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The U.S. in the Asia-Pacific
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore on June 2, 2012, laid out the United States’ strategic pivot to Asia, including a move to have 60 percent of our naval forces in the Pacific vs. the current 50/50 split between Atlantic and Pacific.
The purpose of this trip, and of my remarks today, is to explain a new defense strategy that the United States has put in place and why the United States will play a deeper and more enduring partnership role in advancing the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and how the United States military supports that goal by rebalancing towards this region.
Since the United States grew westward in the 19th century, we have been a Pacific nation. I was born and raised in a coastal town in California called Monterey, and have spent a lifetime looking out across the Pacific Ocean. As a fishing community, as a port, the ocean was the lifeblood of our economy. And some of my earliest memories as a child during World War II are of watching American troops pass through my community, trained at the military reservation called Fort Ord, and were on their way to face battle in the Pacific.
I remember the fear that gripped our community during World War II, and later when war again broke out on the Korean Peninsula. Despite the geographic distance that separates us, I’ve always understood that America’s fate is inexorably linked with this region….
In this century, the 21st century, the United States recognizes that our prosperity and our security depends even more on the Asia-Pacific region. After all, this region is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies: China, India, and Indonesia to mention a few. At the same time, Asia-Pacific contains the world’s largest populations, and the world’s largest militaries. Defense spending in Asia is projected by this institute, the IISS, to surpass that of Europe this year, and there is no doubt that it will continue to increase in the future.
Given these trends, President Obama has stated the United States will play a larger role in this region over the decades to come. This effort will draw on the strengths of the entire United States government. We take on this role not as a distant power, but as part of the Pacific family of nations. Our goal is to work closely with all of the nations of this region to confront common challenges and to promote peace, prosperity, and security for all nations in the Asia-Pacific region….
The United States is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war. We have significantly weakened al-Qaeda’s leadership and ability to attack other nations. We have sent a very clear message that nobody attacks the United States and gets away with it. Our military mission in Iraq has ended and established an Iraq that can secure and govern itself.
In Afghanistan, where a number of Asia-Pacific nations are playing a critical role in the international coalition, we have begun our transition to the Afghan security lead and to an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself….
But even as we have been able to draw these wars to a hopeful end, we are confronted today by a wide range of complex global challenges. From terrorism to the destabilizing behavior of Iran and North Korea, from nuclear proliferation to the new threat of cyberspace, from continuing turmoil in the Middle East to territorial disputes in this region.
At the same time, the United States, like many other nations, is dealing with large debt and large deficits, which has required the Department of Defense to reduce the planning budget by nearly half a trillion dollars or specifically $487 billion that were directed to be reduced by the Congress in the Budget Control Act over the next decade.
But this new fiscal reality, challenge that many nations confront these days, has given us an opportunity to design a new defense strategy for the 21st century that both confronts the threats we face and maintains the strongest military in the world.
This strategy makes clear the United States military, yes, it will be smaller, it will be leaner, but it will be agile and flexible, quickly deployable, and will employ cutting-edge technology in the future. It makes equally clear that while the U.S. military will remain a global force for security and stability, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region….
Our approach to achieving the long-term goal in the Asia-Pacific is to stay firmly committed to a basic set of shared principles – principles that promote international rules and order to advance peace and security in the region, deepening and broadening our bilateral and multilateral partnerships, enhancing and adapting the U.S. military’s enduring presence in this region, and to make new investments in the capabilities needed to project power and operate in Asia-Pacific. Let me discuss each of these shared principles. The first is the shared principle that we abide by international rules and order….
What are we talking about? These rules include the principle of open and free commerce, a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of all nations and a fidelity to the rule of law; open access by all to their shared domains of sea, air, space, and cyberspace; and resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force….
The second principle is one of partnerships. Key to this approach is our effort to modernize and strengthen our alliances and partnerships in this region. The United States has key treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines and Thailand. We have key partners in India, Singapore, Indonesia, and other nations. And we are working hard to develop and build stronger relations with China.
