Carter: Regional Prosperity at Heart of Asia-Pacific Strategy
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2012 The rebalance of U.S. military focus toward the Asia-Pacific region has regional prosperity as its objective, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said here today.
The new strategy is not about the United States, China or any other individual country or group of countries, Carter told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“It's about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all countries can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper,” he said.
Questions about the Defense Department’s ability to meet its Asia-Pacific strategy objectives are fair, he added, given today’s fiscal realities, but the department has the capacity to resource the rebalance and meet its commitments.
“With our allies and partners, … we are, in fact, across the Asia-Pacific region, able to invest to sustain peace and prosperity,” he said. “In other words, we're not just talking the talk, we're walking the walk.”
Understanding the overall strategic context for the shift toward Asia is essential, he said.
“We in the United States find ourselves in national defense at a moment of great transition,” the deputy secretary said. “While we've been focused on fighting insurgency in two places, and terrorism worldwide, the world has not stood still. Our friends and enemies have not stood still, and technology has not stood still.”
It’s time for the United States to look toward the security challenges that will define its future after Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
No matter what, Carter said, the Defense Department would have had to make this strategic transition, but now it finds itself subject to a second great source of change: the need to keep the U.S. fiscal house in order.
The Budget Control Act, passed by Congress last year, requires the Defense Department to remove $487 billion from its budget plans over the coming 10 years. The law also threatens “drastic” sequestration, he said, a process that would be “a disaster” for defense, Carter said. Sequestration is a mechanism built into the law that would trigger an addition $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade unless Congress agrees to an alternative.
“It’s chaotic, wasteful, damaging -- not just to defense, but to every other function of government, … [and] it was never designed to be implemented,” the deputy secretary said. “It's no way to do business. The nature of sequestration makes it impossible to devise a plan that eliminates, or even substantially mitigates, its foolish impacts.”
If sequester is averted, the base defense budget will not go down, Carter said, but it also will not continue to go up as it has for the last 10 years and as officials had planned.
“That's the $487 billion difference outlined under the Budget Control Act -- the difference between what we planned and what we'll get,” Carter said. "These two forces, one of strategic history and the other of fiscal necessity, led us to define a new defense strategy for the 21st century."
Several months of conversations about the future trajectory of national defense took place, he said, resulting in the design for a balanced, effective defense strategy that took into account cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act. Above all, he added, the plan laid out the transition toward the Asia-Pacific region from the era of Iraq and Afghanistan, and it designed a force for the future, capable of meeting strategic U.S. objectives.
Support for longstanding principles that go well beyond security underlie the U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, Carter said -- principles such as free and open access to commerce, a just international order that upholds the rule of law, open access to all domains, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
“We seek a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all the states of the region -- all of them -- can enjoy the benefits of security and continue to prosper," he told the audience.
Carter cited the U.S. military presence as part of the reason states in the region have been able to rise and prosper. "Thanks to that historic security, states in the region have had the freedom to choose and forge their own economic and political futures," he said. "We intend to continue to play that positive, pivotal, stabilizing role. That's what the rebalance is all about."
The United States will be able to deliver on the security commitments made in the defense strategy for five reasons, Carter said.
First, he explained, with the war in Iraq over and Afghans becoming increasingly responsible for their own security, U.S. military capacity will become available for other missions, such as fostering peace and strengthening partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region.
Second, the United States is investing in new capabilities that will be especially relevant to the Asia-Pacific region, Carter said. The Defense Department has carefully protected these capabilities, even in the face of the Budget Control Act, he added.
"One of the key tenets of our defense strategy is to protect our future focused investments -- the seed corn of the future force," he said. "Our newest investments, of course, have the shallowest roots, so it's easy to tear them away when budget cuts are made. But we can't afford to do that. We can't afford to lose our technological edge."
Third, the U.S. is shifting its posture forward and into the Asia-Pacific region, Carter said. "That is, not what we have, but where we put it is also changing," he said. "We're sending our newest assets to the Asia-Pacific region first.”
Fourth, the United States is working closely with Asia-Pacific allies and partners to foster peace in the region, allowing every state in the region to prosper, he said.
"A key objective of our rebalance is to build a healthy, transparent and sustainable U.S.-China defense relationship," Carter said. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said that relationship is essential for global security and prosperity in the 21st century, he added.
The “broad and comprehensive” approach to security cooperation has included 172 exercises in the Asia-Pacific region, with 24 participating countries, "and we're looking to expand that further," Carter said. Regional security cooperation includes foreign military sales, direct commercial sales and technology cooperation, he added.
"For us, exports are a ‘twofer,’" he said. "They help us build our partners' capabilities, and they help our defense industry's competitiveness.
"We're deepening our security cooperation, technology sharing and defense trade with India,” he continued, “another state so important to our rebalance, and, we believe, to the broader security and prosperity of the 21st century."
And finally, he said, the shift allows the Defense Department to turn its “formidable, innovative power” to the Asia-Pacific region. Without abandoning counterinsurgency efforts, Carter said, "defense planners, analysts, scientists and institutions across the country are devoting more and more of their time to thinking about the Asia-Pacific region."
The Pentagon leadership is focused intently on executing the rebalance, he said.
"We're watching every dollar and every ship and every plane to make sure that we execute our rebalance effectively," he added. "Even in a period of fiscal austerity, we can and will invest in a military presence and engagement for the Asia-Pacific region."
For each strategic initiative, Carter said, Pentagon officials have had to make careful investment decisions, weighing costs and measuring benefits. The defense strategy’s focus on investment in the future has necessitated some difficult decisions, he acknowledged.
But, he continued, “choices like this are the essence of strategy. We're balancing our investments to meet our strategic objectives."