Remarks by William J. Perry
Secretary of Defense
Pacific Basin Economic Council, Washington, D.C.
May 22, 1996
Nearly 50 years ago as a young soldier, I landed at the Port
of Naha in Okinawa. I was in 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. Not a building was intact where this last great
battle with the Pacific was fought. The southern half of the
island was stripped bare of vegetation and livestock. One
hundred sixty thousand combatants and civilians had been killed
and many of the survivors were still living in caves.
This was my personal exposure to the horrors of World War II
in which 50 million people died and tens of millions were maimed,
orphaned or made homeless. At that time, the United States
resolved that we would not make the mistake which we made after
World War I, where our disengagement from the world was followed
by a new war in less than one generation. Consequently, we chose
the path of engagement. We sought from that engagement to
prevent the conditions of conflict from recurring.
This strategy of preventive defense caused us to be leaders
in the creation of the United Nations. It also caused us to
promote a post-war program of reconstruction and reconciliation
with our former enemies. This program, most notably the Marshal
Plan, was an unprecedented act of a victor nation reaching out a
hand to the vanquished. It was a resounding success. Our former
enemies -- Germany, Japan, Italy -- not only recovered but went
on to become allies.
But Joseph Stalin rejected the Marshall Plan for the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe, and we were soon in the Cold War where
deterrence, not prevention, was our over-arching security
strategy. This strategy of deterrence caused us to maintain a
strong nuclear arsenal, a large standing Army in Europe, and a
powerful fleet in the Pacific.
Now that the Cold War is over, our security still requires
us to maintain strong military forces to deter, and if necessary,
to defeat those who threaten our vital national security
interests. And we do maintain such strong military forces. But
today, we are also once again able to put a strong emphasis on
Preventive defense may be thought of as analogy to
preventive medicine. Preventive medicine creates the conditions
which support health and when successful, makes disease less
likely and surgery unnecessary. Preventive defense creates the
conditions which support peace and when successful, makes war
less likely and deterrence unnecessary.
Today, I want to talk to you about our strategy of
preventive defense in the Asia Pacific region. This strategy is
based on four pillars: strong alliances; regional confidence
building; comprehensive engagement with China; and
counterproliferation. I will talk about each of those four
The first pillar of preventive defense is our strong
alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand,
and the Philippines. These alliances remain the linchpin of our
regional security strategy and the principal contributors to
stability in the Asia Pacific region.
I want to first focus on the U.S./Japan alliance because
last month, the United States and Japan concluded the most
important summit since the end of the Cold War. The Joint
Security Declaration signed by President Clinton and Prime
Minister Hashimoto was an historic reaffirmation of our security
alliance. It ensured that the U.S./Japan security relationship
will not only survive to the end of this century, but will endure
to help shape the next century.
The road leading to this summit was not easy. It was, in
fact, quite difficult because it led through Okinawa. I want to
tell you about this lead up to the summit because I think it says
a lot about the overall maturity and soundness of our alliance.
Last year, the brutal rape of the 12-year old Okinawan girl
by three U.S. servicemen became a catalyst for many Japanese to
question the importance of the U.S./Japan alliance, with some
calling it a relic of the Cold War. To deal with the crisis
caused by this horrible incident, we jointly with the Japanese
set up a Special Action Committee on Okinawa to recommend
significant changes in the way American forces live and operate
in Okinawa. The goal was to reduce the burden on the Okinawan
people while at the same time maintaining the readiness of U.S.
forces in the region.
It would have been easy to reduce the burden by giving up on
readiness. But we all realized that readiness was critical to
maintaining regional security, and everyone realized that you
could not eliminate the burden. Freedom is not free.
After six months and dozens of meetings of the Special
Action Committee and its working groups, we had agreed to the
return of over 20 percent of the land now being used by U.S.
forces. We agreed to new restrictions on flight noise levels,
night flying, artillery fire, and military use of public roads.
The end result of these measures will be a much smaller footprint
from the U.S. presence in Okinawa, and a real positive impact on
the lives of many individual Okinawans. All of this with no
sacrifice of military capability or readiness.
This agreement removed a very important barrier to
reaffirming the U.S./Japan security alliance. But by itself, it
did not provide the basis for reaffirming the alliance. The
basis for reaffirmation came from the consensus on strategy that
emerged from the whole ordeal. In a sense, the tragic incident
in Okinawa served as a wake-up call for both the United States
and Japan. It cast in sharp relief issues that had been lurking
in the background for security relations for years, and it caused
a lot of soul searching in both countries.
