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The Rise of Asia and New Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region

As Prepared for Delivery by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here in Jakarta with you.  I want to thank the Indonesian Ministry of Defense and the Indonesian Defense University for establishing this forum and for giving us the opportunity to participate in this important conference of world defense leaders focused on the Asia-Pacific region.   

I have been going to the Shangri-La Dialogue for a very long time, and I know many of you have as well.  I’m sure John Chipman is going to call me up and complain about having a competitor now with Shangri-La, but I think this is a good thing for Indonesia to have started.

This is my second trip to the Asia-Pacific region since President Obama announced a new strategic concept for the United States, and I’d like to describe that and its relevance to the Asia-Pacific region.  And it follows recent visits to the Asia-Pacific by President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon – all of whom were emphasizing the very same thing: the central importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the United States and our commitment to making sure that the region remains safe, secure, and prosperous. 

Next month, Secretary Kerry will be making his first trip to Asia as Secretary of State.  And Secretary Hagel, who as a Senator led the first U.S. congressional delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue, is staunchly committed to this region as well, and will be attending Shangri-La.

I came here to the region to visit with our troops of course, who are performing superbly, but second, to make sure that our forces and our allies and partners in the region understand that we are serious about our defense commitments to the Asia-Pacific region – that we are not just talking the talk but walking the walk. 

Of course the rebalance is mostly a political and economic concept, not a military one.  But I’m the Deputy Secretary of Defense, so naturally, I’m going to concentrate on its military aspects.

Before I describe how we are implementing our defense rebalance in greater detail, let me begin by placing it in a broader strategic context.

We in the United States are currently embarked upon a great strategic transition as we turn the corner from a decade of necessary and very intense preoccupation on two wars of a particular kind in Iraq and Afghanistan, one that has finished, and one that will wind down to an enduring presence over the next two years.  We are turning that corner strategically and focusing our attention on the challenges and opportunities that will define our future.

We know what many of those challenges are: continued turmoil in the Middle East, enduring threats like weapons of mass destruction and a range of new threats in new domains like cyber.   

We also see great opportunities – the most consequential of which is to shift the great weight of the Department of Defense – both intellectual and physical – to the Asia-Pacific region to reinforce our longstanding commitments here.

The logic of our rebalance is simple: the Asia-Pacific theater has enjoyed peace and stability for over sixty years.  This has been true despite the fact that there is no formal, overarching security structure, no NATO, to make sure that historical wounds are healed.  And during that time, first Japan rose and prospered, then South Korea rose and prospered, then many nations in Southeast Asia rose and prospered.  And now, China and India rise and prosper.  And that’s a good thing.

None of this was a foregone conclusion when you consider where the Asia-Pacific region was at the end of World War II.   While the Asian political and economic miracle was realized, first and foremost, by the hard work and talent of the Asian people, it was enabled by the enduring principles that the U.S. has stood for in the region, which we believe are essential to peace, prosperity, and security.

These include a commitment to free and open commerce; a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law; open access, by all, to the shared domains of sea, air, space, and now, cyberspace; and the principle of resolving conflict without the use of force.

It was also enabled by the pivotal role of U.S. military power and presence in the region.  We believe that our strong security presence in the Asia-Pacific has provided a critical foundation for these principles to take root.  And we intend to continue to provide this foundation for decades to come.  Our partners in the region welcome our leadership and our robust engagement, and we are committed to answering their call.  It’s good for us, and it’s good for everyone in the region.  And it includes everyone in the region.  It is not aimed at anyone – no individual country, or group of countries.

With this background, let me turn now to the specific elements of our defense rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

First, our rebalance means that a higher proportion of our assets will be in the region.  Secretary Panetta announced last year that 60 percent of our naval assets would be assigned to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020 – a substantial and historic shift. 

The Air Force, for its part, will increase its posture and presence in the region by 2017, to include tactical aircraft like the F-22; space, cyber, and bomber forces; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets like the MQ-9 Reaper, the U-2, and the Global Hawk.

