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Remarks by Deputy Secretary Carter at the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue Panel Discussion, Jakarta, Indonesia

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter
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. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important conference of world defense leaders focused on the Asia Pacific region and I share the view of the central importance of this region to the world. 

            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 for the Pacific region. 

            Secretary Panetta was out here before he left office. President Obama has made recent visits. Secretary Clinton, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon -- each of them in their own way was emphasizing the same thing, the central importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the United States and our commitment to making sure that this 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, will be attending Shangri-La. 

            I came here to the region to visit with our troops of course who are performing superbly, but second and more importantly to make sure that our forces and our allies and partners in the region understand that we’re serious about our defense commitments to the Asia-Pacific region and that we’re 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, which are my responsibility. Before I do that let me place the so-called rebalance in a broader strategic context. 

            We in the United States in the defense sphere are 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 is finished and one that will wind down to an enduring presence over the next two years. We’re turning that corner strategically and focusing our attention on the challenges and opportunities that will define the 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. 

            But 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 60 years. This has been true despite the fact that there’s no formal overarching security structure, no NATO, to make sure that historical wounds are healed. And in that environment of peace and stability which this region has had, democracy and prosperity have had their time. During that time, first Japan rose and prospered, then South Korea rose and prospered, and then many nations of 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 this 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. 

            They are 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’re 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’s not aimed at anyone or any individual country or group of countries. 

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

            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 will be assigned to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020, a substantial and historical 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, bomber forces; 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 which I just came. 

            We’re modernizing and updating our alliances with Japan and South Korea. In Japan, we’ve added aviation capability, we are in the process of realigning the Marine Corps presence in Okinawa, and we are upgrading our missile defense posture. We are working to revise the defense guidelines with Japan to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 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 Adviser 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 –- the key first step toward using this presence to engage in bilateral and multilateral exercises with partners in the region. 

            In the Philippines, we’re 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 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 have we worked so hard to develop over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are giving priority in our investments, in our budget, to the development platforms and capabilities that have direct applicability and use in this region. 

            These investments include the Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine, fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighters, 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 the rebalance. 

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

            Fourth, finally and most importantly, we are revitalizing and expanding our partnerships across the region. That’s the key. I’ve mentioned the work we are doing with Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines, but we’re 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 and conduct maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

            With China, we’ve invited China to participate in the RIMPAC exercise which we host and are delighted to have their participation in what will be a strengthening and growing military-to-military relationship with China, which matches and follows our growing political and economic relationship with China. 

            And 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 21st century. 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 and toward 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 national law. 

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

            So there’s so much that goes into the rebalance, and let me close by noting that there are those who have a 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, many of you know and I therefore put facts against theory, and let me tell you why the 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 its political and economic presence. This presence is accompanied by values -- 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 the region will be both believed and reciprocated. 

            Second, some who wish to question the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific theater point to the current and seemingly endless -- to me -- debate in Washington about the U.S. budget. 

            Now I’m interested to hear this question because I’m more accustomed to hearing people who wish to question our defense budget by pointing out that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 16 largest militaries in the world combined. That’s the question I usually get. And this statistic is true and won’t change. 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 it ignores the amount of responsibility that the U.S. and its friends and allies share to provide for peace and security. 

            You all may have heard about something called sequester and may 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 can take budget adjustments. 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 cuts are temporary, lasting through October of this year. Sequester, this 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 perhaps one or two percentage points by improving the efficiency of the defense budget. Even if the drastic sequester were extended for a decade, which is an extreme outcome, U.S. defense would be cut by fewer than 10 percentage points. This is the range under debate in the United States today. None of these political scenarios changes the math I just described. The rebalance is not in jeopardy for budget reasons. 

            Now as I said, these budget numbers are useful, people use them freely, but they overlook some key additional factors. Much more important than the number of dollars 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 a great weight of effort from these wars to our stabilizing presence in the Asia-Pacific region. This weight has accumulated over decades of U.S. defense spending. This is how long it takes to build such a capability. 

            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, to 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, growing 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 we look forward to doing it with all of you represented in this room. 

            Thank you.