U.S. Will Stand By Deep Commitments in Asia, Gates Pledges
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, May 31, 2008 The United States has deep, historic ties to Asia and the Pacific and has no intention of turning its back on the region now or in the future, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reassured Asian leaders here today.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks at the opening of the 7th annual Asia Security Summit in Singapore, May 31, 2008. The summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after the hotel where it is held, brings together defense ministers, chiefs of staff and other senior security policy-makers from more than 20 Asian nations each year to discuss regional security concerns. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“For those who worry that Iraq and Afghanistan have distracted the United States from Asia and developments in this region, I would counter that we have never been more engaged with more countries,” Gates said during his keynote address at the 7th annual Asia Security Summit.
The summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after the hotel where it is held, brings together defense ministers, chiefs of staff and other senior security policy-makers from more than 20 Asian nations each year to discuss regional security concerns. Joining Gates at his second summit are Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
Gates pointed to longstanding U.S. ties to the region dating to the 19th century and the multiple roles the United States continues to play today. He called any speculation that the United States is losing interest in the region “either preposterous or disingenuous, or both.”
“The United States military – even with its ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – remains engaged with most Asian governments, doing more things in more constructive ways than at any time in our history,” he said.
This engagement “has added consistent value to the Asian security equation” for more than 60 years and that continues to be a major force in regional security, he said. “The security of all Asian countries – whether large or small – is strongly and positively enhanced by a strong U.S. presence.”
Gates hailed broad developments that have propelled Asia’s rise to become “the center of gravity in a rapidly globalizing world.”
The United States not only welcomes that rise, but also, by its continued presence in the region, it has helped to make it possible, he said. “This presence has offered other nations the crucial element of choice and enabled their entry into a globalized international society,” he said.
Shared globalization and the economic strength it’s brought the region have been possible only because of openness – of trade, of ideas and of access to maritime, space and cyber domains, he said. He cited the need for continued common use of these so-called “common spaces” in ways that continue to drive mutual prosperity, and the need to play by internationally accepted rules.
Gates emphasized the importance of alliances in the region that he said are transforming to fit 21st-century realities.
“Our relations with partners and friends, and our engagement in Asia, are more and more the fabric that binds together what is becoming a web of relationships, including our growing ties with India and our increasing engagement with China,” he said.
Asked during a question-and-answer session if the United States will lose interest in Asia in light of other commitments around the world, Gates insisted that it won’t.
“Partly we won’t lose interest because we are an Asian power,” he said. “We are a resident power. We have been here a long time. And we will continue to be here – not only because we have sovereign territory in the area, … but because we have some very longstanding relationships here.”
Regardless of who wins the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Gates said, he’s confident that the United States will continue to build on the overlapping and longstanding security partnerships in Asia.
“As the next administration calibrates and refines these important relationships, it is bound to be guided by a single imperative: to make each of our links more relevant, more resilient, more responsive and more enduring,” he said.
Progress toward that end during the past eight years has “positioned the next administration in a very strong way looking to the future as you look at this part of the world,” he said.
Gates tried to allay concerns that security demands in Europe and the Middle East could divert future U.S. attention from Asia. He said he’s aware of no one in the U.S. political arena who doesn’t attach high priority to the U.S. relationships and role in Asia.
“I believe that future presidents will sustain an American military that can protect our interests and our friends in all three of those regions,” Gates said. “As a global power with global interests and friends and allies around the world who look to us for support, we will sustain those capabilities.”
Looking to the future, Gates said the United States will play many roles in Asia in the decades ahead, as circumstances require.
“We will be a protector if that is required in the context of our security alliances,” he said. “We will be one who brings humanitarian assistance when that is required. We will partner in training and equipping as that is required.
“So I think it is a very broad-based set of relationships and roles that we have out here,” he said. “But I think we see ourselves most broadly as partners and collaborators in Asia in the 21st century.”