Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
Commonwealth Club of California
and World Forum of Silicon Valley
Friday, February 23, 1996
Nearly 50 years ago, as a young soldier, I landed at the port of Naha in
Okinawa. I and my fellow soldiers comprised the 1541st Engineering Company
which was a small part of the army of occupation of Japan. Never shall I
forget the scene of devastation that I saw when our LST landed at Naha. Over
160,000 combatants and civilians had been killed in this last great battle of
the Pacific, and the evidence was all around in the southern half of the island
where we landed. It was stripped bare of vegetation and livestock, hardly a
building was left intact. This was my personal experience with the horrors of
World War II which left 50 million people dead and hundreds of millions of
Our national experience with the horrors of World War II taught us an
important lesson. Because as horrible as World War II was, we knew that a
World War III with nuclear weapons would be even more horrible. Indeed, would
threaten the extinction of humanity. Therefore, we vowed not to repeat the
errors that were made at the end of the first World War. At that time, the
European victors sought revenge and reparation. The Americans simply
disengaged and a new war resulted in less than one generation.
So after World War II with this lesson in mind, the United States and its
allies sought to prevent a future war by holding out a hand of reconciliation
and economic assistance to our former enemies. In Japan and in Europe, these
-- most notably the Marshall Plan -- were an outstanding success. The
Japan and western Europe rebounded. Democracy drew deep roots. And this
formed the basis for military cooperation with western European and Japan which
lasts to this day.
But Joseph Stalin rejected the Marshall Plan both for the Soviet Union and for
the eastern European countries which he dominated. So our preventive efforts
with the Soviet Union failed. Ironically, the preventive efforts worked with
the former enemies but did not work with our allies in the war. So, instead
the Cold War ensued and for more than 40 years, all of us lived with the threat
of nuclear holocaust. Because having failed to prevent the conditions, the
conflict, the United States then fell back to a strategy of deterrence. And
for the next 40 plus years, deterrence worked and World War III was averted.
But finally, largely as a result of the fundamental flaws in its political and
economic system, the government of the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw
Pact along with it. And the newly independent states sought to establish
governments based on democracy and a free market system. I have to concede
that the outcome of this unprecedented transformation is still quite uncertain.
But today, the threat of worldwide nuclear conflict has receded. The former
Warsaw Pact nations are seeking to join NATO. And Russia and the United States
are seeking to cooperate both in the economic field and in the security
Clearly, deterrence and warfighting capabilities still have to remain central
to America's Post-Cold War security strategy. But they cannot be our only
approaches in dealing with the threats to our security. Instead, the dangers
facing us today point us towards the greater role for what I will call
preventive defense. Just as preventive measures helped shape our security
environment following World War II, preventive measures can help us deal with
the post-Cold War dangers. Indeed, the end of the Cold War allows us to build
on the types of preventive measures introduced by George Marshall in Western
Europe, and extend them to all of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
There are few places where preventive defense is more important than in the
Asia-Pacific region. Because conflict, real or threatened, would jeopardize
the tremendous gains we have made in building stability, economic success, and
security in the region.
In this region, preventive defense is built on four pillars: alliances,
regional confidence building, constructive engagement with China, and a
framework agreement with North Korea. I'll describe each of these briefly
because they are the pillars on which our security strategy is built in the
The first pillar of preventive defense rests on our alliances with Japan and
Korea. These should never, never be taken for granted. Last year, the
horrible incident in Okinawa provoked questions in Japan about the importance
of the U.S.- Japan alliance, with some in Japan calling it a relic of the Cold
War. They are wrong. Both the United States and Japan know that our close
partnership is vital to the economic and the political health of the region,
indeed, of the world. By working together, the United States and Japan have
made real progress towards our shared goal of seeing prosperity and freedom
flourish around the globe. Our cooperative efforts have kept a lid on regional
conflict, guaranteed freedom of the seas, and they have reduced the risk of the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And finally, they have promoted
democracy, respect for human rights and free markets. The security and the
stability of this entire region absolutely depends on our continued alliance
with Japan. This coming April, our two Presidents will sign a joint security
declaration reaffirming this central truth.
In addition to our relationships with Japan and Korea, we have security
interests that are shared by countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
That is why the second pillar of our preventive defense strategy includes the
promotion of multilateral initiatives -- initiatives that can serve to reduce
tension and promote peace throughout the region. These initiatives include
joint military training and joint peacekeeping operations. They include
institutions such as ASEAN and the ASEAN regional forum, where we can air and
address mutual interests and concerns.
To advance these very multilateral security institutions, I invited defense
delegations from 34 Asia-Pacific nations to join me in Hawaii last fall for the
commemoration of the ending of World War II. That same weekend, we cut the
ribbon on the Asia-Pacific Security Center in Honolulu, where civilian and
military personnel from all across the region will meet and learn together.
