OAS Guidelines on Defense White Papers

November 6, 2002




That, through resolution AG/RES. 1801 (XXXI-O/01), "Confidence- and Security-Building in the Americas," the General Assembly requested the Permanent Council to hold, through the Committee on Hemispheric Security, "a seminar on preparing defense policy and doctrine papers, in coordination with the Inter-American Defense College and other institutions that specialize in this subject, and to present a report which will serve as the basis for the development of general guidelines for said papers";

That in resolution AG/RES. 1879 (XXXII-O /02), "Confidence- and Security-Building in the Americas," the General Assembly again referred to these Guidelines prepared by the Permanent Council and requested it to transmit them "for the consideration of the Fifth Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, to be held in Santiago, Chile, in November 2002";

CONSIDERING that, on April 22, 2002, the Committee on Hemispheric Security held the seminar mandated by the General Assembly and that this Committee has continued its deliberations on this topic with a view to completing its development of the Draft Guidelines prior to the aforementioned Fifth Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas;

BEARING IN MIND that the conferences of Santiago and San Salvador on confidence- and security-building measures, held in 1995 and 1998, respectively, recognized fostering the development and exchange of information on national defense policies and doctrine as a confidence- and security-building measure; and

HAVING SEEN the report of the Chair of the Committee on Hemispheric Security regarding the Guidelines on Developing National Defense Policy and Doctrine Papers,


1. To adopt the Guidelines on Developing National Defense Policy and Doctrine Papers presented by the Committee on Hemispheric Security, attached to this resolution.

2. To transmit these Guidelines to the Fifth Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas.

3. To urge member states to implement these Guidelines and to report thereon to the Organization.

4. To ask the General Secretariat to lend support to member states requesting assistance in implementing these Guidelines.

5. To request the General Secretariat to transmit this resolution and the adopted Guidelines to the United Nations Secretary-General and to the Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board and Inter-American Defense College.



The countries of the Americas have identified the development and sharing of national Defense White Papers as a useful confidence- and security-building measure for the promotion of security in the Hemisphere. This paper is intended to provide a brief outline of essential characteristics of Defense White Papers and to explain the rationale and the process for their development. A listing of elements commonly contained in White Papers is also provided.

It is important to note that there is no agreed standard format for White Papers in the Americas. This is perhaps a logical reflection of the differing historical, geographical, cultural, political and fiscal contexts in which the countries of the Americas define their security threats and defense objectives, capabilities and constraints. However, there are elements which are common to many White Papers. This paper focuses on basic principles and raises issues that Governments could usefully consider in the formulation of their own White Papers, based on the experience of OAS Member States which have already undertaken that process.

The Defense White Paper: Essential Characteristics

A Defense White Paper is a key policy document which provides the Government's vision for defense. It is a public document which outlines the broad strategic policy framework for defense planning, with a medium term outlook. It is not intended to be re-drafted every year or two, but rather to provide sufficient perspective to enable multi-year budgeting and planning. It should be designed to be flexible enough to take into account minor changes in the security environment. A new White Paper is normally prepared in response to major changes in the strategic environment or to signal important shifts in Government priorities.

A Defense White Paper is produced after extensive consultation both within and outside Government. It aims to reflect a broadly based consensus about the appropriate role for the defense forces for that country, within the context of that country's national priorities, legal framework, and resources.

A White Paper sets out the Government's analysis of the country's security environment, both domestically and internationally. This may include an assessment of both traditional and non-traditional security threats and factors. The document highlights issues of greatest priority for that country, and provides an overview of how defense policy will be implemented to meet those security challenges. It also describes, in broad terms, current and planned capabilities and roles of the defense forces.

A Defense White Paper is also an instrument of accountability. It is essential that the policy and objectives contained in the White Paper make reference to and are consistent with the resource levels which will be made available to the defense forces by the Government. White Papers may contain performance measurements (for example, target dates for the restructuring of the armed forces, or maximum time-frames for deployment of a specific military asset). This holds the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces accountable to stated objectives -and also enables them to argue for the budgetary resources required to attain that level of performance in fulfillment of the Government's defense policy.