America looked inside its heart and saw that there was no
reason why we couldn't change the way we did business in Okinawa.
Japan looked inside its heart and saw more clearly the strategic
basis for continuing the alliance. Both sides made a re-
evaluation from first principals on why American troops were in
Japan at all. There was a clear recognition that American troops
were not in the region for the convenience of the United States;
that they are in the region because both the United States and
Japanese governments believe they are an essential element in
preserving the security and stability of the Asia Pacific region.
And it was their recognition of this strategic principal that led
to the successful April summit.
The Joint Security Declaration reaffirms the need for
maintaining U.S. troops at a strength of about 100,000 in the
region, including the current levels in Japan. And it reaffirms
Japanese support to these troops. It commits both sides to
thoroughly review the guidelines for our security cooperation,
and commits Japan to study what role it can play in supporting
the United States in future regional crises. Overall, the summit
renewed confidence in the durability of the alliance, and
promised greater partnership and reciprocity in the relationship.
As two of the world's most powerful democracies and the two
largest economies, the United States and Japan share a common
goal of seeing prosperity and freedom flourish around the globe.
Our cooperative efforts have kept the lid on regional conflicts;
guaranteed freedom of the seas; reduced the risk of proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction; and promoted democracy, respect
for human rights, and free markets. The summit holds out the
promise of more achievements in all of these areas. It ensured
that the alliance will remain the cornerstone of stability
throughout the region.
Our alliance with the Republic of Korea -- forged in the
crucible of war of more than 40 years ago -- is also a key to the
peace and security of the region. In April, President Clinton
and President Kim met on Cheju Island to announce a proposal for
four-party peace talks. The proposal invites North Korea and
China to join the United States and South Korea in seeking a
permanent peace on the Korean peninsula. We are hopeful that the
North Koreans will respond positively to this proposal.
Besides our security relationship 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 multi-
lateral security initiatives designed to reduce tension and build
regional confidence. We encourage participation in joint
military training exercises and joint peacekeeping operations.
We also fully back multi-lateral institutions such as ASEAN and
the ASEAN Regional Forum, where nations throughout the region can
address mutual interests and concerns.
I am always looking for new ways to advance security
dialogues among defense and military establishments all over the
world and at all levels from sergeants to ministers of defense.
I believe that the web of official and personal ties that these
dialogues create builds trust, understanding, and cooperation.
NATO has been forming such a web in Europe with its Partnership
for Peace initiative, where 27 Partner nations are working
together with the 16 NATO nations.
In the Western Hemisphere, defense leaders from all 33
democracies last summer convened the first Defense Ministerial of
the Americas in Williamsburg, Virginia. I believe that it is
time for the defense leaders of the Asia Pacific region to begin
forming our own web of security ties modeled after the
Partnership for Peace or the Defense Ministerial of the Americas.
The third pillar of our preventive defense strategy is
engagement with China. Engagement with China has been a
consistent policy of the United States for more than 20 years
under six presidents from both parties. Engagement is not a
favor to China. It is a favor to ourselves -- to serve American
security interests, and more than incidentally the security
interest of the entire region. As President Clinton said when he
addressed you on Monday, Engagement means using the best tools
we have -- incentives and disincentives alike -- to advance core
As the Secretary of Defense, I support our strategy of
engagement because it provides an avenue to influence China to
help curb rather than exacerbate the threat of weapons of mass
destruction. Engagement also provides an avenue to influence
China to play a stabilizing role in unstable regions of the world
where the United States interests are very much at stake, such as
the Korean peninsula. Engagement opens lines of communication
with the Peoples Liberation Army which will significantly
influence in China on such issues as Taiwan, South China Sea, and
proliferation. By engaging the PLA directly, we will lessen our
chance of misunderstanding or incidents when our forces operate
in the areas where Chinese military forces are also deployed.
The President's decision to unconditionally extend the Most
Favored Nation, or MFN, status for China must be seen in this
overall context. The President's decision allows engagement to
go forward. Revoking or conditioning MFN would sacrifice the
advantages that engagement brings to the security, not just to
the United States, but to the Asia Pacific region. As the
President and Secretary Christopher has noted, revoking or
conditioning MFN would not advance human rights in China, but it
would damage our own economy as well as those of Hong Kong and
Taiwan. Over all, it would weaken our influence throughout a
region that looks to America as a force for security and
Some critics of the decision to extend MFN really want us to
follow a policy of containing China, much as we did with the
Soviet Union during the Cold War. These critics see a strong,
growing China as an implacable threat to U.S. interests and
believe that we must oppose China at every turn. These critics
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 just flawed. It is flawed in the
practical sense because containment would actually undermine our
security, not help it. It would push China to accelerate its
defense modernization contributing to regional arms races and
increasing the likelihood of military conflict in the region.
