New Pacific Strategy Builds on Partnerships, Commander Says
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 30, 2009 Partnership, readiness and presence are the cornerstones of the U.S. Pacific Command’s new strategy, its commander said at a meeting of the Atlantic Council think tank here last night.
“The guns have largely been silent in our area of responsibility,” Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said. “For that, we’re immensely grateful.
“But we wanted to take what got us where we are and try and catapult it five, 10, 20 years into the future,” he added. The countries in Pacom’s area of responsibility have room for growth, and in some cases, potential for bad behavior, the admiral said. “But in many more cases than not,” he said, “[there is opportunity for] cooperating and collaborating to ensure more peace and more stability in the region.”
That is why leaders of U.S. Pacific Command, which covers 36 countries accounting for roughly half of Earth’s surface, decided a year ago to rewrite its strategy, the admiral said.
Keating described it as an ambitious undertaking. The first tenet, he said, is partnership.
“We’re convinced that building upon the very strong bilateral relationships and alliances in our [area of responsibility is essential],” he said, referring to Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. “Increasingly, we see opportunities for including elements across the dime, so to speak: diplomatic, intelligence, military, energy and the environment.
“We’re looking to cobble all this together in an increasingly tightly woven fabric that emphasizes multilateralism and the ability we have as the predominant military power in the region to provide some rudder, some guidance, [and] in some cases, leadership,” he added.
Keating used India as an example of an improved partnership. In the mid-1980s, the country’s reaction to a visiting U.S. military official was lukewarm at best. A recent visit was completely different, he said.
The Indian government was more willing to talk about engagement and partnership with the United States, and it is participating in military exercises more robustly than before, including a recent trilateral exercise in the Sea of Japan.
“We think that this is a great example of partnership and the benefits we can all derive from increased dialogue, increased cooperation, and increased understanding of what we are all about” in the Pacific area, he said.
As for readiness, having enough forces isn’t enough if they can’t get out and participate in exercises and respond to the president’s or defense secretary’s military operational directives, he said.
Keating cited Cobra Gold, an annual exercise in Thailand. For this year’s exercise, the 35th in the series, five countries participated and 10 others sent observers, including India and China. Participation has never been more vigorous or spirited, the admiral said.
The “presence” piece of the new strategy exalts the virtue of getting out into the area of responsibility, not conducting business virtually through teleconferencing, secure calls and the like, Keating said.
“You’ve got to get honest-to-goodness grime underneath your fingernails and work with the folks in this very large area of responsibility,” he said, “so that they can develop an intense understanding of what we, the United States of America, offer.”
Through understanding of what the United States has to offer, many of the countries in the Pacom area of responsibility have come to view the United States as an indispensable partner, he said.
“We don’t necessarily want you with us every minute of every day, in our country, on our soil, in our water, or in the air overhead, but we’d like you nearby,” Keating said is the prevailing view in the region. “We want you to be able to come when we need you. We want our young men and women to go to school with you, preferably in the United States.”
Keating said he and other Pacific Command leaders hope the new strategy builds a simple, but not easy, way to ensure peace and stability in the region.