The Benefits and Advantages of Preparing a Defense White Paper

The preparation of a Defense White Paper is, in and of itself, a fundamental exercise in democracy. The process requires extensive cooperation across civil/military lines. The consultation between and among the political leadership, government ministries, the military, and the public promotes a broad awareness of the functions and value of the armed forces. The final product of this process thus confers greater democratic legitimacy on the national defense policy than if it were created without debate and consultation.

As a public document, a White Paper explains what roles the armed forces play, and why these roles are important to citizens. It helps build a public constituency which will act to support the continued funding of the defense budget in the face of pressures from competing national policy interests.

As a Government policy, a White Paper gives coherent instruction to the Ministry of Defense and the military about Government expectations for their roles. It also provides the rationale and authority for the allocation of resources to the defense forces, and legitimizes the spending of public funds for that purpose.

Because of its strategic perspective, a White Paper is an important tool for the justification of budgetary resources over a multi-year time-frame. The assurance of predictable funding in turn is a significant aid in ongoing defense planning processes.

Defense White Papers have also been identified as important confidence- and security-building measures. The preparation and distribution of White Papers increase transparency not only in the domestic context, but also internationally. Consultation with allies, neighbors and regional and other international partners who may be affected by the White Paper policy is especially important in terms of ensuring that a country's intentions are not misinterpreted. Sharing of White Papers also encourages a constructive policy dialogue on changes in the security environment and the assessment of traditional and non-traditional threats, as well as on evolving trends in defense policy and planning among military officers and defense officials from different nations.

The Process

Policy context:

A Defense White Paper is a fundamental expression of national policy. The final product is a statement of Government policy, not simply of the Ministry of Defense or the Armed Forces. The White Paper policy must be consistent with the Government's overall agenda, priorities and objectives, including foreign policy. Clearly, a White Paper must also respect the country's Constitution and legal framework.

Budgetary issues are a critical part of the domestic policy debate. A White Paper must address resource issues, as the availability of funding for capital, operational and personnel expenditures will determine whether or not the defense forces will be able to fulfill their stated objectives.

With respect to the international policy context, a White Paper confirms the country's bilateral, regional and multilateral obligations and commitments. Again, these functions also have resource implications that must be taken into account in the budgetary planning process.

Consultation of key players:

The development of a White Paper is a consultative process which is led by the Government at the highest levels. The Government-the elected political executive-has the primary responsibility for setting directions with respect to national policy. It is therefore the Government which provides the political leadership for the development of the White Paper and which filters the interests, demands and pressures of all stakeholders in order to take decisions on their relative priority within the broader Government agenda.

To make informed choices, the Government may draw on the recommendations and input from relevant Ministries, as well as on the advice of Parliamentary or Congressional Committees. The views of the general public, non-governmental organizations, industry, academia, think-tanks and international partners are also relevant to the process, and the Government and the Defense Ministry can take the initiative to engage these groups at several different stages in the development of the White Paper.

The Defense Minister is central to the development of the defense vision and agenda. The senior hierarchy of the Ministry and of the Armed Forces provide the Minister with policy analysis and military advice. Their recommendations must take into account the Government's assessment of the strategic environment, the defense needs of the country, the Government's agenda and priorities, and the available resources. This input is based both on internal assessments and on consultations with officials from other government Ministries as well as outside experts. Modern communications technology creates possibilities for very open consultation, through the creation, for example, of websites where members of the public can post their views.

The Foreign Ministry is closely consulted throughout the development of the White Paper, as defense policy must be consistent with and supportive of the country's foreign policy objectives. The Foreign Ministry often also acts as a conduit for the views of international partners.

A number of other Ministries or sub-national jurisdictions (states, provinces) may also have a direct interest in the consultations, particularly in instances where the armed forces provide a substantive service to those Ministries or jurisdictions, often in non-traditional fields. For example, the maritime surveillance capability of the armed forces may be needed to enable other Ministries to achieve their mandates in fisheries protection, drug interdiction, humanitarian assistance, or environmental protection.

Consultation with the central agencies responsible for the national budget and expenditures (for example, Privy Council Office or Ministry of the Presidency, Finance Ministry, Treasury, etc) is essential to defining the resource constraints within which the defense policy must be accomplished. In this vein, almost all Ministries will have an indirect interest in the White Paper, insofar as resources made available to the Defense budget will affect the amount of resources remaining to fund other Ministries.