Containment would also lead the United States and China to close
their markets to each other, thereby setting back our efforts to
persuade nations throughout the region to open and not close
their markets. Finally, containment would only provoke reflexive
and intractable Chinese opposition to U.S. led security
initiatives in the U.N. and other multi-lateral bodies.
This containment argument is also flawed philosophically
because it presumes that engagement equals acquiescence. That
idea is dead wrong. Engagement does not mean that the United
States will acquiesce the policies or actions with which we
disagree, such as China's recent exercises in the Taiwan Strait
prior to the elections in Taiwan. Our response to these
provocative exercises made it quite evident that we will take
whatever actions are necessary to safeguard our interests. But
engagement does mean that we will not try to isolate China over
such actions. You can not isolate a country of more than a
The President's decision on MFN, like our overall decision
to pursue a policy of engagement with China, is founded on
neither faith nor idealism. It is instead rooted firmly in
reality and self-interest. Given the range of interests that the
United States and China share and the importance of China to our
future security, I enthusiastically second Secretary
Christopher's call for our two countries to hold periodic cabinet
level consultations. I know from my own personal experience that
these consultations go far towards improving trust and
The fourth pillar of our preventive defense strategy in the
Asia Pacific is to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction and their delivery systems. Our most notable success
is the 1994 Agreed Framework for ending North Korea's nuclear
weapons program. We arrived at this agreement through coercive
diplomacy. That is a combination of diplomacy and defense
measures. The diplomacy came from the threats used by the United
States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan to impose economic
sanctions if North Korea did not stop the nuclear weapon program,
and a promise of assistance in the production of commercial power
if they did. The defense came from our simultaneous efforts to
beef up all of our military forces in the region. That was
almost two years ago. Since then, our relations with North Korea
have remained rocky, but the North Koreans have abided by the
Agreed Framework. And they have sustained a freeze on their
Well, taken in aggregate, these four pillars of our
preventive defense strategy in the Asia Pacific have created the
conditions that minimize the threat of war. But while preventive
defense holds great promise for preventing conflict, we are still
faced with dangers and potential threats that require us to
maintain strong ready forces and the will to use them to deter
and defeat threats to our interests.
The United States maintains a smaller but still highly
effective nuclear arsenal. We have a robust ballistic missile
defense program to protect our troops, our allies, and ourselves.
And we maintain highly capable and highly ready conventional
military forces in the world, capable of dealing with major
regional conflicts. This includes about 80,000 ground and Air
Force personnel in Japan and Korea and 20,000 to 30,000 Naval
personnel in a powerful fleet in the Western Pacific. These
forces supplement the modern and competent military forces of
Japan and the Republic of Korea. And any potential aggressor
knows that they are backed up by a large, highly ready force from
the United States, along with the airlift and the sealift that
can project this force anywhere in the world.
This military force provides 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 that is the most important factor in
guaranteeing peace and stability in the region. Indeed, the
American military presence may be thought of as the oxygen which
has fueled the dramatic economic growth in the Western Pacific in
the last few decades.
More than 140 years ago, Commodore Matthew Perry, a man with
whom I share both the family name and a deep interest in the Asia
Pacific region, sailed his black ships into Okinawa, where he
spent the winter. And while there, he asked if the Okinawans
could donate something to the Washington Monument which was then
under construction. And he was given the bell of the Gogokugi
temple. This bell, which is three times older than America's
revere Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, did not end up in the
Washington Monument. Instead, it had a place of honor for almost
130 years in the U.S. Naval Academy until one of my predecessors
heard about its history and returned it to Okinawa as a gesture
of good will.
This story says a lot about the deep ties and friendship
between the United States and Japan. And it demonstrates the
kind of values that we want to foster throughout the Asia Pacific
region, values such as trust, mutual respect, and cooperation.
By building these shared values into the fabric of our
relationships, the nations of the Asia Pacific region can build a
better future, a future of peace, prosperity, and freedom. I
thank you very much.