This Asia-Pacific Center will be a counterpart to the Marshall Center in
Germany. That center is helping to build a web of security relations in
eastern and central Europe. These contacts build trust, understanding and
One way for the Asia-Pacific defense leaders to participate in this web of
security relationships is by convening a regional defense ministerial where our
defense leaders can meet and discuss security issues we all share, and get to
know one another. This event could be modeled after the Defense Ministerial of
the Americas, which the United States hosted last summer for all 33 democracies
of the hemisphere. It was a real success, and it led to greater confidence,
understanding and cooperation among the militaries of our hemisphere. We can
do the same thing in the Asia-Pacific region.
The third pillar of our preventive defense strategy, and one which is most
controversial today, is constructive engagement with China. This constructive
engagement has been a consistent policy of the United States for more than 20
years under six Presidents of both parties. It will remain our policy because
China is playing an increasingly important role in the security of the region,
indeed, in the security of the world. It is not hard to see why.
China, of course, is the world's most populous country with perhaps the fourth
largest economy in the world. China is already a major military power and is
engaging in an ambitious military modernization program. It is also a nuclear
power, and it has a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. All of these
factors together lead to an inescapable conclusion that China is a power of
global significance, not simply of regional significance.
It is a fundamental fact that U.S. and Chinese interests will be sometimes in
harmony and sometimes in conflict. Our policy has been to take both of these
into account, both the times when we're in harmony and the times when we're in
conflict. We believe that through a healthy, honest dialogue we can work
together when our mutual benefit is served, and we can work to reduce tensions
when our interests conflict.
We do not choose engagement as a favor to China. We choose engagement as a
favor to ourselves to promote our own national security interests. Engagement
provides an avenue to influence China, to help curb rather than exacerbate the
spread of weapons of mass destruction. Engagement provides an avenue to
influence China to play a stabilizing role in unstable countries in the world
where we have a profound security interest, such as the Korean Peninsula.
Engagement opens lines of communication for the Peoples Liberation Army, which
is a major player in Chinese politics. By engaging the PLA directly, we can
help promote more openness in the Chinese national security apparatus in its
strategic intent, procurements, budgeting and operating procedures -- all of
the components that make up the Chinese national security institution. This
will not only help promote confidence among Chinese neighbors, it will lessen
the chance of misunderstandings or incidents when our forces operate in areas
where Chinese military forces are also deployed.
Critics in the United States of this policy -- and we have many of them -- say
that instead of engaging China we should contain China just as we did with the
Soviet Union during the Cold War. These critics see a strong, growing China as
an implacable threat to the United States, and believe that we must oppose
China at every turn. They go on to assume that since containment implies
opposing China at every turn, that engagement must mean accommodating China at
This line of argument is flawed. It's flawed in the practical sense, since
containment could actually undermine our security. A China that feels
encircled by a United States containment policy is quite unlikely to cooperate
on U.S. vital security objectives. And containment could actually create those
security problems for the United States. It could push China to accelerate its
defense modernization, which in turn would contribute to a regional arms race,
increasing the likelihood of military conflict in regional hot spots like
Taiwan, the Spratly Islands and the Korean Peninsula.
Containment could also lead the United States and China to close their markets
to each other and set back our efforts to persuade nations throughout the
region to open and not to close their markets. And finally, containment would
only provoke reflective and intractable Chinese opposition to those U.S.-led
security initiatives in the U.N. and other multilateral bodies.
The containment argument is also flawed philosophically because it presumes
that engagement equals appeasement. That idea is dead wrong. Engagement is
not appeasement. Engagement does not mean that the United States simply
acquiesces to the policies or actions with which we disagree, such as China's
ongoing human rights violations. We will not acquiesce to those. But on the
other hand, we will not try to isolate China over those issues. You can not
isolate a country with more than a billion people.
Engagement recognizes that the best way for changing China's policies that we
don't like is through diplomacy and dialogue. And it recognizes that even when
we strongly disagree with China, we can not make our entire relationship
hostage to a single issue, that we still have security reasons for maintaining
lines of communication.
Engagement also does not preclude us from pursuing our interests with all
appropriate instruments of our national power. Indeed, while we are committed
to engagement, we are not committed to engagement at any price. It is
important for audiences on both sides of the Pacific to understand both sides
of that sentence.
In short, our policy of engagement is founded on neither faith nor idealism.
It is instead rooted firmly in reality and in self interest. And it recognizes
that seeking to contain and confront China can only slow down the pace of
positive change that is occurring there.
So, I believe that engagement is in our self interest. But I also believe
that it is in China's self interest. But for engagement to work, China's
leadership also must see it that way. It takes two to tango. It takes two to
engage. Our policy
accepts China at its word when it says that it wants to become a responsible
world power. But China sends quite the opposite message when it conducts
missile tests and large military maneuvers off of Taiwan, when it exports
nuclear weapons technology, or it abuses human rights. It is time for China to
start sending the right messages.
