OAS - Department of Public Information

Hemispheric Security

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were a dramatic reminder that the world has changed. The concept of security, once framed largely in conventional military terms, today must take into account a range of evolving threats – international terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal arms dealing, institutional corruption, organized crime. In some countries, poverty, disease and environmental degradation further threaten stability and undermine security.

The OAS is working on a number of fronts to confront today's security threats. One area where the member states have made particular progress in recent months has been in strengthening implementation and follow-up of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other Related Materials. This treaty, known as CIFTA, was adopted in 1997 and has now been ratified by 26 member states.

In March 2004, the CIFTA states parties met in Bogotá and agreed to a series of measures to strengthen cooperation in controlling illicit arms trafficking. The OAS Permanent Council recently approved a methodology for states parties to share information on the situation, problems, challenges and experiences they have encountered with CIFTA-related issues. The states parties also plan to prepare model legislation on the areas covered by the treaty.

In October of this year, the OAS convened the first-ever meeting of national authorities who make operational decisions on granting export, import and transit licenses for firearms. The idea is to create a network of officials in the field who can exchange information and prevent illegal manufacturing and trafficking. OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin told the national authorities that urgent attention is needed to stem this problem. "The OAS is indeed concerned about the increase at the international level of this criminal activity, and points to its links with other criminal activities such as drug trafficking, terrorism, transnational organized crime, and mercenary and other activities," he said.


Here are some other security issues the OAS considers priorities:

Terrorism - The Inter-American Convention against Terrorism, signed in 2002, seeks to prevent the financing of terrorism, strengthen border controls and increase cooperation among law enforcement authorities in different countries. The OAS Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) has worked with renewed focus to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts among the member states.

Drug trafficking - The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) seeks to reduce the supply and demand of illegal drugs, and to address related problems such as money laundering. The Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), which measures drug-control progress in the member states and the hemisphere as a whole, was created to increase coordination and cooperation on this issue.

Territorial disputes - The OAS has played a pivotal role, in the last few years, in helping to reduce tensions and establish confidence-building measures between several neighboring countries: Belize and Guatemala; Honduras and Nicaragua; and Honduras and El Salvador. Such efforts are supported by the voluntary Fund for Peace.

Landmines - The OAS has coordinated efforts to remove antipersonnel landmines in Central America and is implementing a similar program in Ecuador and Peru. The OAS is also working with the Colombian government to help landmine victims, raise public awareness about risks and collect data about the scope of the problem.

Natural disasters - Many small island states have highlighted as a human security concern the devastating impact of natural disasters such as hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, and the consequences of environmental changes such as the rise in sea levels. The OAS carries out projects to mitigate the effects of natural disasters in the Caribbean and, along with other inter-American bodies, assists affected countries through the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disasters Reduction.


Longstanding Cooperation 

The countries of the Americas have been cooperating on security issues for more than a century. In 1945, at the Inter-American Conference on the Problems of War and Peace, held in Mexico City, representatives of 20 countries adopted the Act of Chapultepec, which called for the region to respond collectively to aggression against any American state. Two years later, this concept took form in the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty). In 1948, the OAS Charter affirmed that one of the central purposes of the Organization was "to strengthen the peace and security of the continent."

The end of the Cold War gave rise to a process of rethinking hemispheric security. In April 2001 the Third Summit of the Americas called for a thorough review of security issues in light of today’s realities. This process led to the Special Conference on Security, held in October 2003 in Mexico City.

The Special Conference on Security defined a "multidimensional" approach to security that recognizes both traditional and new threats, and "incorporates the priorities of each state, contributes to the consolidation of peace, integral development, and social justice, and is based on democratic values, respect for and promotion and defense of human rights, solidarity, cooperation, and respect for national sovereignty."

"Peace is a value and a principle in itself, based on democracy, justice, respect for human rights, solidarity, security, and respect for international law," states the Declaration on Security in the Americas, adopted at the conference. It affirms the countries' political will to help preserve peace through close cooperation.

Not every country or subregion has the same security priorities. For example, the small island states of the Caribbean have special concerns that derive from their size and geographic vulnerability. Thus, the new hemispheric security structure is flexible and multidimensional. It builds on, but does not replace, the network of existing bilateral, subregional and hemispheric treaties and agreements on security issues, integrating them into a coherent framework. It also identifies ways to intensify cooperation through greater information exchange, improved coordination of activities and the adoption of confidence-building measures.


Last updated: October 2005