Forty-nine years ago this month, as a young soldier, I landed at Naha port in Okinawa. I and my fellow soldiers were part of the 1541st Engineer Base Survey Company, which was a small part of the army of occupation of Japan.
I shall never forget the scene of devastation that I saw when our LST [landing ship, tank] landed. Not a building was intact in the entire city of Naha or any other part of southern Okinawa, where the last great battle of the Pacific War took place. The island was stripped bare of almost all vegetation and livestock. People were living in caves, and over 160,000 combatants and civilians had been killed.
Last week in Hawaii, we commemorated the sacrifices of that war and celebrated the 50 years of peace that followed it. Last week, I also met with Japanese Defense Minister [Seishiro] Eto. As we discussed ways to strengthen our alliance, I was struck by how far we have come. Fifty years ago, our troops were locked in combat. Today, they stand side by side as a compelling testament to the wisdom of our leaders, to the power of our national interests and to the commitment of Americans and Japanese alike.
In World War II, over 50 million died and tens of millions more were maimed, orphaned or made homeless. A future world war truly risks the annihilation of humanity. So today, as during the Cold War, reducing that risk must be the first priority of national security planning.
Thankfully, now that the Cold War has ended, the threat of worldwide nuclear conflict is greatly diminished. But as this threat has receded, the threat of regional conflicts has grown. These regional conflicts can be enormously costly in blood and treasure, as demonstrated by the Korean War, Vietnam and Desert Storm. 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 the threat, these nations are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Because of this changed security environment, it is important to rethink our regional strategies, both in the context of keeping the threat of a global nuclear confrontation at a minimum and in preventing regional conflicts. Our strategy in the Pacific since the end of the Second World War has been to keep a strong military presence in the region and to maintain firm alliances with our friends. This strategy has been successful, allowing us to defeat aggression, deter war and guarantee the peace.
But some critics argue that our military presence and security alliances are relics of the Cold War. The most extreme among them say that we should pull back our forces from the region, terminate our agreements that provide security for our allies and allow normal balance-of-power politics to fill the security vacuum. This is a seductive line of thought, but it has dangerous consequences.
For years, the U.S. provided a secure environment which allowed the Asian Pacific nations to build their economies rather than their national defense structures. Our military presence helped foster phenomenal economic growth by providing a foundation of peace and stability. This allowed economic growth that benefited the region, but also benefited the United States.
If we were to withdraw our military forces from the region, this would all change. Countries will be forced to rethink their needs, with building up defense structures at or near the top of the list. Rapid growth of military structures, plus historic animosities, would be a volatile mix that could quickly destabilize the region, destroying the foundations of economic prosperity and dramatically increasing the risk of regional conflict.
This scenario would have serious consequences for U.S. interests. Five of our states border the Pacific, and Hawaii is right in the middle of the region. Over 7 million Americans trace their ancestry to the region, which gives all of us a growing interest in the Asian Pacific. And the economic effects of withdrawal would be devastating to the U.S. economy. East Asia is the world's most dynamic economic region. Already, more than 50 percent of U.S. trade is with Asia, and that trade has helped generate 3 million U.S. jobs. For all intents and purposes, our economy has become interdependent with those of East Asia. Thus our vital interests dictate that we will be increasing rather than decreasing our connection with East Asia.
A less extreme argument of critics is that we should reduce the need for our presence by the creation of multilateral security structures. In fact, we attach high priority to multilateral security dialogues, which we view as confidence-building measures, and not as replacements for our bilateral alliances. But we do not seek multilateral security structures in this region.
Structures imply formal organizations, including shared commitments to a common defense plan. During the Cold War, we saw such a structure -- NATO -- come into being in Europe. But the impetus for such a security structure was missing from the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War and is still missing. Instead, it is evident that protection of our interests must rely on U.S. leadership. The best way to prevent or deter conflict is for the U.S. to remain fully engaged in its leadership role by maintaining our forward presence, reinforcing alliances, developing bilateral and multilateral relationships and by developing dialogues that promote confidence- and security-building measures.
The biggest challenge to this strategy that we face today is on the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea is a clear security threat to the region. North Korea spends 25 percent of its GNP [gross national product] on the military, compared to 3 percent in the U.S. and South Korea, and 1 percent in Japan. Its army stands at 1 million men, two-thirds of it within 100 kilometers of the DMZ [demilitarized zone]. And it has missiles deployed or under test that can target all of South Korea and Japan.
The good news is that our traditional alliance with South Korea remains strong and is getting stronger. We saw just how close our two countries have become when our presidents unveiled the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall this past summer. The unveiling was testament to the roots of our friendship and to our longstanding commitment to freedom and democracy.
This commitment continues to be tested by North Korea. In 1993, North Korea began threatening to withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, to reprocess spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor and to vastly expand its dangerous nuclear program. This would give it fuel for about five or six nuclear bombs right away and dozens more in the years to come.
We took this threat so seriously that even at the risk of war, we were prepared to use sanctions against North Korea if they did not agree to stop the reprocessing. It was U.S. leadership and the resolve of our friends and allies which forced North Korea to back down and accept the framework agreement.
The agreement goes a long way to keeping tensions on the Korean Peninsula at manageable levels, because it takes nuclear weapons out of the security equation. It also casts into bold relief another key security player in the region -- namely China.
