U.S. Following Through on Pacific Rebalance, Hagel Says
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, Jun. 1, 2013 The United States is committed to a strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and aims to strengthen its ties in the region, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told an audience of Pacific leaders here today.
Hagel spoke at the first full day of the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, named for the Singapore hotel that serves as the annual venue for the gathering. This year defense ministers, military chiefs and other senior government leaders are representing some 27 countries at the conference.
The secretary said U.S. ties to the region are unbreakable, but need to be “renewed and reinvigorated after a decade of war in the Middle East and Central Asia.” He added, however, that the rebalance should not be misinterpreted.
“The U.S. has allies, interests and responsibilities across the globe. The Asia-Pacific rebalance is not a retreat from other regions of the world,” the secretary said. But, he added, developing nations, technologies and security cooperation, along with trade, energy and environmental issues all point toward the region’s strategic significance.
Hagel listed what he called “a range of persistent and emerging threats” in the region. These include, he said:
-- North Korea’s nuclear weapons, missile programs and continued provocations;
-- Land and sea disputes over natural resources;
-- Natural disasters, poverty and pandemic disease;
-- Environmental degradation;
-- Illicit trafficking in people, drugs and weapons, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and
-- Disruptive activities in space and cyberspace.
To address those challenges, he said, America and Asia-Pacific nations must “strengthen existing alliances, forge new partnerships, and build coalitions based on common interests to ensure this region’s future is peaceful and prosperous.”
Hagel said the U.S. commitment to the region is demonstrated by its investments, its relationships with other Pacific nations, and its support for developing regional institutions that “evolve from talking about cooperation to achieving real, tangible solutions to shared problems, and a common framework for resolving differences.”
Hagel said the Obama administration is rebalancing diplomatically and economically by increasing funding for diplomacy and development in Asia; providing new resources for regional efforts that improve water management, disaster resilience and public health; and fostering trade and investment through work with regional institutions.
The Defense Department plays an important role in securing the rebalance, he noted.
While future U.S. defense budgets will be lower than during the Iraq and Afghan wars, he said, “Even under the most extreme budget scenarios, the United States military will continue to represent nearly 40 percent of global defense expenditures.”
Hagel noted he recently directed a Strategic Choices and Management Review to assess Pentagon spending priorities. While the results are not complete, he said, “I can assure you that coming out of this review, the United States will continue to implement the rebalance and prioritize our posture, activities and investments in Asia-Pacific.”
That emphasis already can be seen, he said, as Army and Marine units return to home stations in the Pacific theater, and the Army’s designation of its 1st Corps as regionally aligned to the Asia-Pacific.
Hagel added that the Navy will forward-base 60 percent of its assets in the Pacific by 2020, and the Air Force has allocated 60 percent of its overseas-based forces, including tactical aircraft and bomber forces from the continental United States, to the Asia-Pacific.
“The Air Force is focusing a similar percentage of its space and cyber capabilities on the region,” Hagel added. “These assets enable us to capitalize on the Air Force’s inherent speed, range, and flexibility.”
DOD will use its capabilities to strengthen regional partnerships, he said. He noted that last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced at the forum that the U.S. Navy would rotate up to four littoral combat ships through Singapore.
“In recent weeks, the first of those ships, the USS Freedom, arrived to begin a busy schedule of regional maritime engagements,” he noted. “I look forward to visiting the ship tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, he added, the second company-sized rotation of U.S. Marines recently arrived in Darwin, Australia, to deepen cooperation with that treaty ally and other regional partners. Hagel said that eventually, 2,500 U.S. Marines will deploy to Australia each year.
The five-year defense budget plan now before Congress prioritizes the rapidly deployable resources needed to secure a vast region largely covered by water, he said, “Such as submarines, long-range bombers, and carrier strike groups, that can project power over great distance and carry out a variety of missions.”
He added the region will see more such advanced capabilities in the future, “As we prioritize deployments of our most advanced platforms to the Pacific, including the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter deployments to Japan, and a fourth Virginia-class fast attack submarine forward deployed to Guam.”
