Military Underwrites Asian-Pacific Successes, Admiral Says
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii, April 28, 1997 Adm. Joseph Prueher had just gotten back from a visit to Vietnam, where he accompanied a Joint Task Force Full Accounting team to the 1967 crash site of an American B-52.
"There were about 20 joint task force people and 300 Vietnamese out in the field, digging through the mud for little fragments and putting together the picture," said Prueher (pronounced "Preer"), commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command. "The commitment our nation has to accounting for all these people is very strong. But the irony is, working with the Vietnamese ends up being a bonding experience. Vietnam is going to be a big and important part of the mosaic out here."
The phenomenal growth of post-World War II Japan has been followed by the burgeoning economies of the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan, as well as Australia and New Zealand to the south and India to the west. According to the World Bank, the area's rapid growth will continue to effect the global economy and serve as an important source of stability for the rest of the world.
Underwriting the Pacific Rim's prosperity, said America's senior military leader in the region, is security provided by a large U.S. military presence and capability.
"Anyone who looks at the U.S. engagement in the Pacific is intellectually persuaded that it's important for us to be here," Prueher said. "The security brokered by the United States and its allies creates the conditions necessary for prosperity."
A strategy of cooperative engagement governs America's military presence in the Pacific theater. This strategy, Prueher said, has three components: peacetime engagement, or preventive defense; the ability to respond to crises; and the ability to fight and win a major conflict, should one arise.
"There's a circular logic associated with this," Prueher said. "The ability to fight and win a major conflict allows us to operate in the lower spectrum of peacetime engagement.
"Our forward-based forces allow us to interact with other nations and create stability. We have no territorial desires in the area, and I think we're largely seen as an honest broker." America's allies in the region understand U.S. objectives, the admiral said. "Everywhere I go," he said, "the United States is welcomed."
When Prueher arrived at his command last year, one group of people -- Japanese citizens of Okinawa -- weren't so sure they wanted the Americans on their soil. Negative publicity over the rape of an island school girl, and ongoing complaints about the noise American jets created, led the Okinawan governor to call for an end to the American presence there.
Prueher's thrust has been to deal straightforwardly with Okinawans. "We have tried to act as if the Okinawans had a congressman and U.S. mayors that would beat on our door, then behave responsibly toward them and reduce intrusion where we could." For example, the United States agreed to return 20 percent of the land occupied by American bases and halted Marine marches down Okinawan roads. Futenma Marine Corps Air Station will close once a suitable location is found elsewhere. And training flight schedules and routes were altered to reduce noise over schools and neighborhoods.
"Strategically, Japan and we have agreed we need the forces there, agreed on the security arrangements and are trying to work it in the most nonobtrusive way we can," the admiral said.
"Anytime we put our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on another nation's soil, attendant with the responsibility of going there to work for security is the responsibility to be a good neighbor." Awareness and sensitivity training for service members and community relations programs bolstered base-community ties to where now, the admiral said, "our military people are quite welcome there."
Although the United States isn't solely responsible for security in the Pacific region, it doesn't enjoy the same multilateral cooperation present in Europe under NATO. "We don't have anything like NATO out here," Prueher said. "The nations here are largely unwilling to tie themselves security-wise to come to the aid of another nation under any circumstance. Instead, we have a series of bilateral relationships in the Asian Pacific."
Nations in this region willingly train and exercise with DoD forces, the admiral said. Also, Japan outlays more than $5 billion annually to subsidize U.S. bases there, and the Republic of Korea also contributes financially to a U.S. presence in that country.
"With Japan and Korea we have alliances," Prueher said. "We also have training agreements with them, as well as with Australia. We do lower levels of training with other nations -- Thailand, for example. The Thais train us in jungle warfare."
Every nation in the region has some military capability, but none could project military influence on its own, Prueher said. "The nations of the Asian Pacific region largely have emerging economies, which allows them to afford and modernize their militaries, and they're doing that. This modernization, in my view, is not an arms race but [is done] for legitimate protection."
Because of the presence of 37,000 Americans on Korean soil, most Asian-Pacific nations aren't threatened by the tenuous political and economic situation in North Korea, the admiral said. They're more concerned about China.
"China has a burgeoning economy and 1.25 billion people. It's a huge nation [that] is and will be increasingly influential in the region," Prueher said. "As China starts to modernize its military, the Asian-Pacific nations are very concerned, because they'd like to know China's intentions. In our relationship and discussions with China, we encourage them to be more transparent about what they intend to do, what they're doing with their military -- and the importance of mutual confidence among nations."
The Pacific Command's area of operations also extend to central Asia, home of the world's largest democracy, India. "We think India will surpass China in population around the middle of the next century," Prueher said. "They're also becoming a very strong economic power."
Overseeing security for such a broad area requires close teamwork among the command's components, Prueher said. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine elements work well together, he added. The admiral hosts frequent component commander conferences where they resolve common problems and challenges, looking beyond sometimes divisive budget concerns to deal with the joint maintenance of operational readiness.
"Our joint efforts are at a level you don't see in other militaries of the world," Prueher said. "I've spent time in Europe, where the armies, navies and air forces work separately. We provide an example on how to work together. We are so far down the joint path, we could not work well independently. Any major chore we take on, we need each other."
Troop quality also sets America apart, the admiral said. "Our enlisted members are as smart as they've ever been. I'm impressed, wherever I go, with our people. What really sets us apart from militaries of other nations are our NCO corps and senior enlisted people who are so responsible and capable. It waters the eyes of our allies, friends and foes to see how capable these young men and women are."
Already having on his team what he considers the best troops in the world, Prueher would like to go shopping for some new equipment.
"We CinCs get accused all the time of caring only about day-to-day readiness and not caring too much about modernization," he said. "I don't think that's a fair rap. Modernization means future readiness. My successor, two or three times removed, is going to need modern equipment, so we need to modernize now."
What's needed in the Pacific? "Theater missile defense -- particularly in Korea but also on ships where we can move it around -- is a key element," the admiral said. "We watch carefully what's going on with the Army at the National Training Center, where they're testing a digitized battlefield and comprehensive information awareness. That's something we would like to eventually have in this theater, because it will make our soldiers much more effective."
Closer to home, the Pacific Fleet is testing a multilayered information web that would link Pacific Command with all of its components and joint task force commanders. Called IT-21 (information technology for the 21st century), the system uses commercial off-the-shelf technology.
"IT-21 can help tie us together and have the effect of a multiplier on our capability to move information and do research," Prueher said. "It could eventually reduce the number of people we need on the staff."
Future equipment needs aside, Prueher said U.S. forces in the Pacific are ready now for any contingency. "Our equipment works well and our young men and women are tremendous.
"We have to look at what's going on in the area -- our area of responsibility is quite big -- and try to make sure we're not mal-positioned should a crisis arise. That's what we do. We're always watching, trying to be in the right place at the right time."