Members of Parliament or Congress usually play a strong role in the development of White Papers. Committees may meet to hear from military leaders and public officials of different Ministries, as well as from non-governmental defense and security policy specialists, academics, and members of the public. Committee members may also travel to different parts of the country or abroad for consultations, and hold public hearings or town hall meetings. Such mechanisms encourage not only a wide public debate, but also involve political leaders who are not in the governing party, to participate in the formulation of the national policy. Moreover, this process often results in extensive media coverage, thereby promoting greater national awareness about the policy review.

In addition to participating in consultations initiated by the Government or its Defense Ministry, representatives of the private sector may also be very proactive about including their views in the public debate and the policy process through other channels. Think-tanks, academics, industry representatives, non-governmental organizations and others may organize conferences, give interviews, publish articles in the mass media or specialized press, write to elected officials, and otherwise lobby for a particular interest in the formulation of the White Paper.

The concerns of international partners which have an interest in or may be affected by the White Paper should also be taken into account. Consultations may be carried out with allies or neighbors with which the State has bilateral or regional treaties or agreements. Further, if the White Paper involves support to international peace and security objectives of multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, these too, should be involved in the consultative process.

The specific mechanisms for consultations will vary from country to country, depending on national structures, policies and practices. It is the Government's responsibility to determine how it will organize and coordinate the overall consultation processes in order to formulate a coherent Defense White Paper that adequately addresses the country's domestic and international security interests.

The Content: Elements Commonly Contained in White Papers

The following is a compilation of elements which are commonly contained in White Papers, and provides a suggested outline for organizing those elements.

I. Defense policy and doctrine

A. Assessment of the security environment and the domestic context:

This includes a description of the global, regional and national security environment. Increasingly, the assessment is based on a multidisciplinary concept of security, and includes both traditional and non-traditional threats and factors affecting the security of the country and its citizens.

A description of the domestic context (overall government priorities, budgetary issues) may also be included as it provides the framework within which decisions about defense policy and implementation will be made.

B. Strategy to respond to perceived threats and meet international commitments

This section lays out the broad policy approach which the Government, through its Defense Ministry and Armed Forces, will take in order to respond to the threats and security concerns outlined in its assessment of the security environment.

C. Roles and missions of the Armed Forces

While the roles and missions of the Armed Forces have traditionally encompassed the protection of the State, its territory and citizens from outside aggression, there is now a trend toward inclusion of non-traditional roles as well, including assistance to other government ministries. For example, aerial and maritime surveillance capabilities can provide significant support to enable Ministries responsible for fisheries, environment, immigration, customs, drug interdiction, search and rescue, etc., to fulfill their mandates.

Another key consideration is whether the Government wishes to use the capabilities of its Armed Forces to strengthen international peace and security. Support of this kind may cover a wide range of roles, including, for example, providing troops for peacekeeping or peace-building initiatives, operational support for humanitarian assistance in post-conflict or natural disaster situations, or military advice and expertise to support international arms control regimes or agreements.

These roles will differ from country to country, depending on the Government's strategic assessment, legal framework, history, geography, and national consensus about the appropriate role for the Armed Forces.

II. Capabilities

This section provides a description of the current and planned capabilities of the Armed Forces. As noted previously, it is useful to include performance standards in the statement of capabilities, as such indications facilitate accountability.

III. Budget and resource issues

Financial and human resource considerations are critical to the ability of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces to achieve the Government's objectives. For this reason, it is important that the commitment to provide stated capabilities be supported by a sound financial and personnel plan.

IV. Future directions: Defense force modernization, major weapons acquisitions, etc.

An indication of any planned major changes -restructuring of the defense forces, significant increase or decrease in personnel, major weapons acquisitions or other decisions which will have an important impact on the policies or capabilities of the defense forces- should be highlighted in the Defense White Paper. Transparency in these decisions is extremely useful as a confidence and security building measure.

V. Defense military structure

An outline of the defense military structure is also a useful transparency measure.