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Cohen Outlines U.S. Security Interests in Asia

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan. 15, 1998 – The U.S. military presence in Asia should be broadened and deepened, yet not increased in the region above the current level of about 100,000 troops, Defense Secretary William Cohen said here Jan. 12.

Cohen spoke to the Pacific Dialogue, a group for Southeast Asian and U.S. political and business leaders he helped found when he was a U.S. senator. He said the current Asian financial crisis heightens the need for the United States to maintain and bolster its military presence as a signal of the U.S. commitment to East Asia.

"Our ships need ports of call, repair and sustainment," Cohen said. "Our forces need a variety of training opportunities to maintain readiness, and they need logistical support to be ready to respond to regional contingencies."

The secretary said opportunities for U.S. military forces to train and operate with Asian forces is critical to America's engagement strategy in Asia. "These relationships not only deepen the relationships between our militaries and our defense officials," he said, but they "support our multifaceted military presence. They allow us to understand and to trust each other more, and thus create more opportunities for greater security and stability."

Citing past cooperative efforts of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the secretary said the United States looks to these nations to keep the United States anchored in the region. He called for enhanced military-to-military exchanges, improved access and greater defense policy dialogue.

The secretary used his upcoming visit to China as an example of the kind of agreements he seeks with other Asian countries. Cohen is scheduled to sign an agreement in Beijing Jan. 19 establishing a means for naval exchanges between the United States and China that will include ports-of-call.

He also cited earlier agreements -- with Australia, to revitalize the alliance and reorient it to the needs of the Asia-Pacific region in the 21st century, and with Japan. In September 1997, Japan and the United States approved revised guidelines for defense cooperation, under which "we will take practical and substantive steps to prepare our alliance for the challenges of the future, from providing humanitarian relief to responding to regional crises that affect Japan's security," Cohen said.

"These challenges do not require more forces, but they do require more flexibility, which the revised guidelines provide. And they ensure that, just as it has for the last half century, the U.S.-Japan alliance will underpin the stability in the Asia Pacific region that has been the basis for the region's remarkable economic growth over the years."

Not only is the United States concerned with bilateral relationships in the region, but multilateral cooperation as well, Cohen said. "Over a period of only a few years, multilateral fora have become an important and permanent feature of the regional security architecture, and ASEAN's activism in this has been essential," he said.

To be successful, however, multilateral mechanisms must be built on solid bilateral relationships and a U.S. forward presence, Cohen said.

"Indeed, given the high stakes involved, security structures, no less than financial structures, must be built on a solid foundation, not shifting sands," he said.

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