The Perry Center is a U.S. Department of Defense institution for defense and security studies in the Western Hemisphere. Through courses, seminars, outreach, strategic dialogue, and focused research in support of policy objectives, the Perry Center works with senior civilian and military officials from the Americas to build strong, sustainable networks of security and defense leaders and institutions. In so doing, the Perry Center promotes greater understanding of U.S. policy, mutually supportive approaches to security challenges, and improved, sustainable institutional capacity.
The William J. Perry Center, originally known as the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), was born out of the first Defense Ministerial of the Americas (DMA) in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1995, a conference established by then-U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry to convene defense ministers from around the hemisphere to discuss shared defense and security issues. At the inaugural assembly, participating officials expressed two concerns: the need to strengthen ties between civilian and military officials in hemispheric defense ministries and the need to increase the number of qualified civilian professionals trained to deal with defense issues. In response to these quandaries, during the second DMA held in Bariloche, Argentina, in 1996, Secretary Perry proposed creating a regional center dedicated to training civilian defense officials and conducting educational activities to bring military and civilian leaders together to discuss important defense and security challenges. Driven by the consensus that mutual security was dependent on the stability of democratic states, as well as transparency and accountability in the defense and security sectors, participating officials agreed that only through openness, the free exchange of ideas, and greater trust could a more stable hemispheric and global security environment be achieved.
From 1996 to 1997, a team composed of U.S. Department of Defense and National Defense University officials, regional stakeholders, and civilian academics worked together to lay the groundwork for Secretary Perry’s vision. On September 17, 1997, the Perry Center officially opened its doors under the supervision of its originating Director, Colonel (Ret) John “Jay” Cope. Since its establishment, the Perry Center has continued to develop to meet the needs of its stakeholders and address the changing security challenges unique to the Western Hemisphere. On April 2, 2013, the Center officially became known as the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (The Perry Center) in commemoration of its founder, the 19th Secretary of Defense, Dr. William J. Perry. In June 2014, the Office of the Secretary of Defense appointed Mr. Mark Wilkins as Director. In collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Wilkins initiated a strategic reassessment of the Center’s mission and goals that culminated in a new set of priorities for the future, including support for the Department of Defense’s Defense Institution Building (DIB) initiative.
Recognizing the need for stronger government institutions and more proficient civilian and military defense leadership in Central America, the Center will act as a catalyst to incubate, enhance and sustain transparent and capable defense and security governance institutions that encourage democratic values, rule of law, and good governance–as well as promote key defense strategic interests and secure security cooperation investments. The Center will accomplish this mission by building institutional capacity through the development of professional ministry-level officials, promoting civilian control of the military, and, with the support of stakeholders, developing and facilitating the implementation of national defense strategies and policies.
Eighteen years later, the Center continues to evolve, using education, outreach, strategic communications, and research to achieve an expanded mission of bolstering partner capacity and strengthening trust, mutual understanding of US and regional defense and international security policy issues, and regional collaboration in order to ensure a more stable and secure hemisphere.