Further over the horizon, Hagel said, the U.S. will bring to the region developing capabilities “that will enhance our decisive military edge well into the future,” including the Navy’s recently tested carrier-launched remotely piloted aircraft. He also said that next year, for the first time, the Navy will deploy a solid-state laser aboard a ship, the USS Ponce.
“This capability provides an affordable answer to the costly problem of defending against asymmetric threats like missiles, swarming small boats and remotely piloted aircraft,” the secretary said.
America’s allies and partners must be able to trust the nation’s commitment, Hagel said. He outlined separate U.S. defense initiatives underway with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand to support that goal.
Trilateral cooperation in the region is also promising, he said, with growing interaction among the United States, Japan and South Korea, as well as among the United States, Japan and Australia.
The department is also exploring trilateral training opportunities including jungle training between the U.S. and Thailand that could expand to incorporate South Korea, he said. Similarly, he added, the United States is working to build trilateral cooperation with Japan and India.
“Here in Singapore I look forward to building on our practical collaboration under the U.S.-Singapore Strategic Framework Agreement, which has guided security cooperation not only in this region, but in the Gulf of Aden and Afghanistan as well,” he said.
Hagel described additional U.S. defense partnership initiatives with New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Burma. And with India, he said, “We are moving beyond purely defense trade towards technology sharing and co-production.”
The U.S. vision for the Asia-Pacific region is an open and inclusive one, the secretary said. He added that rising powers such as India, Indonesia and China “have a special role to play in a future security order as they assume the responsibilities that come with their growing stake in regional stability.”
A positive, constructive relationship with China also is an essential part of America’s rebalance to Asia, Hagel said.
The United States welcomes and supports a prosperous and successful China, he said, and supports China’s participation in regional and global economic and security institutions.
Hagel praised China and Taiwan’s efforts to improve cross-strait relations, adding, “We have an enduring interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
The U.S. and China differ on human rights, Syria and regional security issues in Asia, Hagel acknowledged, but added such differences are best addressed as part of a continuous and respectful dialogue.
“I am pleased that the dialogue between our armed forces is steadily improving,” Hagel said. He listed positive developments over the course of the past year, including a series of visits between defense and political leaders and increased military exercises involving U.S. and Chinese forces.
While such bilateral progress is pleasing, Hagel said, maintaining regional stability will require multilateral institutions that can provide critical platforms and opportunities for countries to work together.
Hagel announced today that during meetings this weekend, he will invite defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to “provide another opportunity for us to discuss a shared vision for a dynamic, peaceful, and secure future for the region.”
Maintaining peace and security in the region requires adherence to established principles of open commerce; rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law; open access to sea, air, space and cyberspace domains; and resolving conflict without the use of force.
“Unfortunately, some nations continue to dismiss these values and pursue a disruptive path – most notably, North Korea,” he said.
The United States has made clear, he said, “that we will take all necessary steps to protect our homeland and our allies from dangerous provocations, including significantly bolstering our missile defense throughout the Pacific.”
No country should conduct “business as usual” with a North Korea that threatens its neighbors, Hagel said.
“We are working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to strengthen our posture and ability to respond to threats from North Korea,” he said. “The prospects for a peaceful resolution also will require close coordination with China.”
Hagel then addressed the issue of competing territorial claims in the East and South China seas. The United States does not take a position on sovereignty in such cases, he said, but has an interest in how such disputes are settled.
“The United States stands firmly against any coercive attempts to alter the status quo,” Hagel said. “We strongly believe that incidents and disputes should be settled in a manner that maintains peace and security, adheres to international law, and protects unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight.”
Hagel said he is encouraged by recent moves toward developing a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Turning to cyber issues, Hagel said he will attend a series of NATO ministerial meetings next week, during which cyber will be an agenda item.
“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” the secretary noted.
The United States and China have agreed to establish a cyber working group, Hagel said. “We are determined to work more vigorously with China and other partners to establish international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace,” he added.