Mullen Uses Pacific Visits to Cultivate Understanding, Cooperation
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
JAKARTA, Indonesia, May 29, 2008 The United States and other countries of the world have to work together to face the challenges of the future, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today on the first stop of a visit to Pacific nations intended to help foster that cooperation.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is escorted by Gen. Djoko Santoso, commander of the Indonesian Defense Forces during an arrival ceremony welcoming him Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesia is the first stop on a eight-day trip visiting Asia-Pacific nations and attending the 2008 Shangri-La Dialogues in Singapore, May 29, 2008. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen is visiting military and civilian leaders here before moving on to participate in the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore.
The dialogue -- named after the hotel that hosts it -- will give Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who also will attend, the chance to interact with counterparts from many nations.
“It’s the major meeting of those interested in defense in the Pacific and beyond,” Mullen said during an interview aboard the Hawaii-based Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport named “Spirit of Go For Broke” that carried him here.
Plans call for Mullen to meet with representatives from India, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations. After the conference, Mullen heads to the Philippines and then to South Korea, where he will participate in the change of command for Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.
At his stops, the concerns that top all others are extremism and terrorism, he said. The United States has worked with the nations of Southeast Asia to build the security and stability that allow economic growth, and it has paid off, the admiral noted.
The chairman said he expects to discuss the situation in Burma both at the Shangri-La conference and in his meetings with representatives of individual nations.
“One thing I need to understand is why the Burmese would be so obstinate about [not] allowing other countries to provide help,” Mullen said. “It’s pretty tough on us, knowing we can help and have units waiting to help, and have people dying for lack of government wisdom to be able to ask for assistance.
“It’s very baffling, and still they persist,” he continued. “It’s incredibly frustrating. I sure would like to see them open up to this kind of assistance.”
Indonesia is an example of progress made in the region. After the Asian economic meltdown in 1997, Indonesia was in tough shape economically. But the nation has recovered from that panic.
“I give the leadership of Indonesia a great deal of credit, because it is night and day from what it was 10 years ago,” Mullen said. “They continue to push forward in reform; they continue to press forward in the human rights area; they continue to press forward to put the military under civilian control.”
Indonesia separated the police function from the military in 2000, and many agencies in the U.S. government worked as one to help Indonesia make these transformations.
“They’ve made tremendous progress over the last 10 years, and I look forward to making that kind of progress over the next 10 years,” the chairman said. “They are very positive steps for facing challenges together, for the continuous development of that strong relationship, for education of both militaries -- ours and theirs -- for the opportunities to work together shoulder-to-shoulder.
“This is a Muslim country -- some 240 million people -- and a strong relationship with this country is really, really important [to the United States].”
The nations of the region are working together to confront mutual problems. Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia had to work together to confront the menace that piracy caused. Pirates used the seams between nations in the Straits of Malacca to prey on vessels sailing the strategic chokepoint.
Three years ago, there were more than 60 instances of piracy in and around the straits. Shipping insurance rates went through the roof. Each of the three nations invested in radars to track vessels in and around the straits. But more importantly, they established “a command-and-control center where you can merge information and take action,” Mullen said.
There has been only one instance of piracy in the area this year, he added.
Other nations in the region can develop the same capabilities. The Philippines and Indonesia are both archipelagos made up of thousands of islands. “There is a commonness there that they share,” Mullen said, adding that he believes the two nations can work closely together.
Mullen also discussed Iraq with reporters traveling with him. The Iraqi military is handling much more of the burden in the country, he said.
“They are operating in Basra, they moved into Sadr City, and they continue to make progress in Mosul,” Mullen said. “All of those are good signs, and I think not many people would have given them credit to be able to do this a year ago. I give our forces tremendous credit for setting the conditions to allow this to happen.”
But, the chairman cautioned, progress in Iraq is fragile. Al-Qaida is still lethal, and criminal gangs and unlawful militias continue to pose problems, he noted. “But I’m delighted to see the kind of progress the Iraqi forces have made,” he said.
The number of violent incidents in Iraq is the lowest it has been in four years, he said. “I’m encouraged, but there is still a long way to go,” Mullen said.