Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, Dr. Andrew Chew, Ambassador-at-Large S. R. Nathan, Ambassador Steven Green, fellow defense ministers, distinguished guests.
Will Durant wrote that, "Human history is a brief spot in space and its first lesson is modesty."
I hope to occupy but a brief spot in you space and contribute a few modest thoughts that I hope will prove illuminating.
I am sometimes accused of being unable to discuss policy without somehow conveying it in the form of poetry. So to escape that stereotype, I would like to switch artistic media and bring to your attention what I am told is an outstanding exhibit of works by Toko Shinoda showing through the weekend at the Tolman Collection here in Singapore. Those of you familiar with Toko Shinoda know that she is often referred to as a visual poet, and indeed the Tolman exhibit is entitled Poetry in Motion, so I still feel on terra firma.
Toko Shinoda's works are characteristically monochromatic and defined by spare lines, often single bold strokes. She is renowned for what has been termed "a seamless union of traditional and modern techniques" that might combine in a single print material from the Song Dynasty nearly a millennium ago with 20th century lithography.
Perhaps seeking inspiration from the work of Toko Shinoda, far too many defense commentators and analysts today paint a portrait of the Asian security landscape in spare monochromes that, unfortunately, are less than inspired or inspiring. It might be either a dull gray bemoaning that "little has changed since the end of the Cold War." Or an intense red asserting that "the new security architecture arising in Asia is fundamentally different from what has come before." Or a solitary stroke narrowly focused on a single factor, such as the development of China.
A more accurate portrait requires a complete palette and an ability to capture on our conceptual canvas both light and shadow. One that reflects Asia's complex but enduring features, while also conveying the dynamism of the region. One inspired, not by Toko Shinoda's monochromes, but by her fusion of old and new. Because in the security realm, it is critical to understand the interplay between what is fixed and what is in flux if we are to successfully anticipate and manage change, and thereby ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for ourselves, our children and generations that follow. This is truly the great challenge as we leave the post-Cold War transition period and enter, and indeed create, a new era. And it is a challenge that demands of us even greater cooperation than we have successfully shown in the past.
What are the enduring features of the Asian security landscape? First and foremost are the high stakes involved, as great as anywhere on the planet. Asia remains a concentration of powerful states with sizable militaries, some nuclear armed. It is a region of great global economic importance and significant regional interdependence. And it is an area with numerous navigational choke points, sea lanes that are the economic arteries carrying the lifeblood of many of our economies.
These high stakes make stability crucial for all countries of the region. Yet the region remains a tinderbox, with potential flashpoints from Korea to the Taiwan Straits and beyond, that, if ignited, would have scorching effects on the security and economies in Asia, North America and around the globe.
These high stakes lead directly to the second constant we must recognize, the integral role of American military power as a stabilizing force in the region. Half a century ago, Paul Nitze and other American strategists crafted a plan, National Security Council Directive 68, that became America's blueprint for the Cold War. It warned of "trends [that] could lead to the progressive withdrawal of the United States from most of its commitments in Europe and Asia ... under pressure ... from allies who will seek other 'solutions' unless they have confidence in [American] determination."
America proved her determination during the Cold War. But in the wake of that long conflict, many doubted America's determination to remain a Pacific power. They saw the departure of our forces from the Philippines as the beginning of a progressive withdrawal under pressure.
Those fears and forebodings proved unfounded. Indeed, the United States has become more actively engaged with more countries in the region than ever before. We have sustained and enhanced our engagement because we recognize it is in our national interest. Our regional partners have responded because they recognize it is in their national and collective interests.
One of my first efforts as Secretary of Defense was to direct a comprehensive review of American defense strategy and military posture. While the resulting strategy was new, at its core was a strategic decision that has remained and will remain constant, America's commitment to protecting and promoting our interests in Asia by remaining forward-deployed in the region. This was not simply inertia. Because this was a fundamental review of our policy, we explicitly considered options to reduce our forward-deployed military capability, and we explicitly rejected such options. This comprehensive review also made hard choices to ensure that we will have the resources necessary to maintain and modernize our forces and to ensure that their capabilities remain pre-eminent.
The third enduring feature that defines the regional security landscape is the crucial role of strong bilateral relationships, not only those the United States maintains, but increasingly, those between Korea and Japan, Japan and China, Russia and Japan. America's alliances with Japan, Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines and many of our other bilateral relationships were forged in the Cold War to protect against a specific threat. But today they are not reactive, they are pro-active. Standing not against anyone, but standing for shared objectives and serving as the primary means for our security engagement and for promoting the stability that undergirds the region's peace and prosperity. We have worked hard to strengthen these bilateral relationships and to orient them to the requirements of a new era and a new century.
The US-Japan security alliance, for example, will be as important to Asia's future as it has been to its past. The stability it has created has propelled an economic tide that lifted peoples throughout Asia. The revised Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation that we completed in September were last amended in 1978 by a different generation, facing different challenges with a different strategy. The revised Guidelines ensure that we are prepared for challenges from peacekeeping and humanitarian relief to responding to regional crises that affect Japan's security. What these Guidelines do not do is seek to isolate any nation in the region. On the contrary, they are designed to expand stability for the benefit of all nations.
Among the most enduring of our bilateral relationships is the American-South Korean alliance, which for five decades has keep a constant vigil against imminent danger. Today, the Korean Peninsula remains one of the most dangerous places on earth, a true hotspot where large forces remain on hair-trigger alert. That is why America's commitment to the security and sovereignty of the Republic of Korea remains unshakable. And why that commitment will remain constant as we look to the long-term future of the US-Korean alliance.
We have also updated our alliance with Australia by focusing on common regional security challenges and pursuing new areas of cooperation. Our revitalized alliance, re-orientated to the needs of the 21st Century, is helping sustain a robust forward p