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North American Defense Leaders Hold First Trilateral Meeting on Mutual Defense Interests

Canada and Mexico both share borders with the United States. Both are important partners for trade and security. And yet until March 27, 2012, the North American defense leaders of these three nations had never held “trilateral” talks on mutual defense interests.

Canada’s Minister of National Defense the Honorable Peter MacKay, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Mexican Secretary of National Defense of the United Mexican States Gen. Guillermo Galván Galván, and Mexican Secretary of the Navy of the United Mexican States Adm. Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza met in Ottawa for the inaugural trilateral meeting of North American Defense Ministers.

“By virtue of our geography, our peoples, and our trading relationship, our three nations share many defense interests. Threats to North America and the hemisphere are increasingly complex and require non-traditional responses. Building upon the trilateral collaboration under the North American Leaders Summit process, we share a determination to enhance our common understanding of those threats and of the approaches needed to address them,” read a joint statement released after the meeting.

“Our countries are committed to working together to address challenges in the region. We know that transnational threats require transnational responses. With this in mind, we have agreed to enhance our cooperation to support efforts to counter transnational criminal organizations and to respond to natural disasters in the hemisphere,” the statement read. “Our meeting today has established the framework necessary to build North America’s resilience by pursuing a practical agenda built on sustained trilateral cooperation on issues related to defense.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta converses with Mexican Secretary of National Defense of the United Mexican States Gen. Guillermo Galván Galván shortly before initiating trilateral meetings with defense ministers from Canada and Mexico in Ottawa, Canada, March 27, 2012. DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett

The defense leaders said they plan to develop a joint trilateral defense threat assessment for North America to better understand the threats and challenges faced by the three nations. They also said they will explore ways for the military services to better support civilian public security agencies in countering illicit activities. Furthermore, they agreed to work together to increase the speed and efficiency with which armed forces can support civilian-led responses to disasters, and also said they will strengthen hemispheric defense forums.

If this trilateral meeting was noteworthy for being the first of its kind, it is perhaps more significant in that it won’t be the last. “We have agreed to meet on a regular basis in order to build on today’s historic meeting and continue our cooperation in addressing shared continental threats,” the statement reported. “We will pursue this trilateral agenda respectful of national sovereignty and in coordination with other agencies in our respective governments. The results of our meeting will be conveyed to our respective leaders in advance of the upcoming North American Leaders Summit.”

Panetta said the meeting was an unprecedented opportunity to “try to bring together our nations in a common approach to continental security.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta answers questions from the media as Canadian Minister of National Defense the Honorable Peter MacKay looks on after a trilateral meeting in Ottawa, March 27, 2012. DoD Photo by Glenn Fawcett

The North American nations have ties that “are deep, and they are abiding,” Panetta said, and not just because of shared geography. The United States and Mexico have worked together closely in the war against narcotics trafficking, and Canadian forces have stood beside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, Panetta said.

“When it comes to the security of North America, none of us can afford to work in isolation, and that has been an easy conclusion to arrive at,” said MacKay. “Our discussions today began with what I believe is an important dialogue on security and defense in North America that we will continue through regular meetings.”


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...