater military co-operation in North America’s long war on drugs, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and his U.S. and Mexican counterparts said Tuesday.
The first trilateral meeting of defence ministers ended with a common front on the need for greater co-operation to assess common threats to the continent — foremost among which is the violent drug trade, they said.
A decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, drug cartels and the threat of natural disasters — and the demand for swift, co-ordinated military responses to both — appear to have elbowed terrorism off the front burner, judging by the assessments provided in a 45-minute news conference following the meeting.
“This is obviously one of the serious threats that is confronting North and Central and South America, is the drug cartels and the drug trafficking that is going on,” said Leon Panetta, the U.S. secretary of defence.
He was joined on the dais by MacKay, Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan, the secretary of national defence for Mexico, and Mexico’s navy secretary Adm. Francisco Saynez Mendoza.
“We are committed to doing everything possible so that ultimately we can not only weaken but end this threat to our people,” said Panetta.
Panetta cited growing drug use among American youth, the horrific violence among Mexico’s warring drug cartels that has killed some 150,000 people and the endemic drug-related corruption that undermines the rule of law.
“The danger here is on a number of fronts,” he said.
Gen. Galvan gave what Panetta called “a very in-depth briefing on the history behind the drug trafficking problem” and the need for common action.
“Marijuana is what gives drug trafficking networks the greatest resources to continue their nefarious work,” said Galvan, speaking through an interpreter. “We want to increase our ability to intervene, not only by land but also by sea.”
Mexico’s military, he said, particularly needs intelligence “that will enable us to move quickly and to strike hard.”
Neither MacKay, Panetta nor Galvan questioned the prohibitionist policies that a growing chorus of international voices, including former national leaders and police investigators, say has proved an abject failure.
“If it’s a problem for Mexico, it’s a problem for Canada,” MacKay said of the drug wars, citing the million Canadians who travel to Mexico each year.
“What you’re seeing today is a reflection of a very strong desire on the part of all three countries to address these problems head on.”
MacKay and Panetta were also asked about the struggling F-35 fighter jet program, which has seen costs skyrocket during years of protracted development.
“We have made very clear that we are 100 per cent committed to the development of the F-35. … We absolutely need it for the future,” said the U.S. defence secretary.
MacKay cast Canada’s proposed $9-billion purchase of the fighter jet as the cost of meeting the country’s international military obligations, specifically being able to operate in the field with our allies.
“Having equipment that is not only proficient for defence in our own capacity, in our own country — the home game, if you will — being able to participate international requires — demands — these considerations around inter-operability,” said MacKay.
“The F-35 is one example of that.”
And in a week when the Conservative government is expected to deliver a budget that will cut defence spending, MacKay said it is time to “prioritize.”
MacKay said every government department and every NATO partner of Canada is “looking to prioritize their defence spending. It would come to no surprise to anyone here that Canada is going through that exact same process.”
Asked by a CNN correspondent about Omar Khadr, Panetta noted the U.S. administration is ready at any time to sign off on the repatriation of former child soldier back to Canada from Guantanamo Bay and that it will mark an important step in the eventual closing of the terrorist prison.
– Article from Winnipeg Free Press.