As we expand our partnerships, as we strengthen our alliances, the United States-Japan alliance will remain one of the cornerstones for regional security and prosperity in the 21st century. For that reason, our two militaries are enhancing their ability to train and operate together, and cooperating closely in areas such as maritime security and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. We are also jointly developing high-tech capabilities, including the next generation missile defense interceptor, and exploring new areas of cooperation in space and in cyberspace.
In the past several months we have strengthened the alliance and our broader strategic objectives in the region with a revised plan to relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam. This plan will make the U.S. presence in Okinawa more politically sustainable, and it will help further develop Guam as a strategic hub for the United States military in the Western Pacific, improving our ability to respond to a wide range of contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another linchpin of our Asia-Pacific security is the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea. During a year of transition and provocation on the Korean Peninsula, this alliance has been indispensable, and I have made it a priority to strengthen it for the future. To that end, even as the United States reduces the overall size of its ground forces in the coming years in a transitional way over a five-year period, we will maintain the United States Army’s significant presence in Korea.
We are also boosting our intelligence and information sharing with the Republic of Korea, standing firm against hostile provocations from North Korea while transforming the alliance with new capabilities to meet global challenges.
The third shared principle is presence. While strengthening our traditional alliances in Northeast Asia and maintaining our presence there, as part of this rebalancing effort we are also enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean region.
A critical component of that effort is the agreement announced last fall for a rotational Marine Corps presence and aircraft deployments in northern Australia….
As the United States strengthens these regional partnerships, we will also seek to strengthen a very important relationship with China. We believe China is a key to being able to develop a peaceful, prosperous, and secure Asia-pacific in the 21st century….
We are working with China to execute a robust military-to-military engagement plan for the rest of this year, and we will seek to deepen our partnership in humanitarian assistance, counter-drug, and counter-proliferation efforts. We have also agreed on the need to address responsible behavior in cyberspace and in outer space. We must establish and reinforce agreed principles of responsible behavior in these key domains.
I know that many in the region and across the world are closely watching the United States-China relationship. Some view the increased emphasis by the United States on the Asia-Pacific region as some kind of challenge to China. I reject that view entirely. Our efforts to renew and intensify our involvement in Asia is fully compatible – fully compatible – with the development and growth of China. Indeed, increased U.S. involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity for the future.
In this context, we strongly support the efforts that both China and Taiwan, both have made in recent years trying to improve cross-strait relations. We have an enduring interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The United States remains firm in the adherence to a one-China policy based on the Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act….
As a Pacific power, the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, in unimpeded economic development and commerce, and in a respect for the rule of law. Our alliances, our partnerships, and our enduring presence in this region all serve to support these important goals.
For those who are concerned about the ability of the United States to maintain a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region in light of the fiscal pressures we face, let me be very clear. The Department of Defense has a five-year budget plan and a detailed blueprint for implementing this strategy I just outlined for realizing our long-term goals in this region, and for still meeting our fiscal responsibilities.
The final principle – shared principle that we all have is force projection.
This budget is the first in what will be a sustained series of investments and strategic decisions to strengthen our military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. I would encourage you to look at the increasing technological capabilities of our forces as much as their numbers in judging the full measure of our security presence and our security commitment.
For example, over the next five years we will retire older Navy ships, but we will replace them with more than 40 far more capable and technologically advanced ships. Over the next few years we will increase the number and the size of our exercises in the Pacific. We will also increase and more widely distribute our port visits, including in the important Indian Ocean region.
And by 2020 the Navy will reposture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines.
Our forward-deployed forces are the core of our commitment to this region and we will, as I said, sharpen the technological edge of our forces. These forces are also backed up by our ability to rapidly project military power if needed to meet our security commitments….
Over the course of history, the United States has fought wars, we have spilled blood, we have deployed our forces time and time again to defend our vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region. We owe it to all of those who have fought and died to build a better future for all nations in this region.
The United States has long been deeply involved in the Asia-Pacific. Through times of war, times of peace, under Democratic and Republican leaders and administrations, through rancor and through comity in Washington, through surplus and through debt. We were then, we are here now and we will be here for the future.