Willard Details Pacific Command’s Mission, Scope
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2011 Managing the relationship with China and growing the relationship with India are two of U.S. Pacific Command’s key objectives, the organization’s commander said.
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard also told reporters attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference in Hawaii that the command must counter the threats posed by North Korea.
President Barack Obama hosted the APEC meeting in Honolulu, where Willard and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes highlighted American security contributions to the region.
The United States is a Pacific power with about 320,000 uniformed members, civilians and contractors assigned in the region, Willard said. U.S. forces, he added, are forward deployed in Japan and South Korea and posted aboard ships throughout the region.
Willard detailed the five areas of focus in the region, with China leading the list. The U.S. relationship with China, he said, is undergoing tremendous change given China’s economic and military advancements.
U.S. military-to-military policy with China, the admiral said, is to encourage the Chinese to be more transparent about their military and military spending. U.S. and Chinese forces, he said, are conducting search and rescue exercises and are exchanging students at all levels.
“One of my charters is to improve the relationship, mil-to-mil, between the United States and the Chinese,” Willard said.
Another focus is on North Korea. Since the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement ending the shooting on the peninsula, the admiral said, the United States and its allies have been deterring North Korea and maintaining the armistice across the Demilitarized Zone.
“And in this day,” he said, “North Korea is posing additional challenges in terms of nuclearization, proliferation, the stability construct within North Korea, and of course, they’re undergoing succession.”
The United States is working with ally South Korea to deter provocations such as last year’s North Korean sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan and the attack against Yeonpyeong Island. “We’ll continue to reinforce the alliance, continue to strengthen it,” Willard said.
Another focus is on transnational threats ranging from nuclear and missile proliferation to trafficking in humans and drugs, to violent extremist organizations.
“We’re laid down in the southern Philippines, continuing to contain the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiyah, two extremist organizations that threaten both the stability of the southern Philippines and the region,” Willard said.
In South Asia, the United States is working to contain Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based extremist organization that attacked Mumbai. “We find ourselves working with partners in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives to build their capacities to deal with this organization independently,” the admiral said.
India, with a large, growing economy and the largest democracy in the world, is another focus for Pacific Command.
“We have … a strategic partnership that continues to grow, both government-to-government and military-to-military,” Willard said of U.S. relations with India.
India has the largest military in South Asia, the admiral said, yet the U.S.-India military-to-military relationship is relatively new.
“We were not particularly close during the Cold War, and when we did begin to reengage, those relationships were interrupted following nuclear tests in the late 1990s,” he said. “From a military standpoint, we’ve been engaged with India for only about seven or eight years.
“We engage with the Indian armed forces across all the services,” the admiral continued, “and we contribute to issues such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean region, and broader maritime security throughout the region.”
Pacom also maintains good relations with many other nations in the region, the admiral said. Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines are treaty allies, and the command also maintains ties with key friends such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and others in the region.