And we will be able to leverage more capacity from our ground forces – including Army, Marines, and Special Operations Forces, now that they are coming home to the Pacific from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also, we are modernizing and enhancing our forward presence across the region in cooperation with our allies and partners.  Let me start with Northeast Asia, from where I just came.

We are modernizing and updating our alliances with Japan and South Korea.  In Japan, we have added aviation capability, we are in the process of realigning the Marine Corps presence in Okinawa, we are upgrading our missile defense posture, and we are working to revise the defense guidelines to meet the challenges of the 21stcentury.  On the Korean Peninsula, we are implementing the Strategic Alliance 2015 and taking important steps to advance the alliance’s military capabilities to meet the North Korean threat.

Beyond Northeast Asia, we are enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region as well.  In this regard, I think it’s important to underscore, as National Security Advisor Donilon did last week, that we are not only rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific but also within the Asia-Pacific, in recognition of the growing importance of Southeast Asia to the region as a whole – emphasizing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, capacity building, and multilateral exercises.

In Australia, for example, our first company of Marines rotated through Darwin last year – a key first step towards using this presence to engage in bilateral and multilateral exercises with partners in the region. 

In the Philippines, we are working on ways to enhance the capacity of the Philippines Armed Forces and to increase our rotational presence and partnerships with this key treaty ally.

In Singapore, the first of our four Littoral Combat Ships will be arriving in early April, providing a key capability to work bilaterally and multilaterally with our partners in the region.

These are but a few examples of how we seek to expand our presence here.

Next, while we will preserve and integrate the counter-insurgency capabilities that we have worked so hard to develop over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are giving prioritization in our investments in our budget to the development of platforms and capabilities that have direct applicability and use in the Asia-Pacific region. 

These investments include the Virginia-class nuclear powered submarine, the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, the Broad Area Maritime Sensor, a new stealth bomber, the KC-46 tanker replacement, cruise missiles, and ISR platforms.

We are also protecting our investments in future-focused capabilities that are so important to this region, such as cyber, science and technology investments, and space

In addition to investing in technical capabilities, we are also investing in our people: in language and culture skills, regional and strategic affairs – to ensure that we cultivate the intellectual capital that will be required to make good on our rebalance.

And with regard to our military installations and infrastructure, we’re making critical investments in training ranges and bases such as in Guam, which we are developing as a strategic hub for the Western Pacific.

Fourth, finally, and most important, we are revitalizing our defense partnerships across the region.  I’ve already mentioned the work we are doing with Japan, Korea, Australia, and the Philippines, but we are doing many other things in other parts of the region as well.

For example, last November, we worked with our treaty ally Thailand to update the U.S.-Thailand Joint Vision Statement for the first time in 50 years. 

With New Zealand, the signing of the Washington Declaration and associated policy changes have opened up new avenues for defense cooperation in areas such as maritime security cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping support.

In Burma, we have resumed limited military-to-military relations and are working to ensure the Burmese military supports Burma’s ongoing and dynamic reforms.

With the Vietnamese, we are expanding our cooperation – as set forth in a new memorandum of understanding – in maritime security, search-and-rescue, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, we are similarly working to build partner capacity to conduct maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

With China, we have invited the Chinese to participate in the RIMPAC exercise which we host, and we are delighted that they have accepted.  We seek to strengthen and grow our military-to-military relationship with China, which matches and follows our growing political and economic relationship.

Finally, India – a key part of our rebalance, and, more broadly, an emerging power that we believe will help determine the broader security and prosperity of the 21stcentury.  Our security interests with India converge on maritime security and broader regional issues, including India’s “Look East” policy.  We also are working to deepen our defense cooperation – moving beyond purely defense trade towards technology sharing and co-production.

