Dempsey: Asia-Pacific is of Global Strategic Import
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 7, 2012 Just back from his first major trip to Southeast Asia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he laid out the context and rationale there for the Defense Department’s rebalance to a region that is of strategic consequence to the world.
During a Pentagon press briefing here today, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told reporters he had positive visits with counterparts in Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.
Along with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, the chairman participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue, a conference that brought together key defense officials from 10 Asia-Pacific nations.
“Economic, demographic and military trends mean that prosperity and security will increasingly depend on how that expansive region evolves,” Dempsey said.
The department’s aim in the Asia-Pacific, specified in the new defense strategy as a region critical for the future, is “to be … partnered with nations and have a rotational presence that allows us to build up common capabilities for common interests in the region because we think that'll be stabilizing,” the chairman added.
Neither the strategy nor the rebalancing is intended to contain China, he said.
“It seems to me to be somewhat evident that the strategic challenges of the future -- whether those are economic challenges, whether they're demographic challenges, whether they're military challenges -- are migrating to the Pacific,” Dempsey said.
“By virtue of the size, the scope, the scale of populations and economies, that is the region of the world where we all ought to be engaged,” he added. “And we all ought to be engaged with the intent of avoiding confrontation.”
That’s the message he and Panetta carried into the Pacific, Dempsey said.
Repositioning forces is not the essence of the department’s rebalancing. Rather, he said, it involves “what I think of as three mores -- more attention, more engagement and more quality.”
Attention means a greater investment of intellectual capital and engagement is made possible by making forces in the region more available, he said.
“Engagement is how we build trust and how we prevent misperceptions that can lead to conflict,” the chairman said.
“We'll strengthen our traditional relationships and develop new partnerships by expanding both the scope and scale of our interactions throughout the region,” Dempsey said, “for example with multilateral exercises, force posture and rotational deployments and continued personnel exchanges and dialogue with our counterparts.”
Quality is an evolution in the department’s priorities, he added.
“What we decide to bring to the region matters as much, perhaps more, than how much we bring. This means that as the rebalance evolves, we'll make available our most advanced ships, our fifth-generation aircraft and the very best of our missile defense technology as we work with our partners,” Dempsey said.
Even more important than hardware he added, “we will bring to bear our human capital.”
In the Philippines, an example of the successful role of human capital is the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in Mindanao.
It is a small joint team of roughly 400 men and women from every service -- active, Guard and Reserve -- “built around a core of U.S. special operating forces who have been, over time, building the capability of the Philippine armed forces to counter the [Jemaah Islamiyah] and [Abu Sayyaf Group] threats that exist in Mindanao. Enormously successful,” Dempsey said.
The task force is helping Philippine counterparts conduct network offensive kinetic operations against counterinsurgents along with civil-military operations.
“They're out there, our counterparts in the Philippines, building schools and helping with small local economic projects. And what's beginning to happen is that … the Philippine military is beginning to rise in stature with people who heretofore wouldn't allow them anywhere near their neighborhoods,” the chairman said, offering an example of their work.
Two special operating forces in the joint task for were killed in 2010 by a roadside bomb on their way to a school project, he said.
“The people of the village have now petitioned the government of the Philippines to allow them to name that school after those two American soldiers,” Dempsey said.
“You can't buy that kind of good will. You have to sacrifice to earn it,” he added. “And I think those kinds of JTFs … certainly are the mark of what will make our strategy work.”
Dempsey said he received only positive feedback on the department’s overall approach to the region from leaders there.
They “ … welcome our commitment to the region and look forward to working together toward a more secure and prosperous future,” the chairman said. “I share their optimism. I see far more opportunity than liability.”