WASHINGTON, August 14, 2014 —
Despite recent events in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Defense Department remain dedicated to the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today.
“Given the fact that there's a lot going on in the world, that we're still making these visits and still having these discussions, speaks volumes about how important we believe the Asia-Pacific theater is,” he said at a Pentagon news conference.
With more than 350,000 American troops based in the Pacific -- including the majority of Navy assets -- and with five of the seven U.S. treaty alliances there, DoD is very committed to the region, Kirby said.
“It doesn't mean that we take our eye off the ball of the rest of the world,” he said. “We know we have security commitments around the world in the Middle East, in Africa [and] in Europe, and we continue to work mightily on those commitments. And there's been no slackening in that regard.”
But, Kirby noted, if sequestration remains the law of the land, “it's going to be harder and harder for us to meet those commitments.” Unless Congress acts to change the law, sequestration spending cuts will return in fiscal year 2016.
“The defense strategy that we put forward, which allows us to conduct this rebalance and still focus on those parts of the world, will be put in jeopardy” under sequestration, Kirby said.
Hagel returned yesterday from a trip that included a stop in India, where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to discuss the importance of continuing robust defense cooperation.
“It was a very successful visit. … There are opportunities here for co-development and co-production that we hope will come to fruition here in the future, particularly with the Javelin anti-tank missile, shows great promise,” Kirby said. “But we were warmly received by Indian officials, came away from it feeling very, very positive. In fact, the secretary was talking about that this morning to the staff about the trip and feeling very, very encouraged by it.”
The department is looking forward to continuing to develop the defense relationship with India’s new government, he said.
“We had a great set of discussions. We believe the relationship is on a good, strong path forward, and that's the secretary's focus -- it’s on the future,” he added.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)