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Gates Urges Asian Nations to Work Together for Security

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Nov. 9, 2007 – The U.S. security shield in the Pacific has improved the lives of billions of people, and the United States will remain committed to the region even as the alliance that guarantees that security changes, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told students at Sophia University here today. (Video)

Gates, ending a trip to East Asia, used the speech to list challenges facing peace in the region and to ask Japan to do more to lead both in the region and around the globe.

Japan and other Pacific nations must do more collectively to guarantee security and stability, the secretary said. The United States has good bilateral relationships with many nations in the region, said Gates, who arrived in Japan after visiting South Korea and China. “We are working with South Korea to establish a new vision and force posture that goes beyond the current security situation on the Peninsula and meets the future global needs of both nations,” he said.

The U.S. alliance with Australia is growing and changing, he said. “A newer and welcome development is that Australia is taking a larger role in regional and global security affairs with their leadership role in East Timor and their deployments in recent years to the Middle East and Central Asia,” Gates said.

The U.S. relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy, has morphed “from an uneasy co-existence during the Cold War to a growing partnership today,” the secretary said.

The U.S. military is not standing still in the region either. New American capabilities and improved military infrastructure are helping address new threats and placing capabilities where they will do the most good in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, the secretary said.

While bilateral ties with these countries are valuable, multilateral ties are better. Gates quoted U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer as saying Asia’s security architecture reflected a “hub and spoke” model, with the U.S. as the hub and the spokes being the different countries. “The U.S. alliance system has been the cornerstone of peace and security in Asia for more than a generation,” Gates said. “These alliances are enduring and indispensable. But we would like to see more engagement and cooperation among our allies and security partners, more multilateral ties rather than hubs and spokes.”

He said the trilateral dialogue among the United States, Japan and Australia is a good start.

The region needs these ties because no one nation can overcome the threats by itself. “Terrorism and violent extremism are a threat to the very fabric of international society, and Asia is not immune” Gates said.

As examples he cited the extremist group that launched a sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists bombing a nightspot in Bali in 2002, and Abu Sayyaf attacking targets in the Philippines. Indonesia has had running problems with extremist groups, as well. “The terrorists have learned to exploit the strengths of modern societies -- our technologies and infrastructure -- and, in the case of democracies, our freedoms and openness, as well,” he said.

Playing a bigger role in security matters does not necessarily mean building huge armies, navies or air forces. Gates said the international strategy in the region should not be to build bigger and stronger shields, but to address root causes of instability. “Failed states halfway around the world can have serious implications at home,” he said.

Instability in the Middle East, from which Japan imports 80 percent of its oil, would have a devastating effect on the world’s second-largest economy, he said.

The proliferation of nuclear and missile technology and the possibility that extremists may get their hands on nuclear material other major threats that instability nourishes. “The United States knows we cannot block the flow of these weapons on our own,” Gates said, “which is why we work with partners to improve physical security, interdict shipping and employ sanctions when necessary.” The Proliferation Security Initiative is showing results in Asia, the secretary said.

Responding to and alleviating the results of calamities like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or 2005 Pakistan earthquake are security concern as well as a humanitarian priority for the United States. “The United States is committed to assisting Asian nations in their time of need, and we are working with partners to prepare and fine-tune our collective response before disaster strikes,” Gates said.

While there has not been a major conflict in Asia for three decades, Northeast Asia is one of the last places on Earth with a potential for nuclear confrontation, Gates said. The United States is working with Japan, China, Russia and South Korea to pressure North Korea to denuclearize. “These talks have had a stabilizing effect on the region in the aftermath of the North’s missile and nuclear tests of 2006,” he said. “We now have a mechanism in place to forge cooperation on the long standing problems of North Korea’s behavior and nuclear ambitions.”

The rise of China and the re-emergence of Russia certainly complicate the strategic landscape, the secretary said.

Gates told the students that he does not see China as a strategic adversary to the United States. “It is a competitor in some respects and partner in others,” Gates said.

He noted that during his visit to Beijing, he urged the Chinese to be more transparent and candid in their strategic military motivations. “A lack of transparency carries the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation and naturally prompts others to take action as a hedge against uncertainty,” Gates said.

The U.S. relationship with Russia is another that needs to overcome distrust and doubt, he said. Reaching out to the Russians to convince them of the need for ballistic nuclear defense is important for stability in the region and globally. “Our proposal to pursue partnership with Russia in this area was real and sincere,” he said. “We look for Russia to be equally innovative and forthcoming.”

Gates concluded with a discussion on the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Since the United States and Japan signed a mutual defense treaty in 1960, Japan has been a stalwart ally through the Cold War. During the Gulf War, Japan sent no troops but did pay for military operations. “At the time, Japan was criticized by some for what was called ‘checkbook diplomacy,’” Gates said.

Since then, Japan has found more direct ways to contribute to regional and global security. Japan has sent its Self-Defense Force to Afghanistan and Iraq. The Maritime Self-Defense Force provided an oiler and a destroyer to refuel coalition vessels in Indian Ocean.

“Japan has an opportunity and an obligation to take on a role that reflects its political, economic and military capacity,” Gates said. “That is why the United States strongly supports Japan becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.”

The United States also expects Japan will chose to accept more global security responsibilities in the years ahead, he said.

The U.S.-Japan alliance is changing, and leaders in both countries need to ask what they can do to secure mutual interests. They need to ask if the two countries collectively or individually have the capabilities, mechanisms and infrastructure to face new threats. “The security landscape of the present and foreseeable future will be complex,” he said. “Your generation will face many challenges, but it will also have undreamt opportunities, perhaps unseen yesterday, barely apparent today. What will remain constant is the partnership of shared interests and values between our two nations.”

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Robert M. Gates

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