I happened to be visiting the Chinese minister of defense during the North Korean nuclear crisis. As it turned out, this crisis would show me just how compatible our interests are with China's. While I was there, I told the Chinese leadership that we saw the North Korean nuclear program as a serious danger to regional security. And they agreed. I told them that I thought the North Koreans were about to go ahead with reprocessing the nuclear fuel, and I asked them to use their influence with the North Koreans. This was on a Monday. On Tuesday, the North Koreans agreed to halt their program, and in the end they met our terms. It is not clear to me what specific influence the Chinese had. What is clear to me is that on this and other important security issues, China sees our two sets of interests as compatible.
That is why we need to constructively engage with China. We will not ignore China's record on human rights nor its sale and testing of dangerous weapons. But we will also not try to isolate China over these issues. We cannot isolate the world's largest population, one of the world's largest and fastest growing economies, a strong military force in the region and the world, and a nation that borders areas of instability where our interests are very much at stake.
There is a lot to gain from engaging with China. Through engagement we can address a broad range of global and regional security concerns. Our military-to-military contacts put us in touch with the highest levels of the PLA [People's Liberation Army], who have great influence in China. And by working to improve relations with China, we are also working to reduce tensions between the three great powers on the Asian continent -- China, India and Pakistan.
The relationship between these three powers has long been one of fear and mistrust. While India worries about the threat from Pakistan, it also keeps a strong force because it feels threatened by China. And Pakistan keeps a strong force as a deterrent against India's forces. What makes this tension truly worrisome is the potential for nuclear weapons use in the event of a conflict. Our relations with China are crucial in reducing tensions between these three regional powers.
One recent concern that has been expressed in both China and the United States is our relationship with Taiwan. The administration is committed to carrying out the Taiwan Relations Act, which helps Taiwan in its self-defense. At the same time, our actions will continue to be consistent with our "one China" policy and the Shanghai communiques.
But no relationship is more important to our East Asian security strategy than our alliance with Japan. This alliance was crucial during the Cold War. And now that the Cold War is over and we are faced with new security challenges everywhere, it remains the cornerstone of our strategy in the region.
A year ago, in light of the changing security picture, Japan and the U.S. began a security dialogue to review the basis for our relationship. That review is not quite finished yet, but one thing is certain: Both countries recognize that our close partnership is vital to the economic and political health of the region and the world.
We are two of the world's most powerful democracies. We have the world's two largest economies, and we share a common goal of seeing prosperity and freedom flourish around the globe. And by working together, we have made real progress towards achieving these goals. Our cooperative efforts have helped keep the lid on regional conflicts, guaranteed freedom of the seas, reduced the risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and promoted democracy, respect for human rights and free markets.
Japanese-American cooperation has underpinned peace and stability throughout the region. And the future security of the region depends on our continued friendship and cooperation. At the summit in November, both countries will have provided for that future by committing in a security statement to even closer bilateral cooperation, by working to expand our contributions to regional security and through mutual support for global security initiatives.
Japan is clearly committed to an even closer security relationship with the U.S. It continues to support our forward presence in the region, both for its own security and the security of its neighbors. The most tangible measure of this support is Japan's commitment to provide over 70 percent of the cost of keeping our troops on its soil. This helps our readiness, because basing troops overseas is very expensive, far more expensive than basing them at home. And it serves the U.S. national interests, by keeping the region stable and secure so that U.S. goods and ideas can flow freely.
But our presence is only one factor in keeping regional stability. Japan also plays a key role in the security of the region. The framework agreement that halted North Korea's nuclear program could not have been reached without Japan's willingness to help provide North Korea with safe nuclear reactors. Japan has also been an active player in regional security dialogues, helping build foundations for confidence and cooperation in an area marked by a history of conflict.
As Japan continues to contribute to regional security, it is also increasing its role in global security initiatives. Just a few years ago, Japanese law did not permit participation in peacekeeping operations. Today, Japan has a very successful record of operations in Cambodia, Mozambique and Zaire. And this winter, Japan's troops will join the nations that are keeping the peace on the Golan Heights.
The U.S. strongly supports Japan's global security initiatives, and we stand ready to help it pursue these initiatives as desired by the people of Japan. We also support Japan's bid for a U.N. Security Council seat as another important step in Japan's evolving participation in global security.
As President Clinton has said, our relationship with Japan is like a three-legged stool with security, economic and political legs. My job is to keep the security leg strong, and I can say with confidence that our alliance is as solid as ever. Both our countries are committed to keeping U.S. forces in the region for years to come. We have common perspectives on creating the foundation for regional security, and we support Japan's increased role in international security issues as good for Japan and good for the world.
Clearly, the Asian-Pacific region is making tremendous advances towards a permanent peace and stability. Old relationships are being strengthened and new ones are being formed -- all in the interest of preventing conflict and sowing the seeds of cooperation and trust. The U.S. will continue to help in any way we can, but especially by continuing to prevent conflict by encouraging dialogue and openness, and by providing a forward presence to deter aggression. It is our presence that the countries of the region consider a critical variable in the East Asia security equation as the most important factor in guaranteeing stability and peace.
Our third President, Thomas Jefferson, once said, "Where liberty dwells, there is my country." Liberty has found a home throughout the Asian and Pacific regions, and the United States is pledged to being there to protect and secure that liberty for all who desire its blessings.
Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/index.html.