For our part, the United States has tried very hard to send China the right
message. We have reaffirmed that we have no intention of advocating or
supporting a policy of two Chinas, or a policy of one China, one Taiwan. We
have a one China policy and it rests on three legs. The first leg,
Washington-Beijing relations, is built around this constructive engagement I've
described and based on the Shanghai communiqués. The second leg is
Washington-Taipei relations, which include helping Taiwan defend itself as
called for in the Taiwan Relations Act. And the third leg is a promotion of
healthy Beijing-Taipei relations based on increased trade, investment, and
other peaceful activities across the Taiwan Strait, which benefit both China
and Taiwan and indeed, the regional economy and unity.
Inherent in each of these three legs is dialogue, dialogue which serves to
diminish tension and misunderstanding over perceived slights or unwelcome
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of Beijing and Taipei to determine the
future of Taiwan, but this must be done peacefully. It is in the abiding
interest of Beijing, Taipei and Washington that relations maintain a healthy
peaceful course without provocation or overreaction by any capital, and to
continue to follow China's maxim of "patience and caution" in dealing with
Taiwan. Indeed, it is the abiding interest of every capital throughout the
Asia-Pacific region that one of the region's greatest powers is stable and at
The fourth pillar of our preventive defense strategy is to prevent nuclear
proliferation in the Asia-Pacific region. In the spring of 1994, North Korea
was prepared to process plutonium from its resource reactor at Yongbyon. This
would have allowed it to extract enough plutonium to make five or six nuclear
bombs, and it threatened to do so, all the time making menacing public remarks
aimed at South Korean and Japan. One of these famous remarks was a statement
that they would turn Seoul into a "sea of flames."
A group of nations led by the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan
insisted that North Korea stop its nuclear program or face severe economic
sanctions. North Korea responded by stating that the imposition of sanctions
would be considered by them to be equivalent to an act of war. Therefore, as
we prepared in the spring of 1994 to impose these sanctions, the United States
made plans to make a major increase in its military deployments in South Korea.
I have vivid recollections of the meeting in the Cabinet room where we
presented to the President the requirement for additional troop deployments in
Korea. That turned out to not be necessary because of the firm resolve in the
United States and Japan and South Korea, resolve that convinced North Korea to
reverse course and sign the Agreed Framework. This agreement froze the North
Korean nuclear program and drew the region back from the brink of conflict.
That was a year and a half ago. Since then, our relations with North Korea
have remained rocky, but the North Koreans have abided by the Agreed Framework
and have sustained a freeze on their nuclear weapons program.
Taken together, these four pillars of our preventive defense strategy in the
Asia-Pacific have created the conditions that minimize the threat of war. But
preventive defense cannot by itself assure our security. We are still faced
with dangers and potential threats that require us to maintain military forces
powerful enough to be a persuasive deterrent, or if deterrent fails, powerful
enough to fight and win.
We continue, for example, to maintain a nuclear deterrent to protect against
the danger that a major nuclear threat to the United States might reemerge in
the future. And we maintain a powerful conventional military force, the most
powerful military force in the world today, I believe. That should be capable
of dealing with any major regional conflict with which it would be confronted.
Past regional conflicts have been enormously costly in blood and in treasure
as is demonstrated by the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm. And today,
medium sized countries -- North Korea, Iraq, Iran -- driven by virulent
nationalism and armed with modern weapons can cause enormous damage to their
neighbors. And to compound this threat, these nations are seeking to acquire
weapons of mass destruction.
Thus, our vital interests dictate that the United States maintain a strong
deterrent force and we maintain a strong security presence in the Asia-Pacific
region. A key, an absolute key, to our deterrent strategy is our forward
military presence, which includes about 100,000 U.S. military personnel in the
Asia-Pacific region. We keep about 80,000 ground and Air Force personnel in
Japan and in Korea, and 20,000 to 30,000 naval personnel in a powerful fleet in
the Western Pacific.
These forces supplement the large and competent military forces of Japan and
South Korea, and any potential aggressor knows that they are backed up by a
large and a highly ready force in the United States along with the airlift and
the sealift that can project this force anywhere in the world.
These military forces provide a security umbrella that protects the entire
region. It is the damper on regional arms races and a damper on nuclear
weapons proliferation. And it is America's presence in the Asia-Pacific region
that is the most important factor in guaranteeing its peace and stability.
Indeed, it has been rightly said that the stability and security that our
forces in the Western Pacific provide is the oxygen that helps fuel the engine
of the Pacific economic growth.
John Milton once wrote "Peace hath its victories no less renowned than war."
Today, the Pacific is at peace. The victory of this peace has provided a
renowned opportunity to ensure freedom, security, and prosperity for the new
century. The duty to seize this opportunity lies in each of our nations: in
the words of our leaders, in the works of our diplomats, in the halls of our
universities, and in the hearts of each of us.