There’s the pivot to Asia, the growing threat of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa, the continuing conflict in Ukraine, serious budget cuts at home. And then there’s Canada and Mexico.
Amid all the global issues competing for his attention, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his North American counterparts are meeting this week to improve cooperation on the threats that concern all three militaries closest to home: criminal networks, cyberattacks and natural disasters. It’s a reflection of just how secure the hemisphere is, Hagel said, relative to other global threats commanding the Pentagon’s attention.
Hagel is in Mexico for talks this week with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts for the second North American Defense Ministerial, formed two years ago as a way to beef up security and cooperation between the three nations. “Every time we meet, we add muscle and sinew — substance — to what we’re doing and what we could be doing,” Hagel said.
At the top of the docket is Mexico’s desire to buy 18 Blackhawk helicopters from the United States. The sale is still awaiting congressional approval, and the U.S. is also looking at providing other assistance, including drones.
“We are talking to them about a range of capabilities that they are interested in … like our assistance in their own security,” said a senior defense official, according to the Defense Department’s American Forces Press Service. “There are partnership things we can do and things we can do together,” he added, “but they also want to acquire their own capabilities, and we’re interested in helping.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the three nations share mutual concerns and “expressed eagerness to discuss in more detail ways in which all three nations can work more closely together to deal with the threats posed by criminal networks, cyberattacks and natural disasters.”
Not on that list: terrorism, proliferation, and state instability rocking other global regions. “I don’t think over the years we’ve done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners, partly because we suffer from a pretty good relationship,” Hagel said. “The places that get most of the attention around the world are the trouble spots.”
Hagel is heading to Guatemala late Thursday for more meetings and to observe military exercises.