Pacific Engagement Fosters Better Understanding
By Ian Graham
Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2011 Senior U.S. military leaders met recently with their counterparts from across the Asia-Pacific region to discuss how military-to-military agreements and increased security cooperation can foster better relationships and bolster commerce and trade.
The leaders gathered Oct. 17-20 in Honolulu to attend the 14th annual Chiefs of Defense Conference. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael A. Keltz, U.S. Pacific Command’s director of strategic planning and policy, discussed the conference at a Nov. 16 DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable.
With operations in Afghanistan drawing down and troops leaving Iraq this year, Keltz said, the U.S. military is strengthening its relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, and Pacom is repositioning its forces.
A major part of that mission, Keltz said, is the movement of U.S. Marines to Australia for training. Next year, rotations of 200 to 250 Marines will begin deploying to Australia’s Northern Territory. Over the next several years, the number of Marines deployed there will grow to 2,500.
Moving troops to Australia, the general said, demonstrates America’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.
Until now, Northeast Asia -- primarily Korea and Japan -- have been U.S. focal points in the region, he added.
“It’s a rotational concept in which we will just not focus on the northeast Asia portion,” Keltz said, “but [also] start to spread out through all of Asia as we have been doing quietly, but a little bit more openly now.
“A lot of our partner nations, he continued, “have asked us for more specific help in certain areas” such as maritime securities, fishery problems, and enforcing exclusive economic zones.
Solving long-standing issues in the region will help curb international crime, including terrorism, and enable the U.S. military to help allies quickly should disaster strike, Keltz said.
“Our challenges deal more with building partnerships and partnership capacities,” he said, “as they deal with illicit trafficking, drug trafficking, counterterrorism, being able to help our partners in the Pacific with maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief.”
Pacom has special capabilities thanks to its area of responsibility, Keltz said. It covers a wide region and requires land, air and sea forces to carry out its mission. New agreements to have a Navy presence in Singapore and the new Marine station in Australia increase its versatility, he added.
“We do have … quite frankly, the luxury of being able to react very quickly being able to move forces internally within the Pacom area of responsibility,” Keltz said. “Being able to have Marines in the southeastern Asia area, especially when it comes to both humanitarian response, disaster response, a presence or need, or in conjunction with exercises with our allies or other partner nations, having them there gives us incredible flexibility.”
Recent natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, the general said, have shown how important it is for regional governments to work together. Diplomacy isn’t limited to departments and ministries of state, he said, adding that having processes and people in place to provide aid following earthquakes, floods and other contingencies benefits the region culturally, militarily and economically.
Military-to-military, diplomatic and economic engagement between the United States and Asia-Pacific nations is important, Keltz said, “so that we can understand each other better, which decreases the potential for a misunderstanding or a miscalculation.”
Such an approach, “just reinforces how important mil-to-mil engagements are,” he added.