Multilaterally, we recognize the importance of strengthening regional institutions like ASEAN that play an indispensable role in maintaining regional stability and resolving disputes through diplomacy.  In this regard, we have made attendance at key ASEAN ministerial meetings a priority for our secretaries, especially the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus.

We strongly support ASEAN unity and we applaud the efforts of ASEAN member nations and China to develop a binding code of conduct that would create a rules-based framework for regulating the conduct of parties in the South China Sea.   Our position is clear and consistent: we call for restraint and for diplomatic resolution; we oppose provocation; we oppose coercion; and we oppose the use of force.  We don’t take sides when it comes to competing territorial and historical claims, but we do take the side of peaceful resolution of disputes in a manner consistent with international law.

We are deeply engaged in exercises planned this year, including a humanitarian and disaster relief exercise that will be hosted by Brunei, a counterterrorism exercise that we are cosponsoring with Indonesia, and a maritime security exercise co-chaired by Malaysia and Australia.

So there is so much that goes into the rebalance.  Let me close by noting that there are those who have concern about, and perhaps some who have hope for, a theory that the U.S. rebalance will not be lasting, or that it’s not sustainable.

I’m a physicist, and I therefore put facts against theory, and let me tell you why this theory doesn’t fit the facts.

The rebalance will continue, and in fact gain momentum for two reasons.

First, U.S. interests here are enduring, and so also will be our political and economic presence.  This presence is accompanied by values of democracy, freedom, human rights, civilian control of the military, and respect for the sovereignty of nations that America has long stood for, and that human beings welcome and I think can relate to.

So our interest in staying in the region will, we believe, be reciprocated.

Second, some who wish to question the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific theater point to the current, seemingly endless debate in Washington about the U.S. budget.  I’m interested to hear this because I’m more accustomed to hearing people who wish to question our defense budget pointing out that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 16 largest militaries in the world combined.  This statistic is true and won’t change much in coming years.  One might add that most of the rest of the money spent by countries on their militaries is spent by countries that are allies and friends of the United States. 

All this is true, but critics of it ignore the amount of responsibility that the U.S. and its friends and allies share for providing peace and security.

You all may have heard of something called sequester and wonder whether it will change these facts in a significant way.  It won’t, and here’s why:

Sequester was never intended to be implemented and is very disruptive because it gives us very little managerial flexibility in where we take budget adjustments this year. But wherever we have flexibility, we are favoring and protecting the rebalance. 

The main point that those of you in Asia watching the sequester debate and learning, perhaps for the first time, what the word means is that these arbitrary cuts are temporary, lasting through October of this year.  The sequester mechanism is an artificial, self-inflicted political problem, not a structural problem.   The turmoil and gridlock will end and the U.S. can get back to normal budgeting.

When we do, Congress and the President will decide what our budget will be.  President Obama has been clear about holding defense spending steady or reducing it by a few percentage points, largely by improving the efficiency of defense spending.  Even if the drastic cuts that began with sequester this year were extended for a decade, which is an extreme outcome, U.S. defense would be cut somewhere around ten percentage points.  This is the range under debate in the United States today.

None of these political scenarios changes the math I described earlier.  The rebalance is not in jeopardy.

Now, as I said, these budget numbers are useful, but they overlook some key additional factors.

Much more important than the number of dollars we are given is how we use those dollars, and this also contributes to the rebalance.  The end of the war in Iraq and the reduction in Afghanistan allow us to shift the great weight of effort from these wars to our stabilizing presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Next, this weight has accumulated over decades of U.S. defense spending, so you have to look at investments over time.  It takes decades to build such a military capability.

And probably most importantly, another feature of the U.S. military today is that its operational experience is unrivaled, including such attributes as the ability to work constructively with partners, fuse intelligence and operations, to operate jointly among services, and to support forces with logistics – all of these skills honed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For these reasons – enduring values and increasing military power – the United States can and will succeed in rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific in the years to come As we succeed in this endeavor, we look forward to working with all of you represented in this room.

Thank you.

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