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Preventive Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region
Prepared Remarks of Secretary of Defense William J. Perry , Pacific Basin Economic Council, Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 1996

Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 49-- Preventive Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region America's presence is a powerful deterrent to conflict and a guarantor of peace and stability in the Western Pacific. Indeed, that presence has been the oxygen fueling the region's dramatic economic growth.


Volume 11, Number 49

Preventive Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region

Prepared remarks of Secretary of Defense William J. Perry to the Pacific Basin Economic Council, Washington, May 22, 1996.


Nearly 50 years ago as a young soldier, I landed at the Port of Naha in Okinawa. I was in the 1541st Engineering Company, which was a small part of the army of occupation of Japan. Never shall I forget the scene of devastation that I saw when our LST landed at Naha. Not a building was intact where this last great battle with the Pacific was fought. The southern half of the island was stripped bare of vegetation and livestock; 160,000 combatants and civilians had been killed, and many of the survivors were still living in caves.

This was my personal exposure to the horrors of World War II, in which 50 million people died and tens of millions were maimed, orphaned or made homeless. At that time, the United States resolved that we would not make the mistake which we made after World War I, where our disengagement from the world was followed by a new war in less than one generation. Consequently, we chose the path of engagement. We sought from that engagement to prevent the conditions of conflict from recurring.

This strategy of preventive defense caused us to be leaders in the creation of the United Nations. It also caused us to promote a postwar program of reconstruction and reconciliation with our former enemies. This program, most notably the Marshall Plan, was an unprecedented act of a victor nation reaching out a hand to the vanquished. It was a resounding success. Our former enemies -- Germany, Japan, Italy -- not only recovered but went on to become allies.

But Joseph Stalin rejected the Marshall Plan for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and we were soon in the Cold War, where deterrence, not prevention, was our overarching security strategy. This strategy of deterrence caused us to maintain a strong nuclear arsenal, a large standing Army in Europe and a powerful fleet in the Pacific.

Now that the Cold War is over, our security still requires us to maintain strong military forces to deter and if necessary, to defeat those who threaten our vital national security interests. And we do maintain such strong military forces. But today, we are also once again able to put a strong emphasis on preventive defense.

Preventive defense may be thought of as analog[ous] to preventive medicine. Preventive medicine creates the conditions which support health and when successful makes disease less likely and surgery unnecessary. Preventive defense creates the conditions which support peace and when successful makes war less likely and deterrence unnecessary.

Today, I want to talk to you about our strategy of preventive defense in the Asia-Pacific region. This strategy is based on four pillars: strong alliances, regional confidence-building, comprehensive engagement with China and counterproliferation. I will talk about each of those four pillars.

The first pillar of preventive defense is our strong alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines. These alliances remain the linchpin of our regional security strategy and the principal contributors to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

I want to first focus on the U.S.-Japan alliance, because last month, the United States and Japan concluded the most important summit since the end of the Cold War. The joint security declaration signed by President Clinton and Prime Minister [Ryutaro] Hashimoto was an historic reaffirmation of our security alliance. It ensured that the U.S.-Japan security relationship will not only survive to the en of this century, but will endure to help shape the next century.

The road leading to this summit was not easy. It was, in fact, quite difficult, because it led through Okinawa. I want to tell you about this lead up to the summit because I think it says a lot about the overall maturity and soundness of our alliance.

Last year, the brutal rape of the 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three U.S. servicemen became a catalyst for many Japanese to question the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, with some calling it a relic of the Cold War. To deal with the crisis caused by this horrible incident, we jointly with the Japanese set up a special action committee on Okinawa to recommend significant changes in the way American forces live and operate in Okinawa. The goal was to reduce the burden on the Okinawan people while at the same time maintaining the readiness of U.S. forces in the region.

It would have been easy to reduce the burden by giving up on readiness. But we all realized that readiness was critical to maintaining regional security, and everyone realized that you could not eliminate the burden. Freedom is not free.

After six months and dozens of meetings of the special action committee and its working groups, we had agreed to the return of over 20 percent of the land now being used by U.S. forces. We agreed to new restrictions on flight noise levels, night flying, artillery fire and military use of public roads. The end result of these measures will be a much smaller footprint from the U.S. presence in Okinawa and a real positive impact on the lives of many individual Okinawans -- all of this with no sacrifice of military capability or readiness.

This agreement removed a very important barrier to reaffirming the U.S.-Japan security alliance. But by itself, it did not provide the basis for reaffirming the alliance. The basis for reaffirmation came from the consensus on strategy that emerged from the whole ordeal. In a sense, the tragic incident in Okinawa served as a wake-up call for both the United States and Japan. It cast in sharp relief issues that had been lurking in the background for security relations for years, and it caused a lot of soul searching in both countries.

America looked inside its heart and saw that there was no reason why we couldn't change the way we did business in Okinawa. Japan looked inside its heart and saw more clearly the strategic basis for continuing the alliance.

Both sides made a re-evaluation from first principles on why American troops were in Japan at all. There was a clear recognition that American troops were not in the region for the convenience of the United States, that they are in the region because both the United States and Japanese governments believe they are an essential element in preserving the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. And it was their recognition of this strategic principle that led to the successful April summit.

The joint security declaration reaffirms the need for maintaining U.S. troops at a strength of about 100,000 in the region, including the current levels in Japan, and it reaffirms Japanese support to these troops. It commits both sides to thoroughly review the guidelines for our security cooperation and commits Japan to study what role it can play in supporting the United States in future regional crises. Overall, the summit renewed confidence in the durability of the alliance, and promised greater partnership and reciprocity in the relationship.

As two of the world's most powerful democracies and the two largest economies, the United States and Japan share a common goal of seeing prosperity and freedom flourish around the globe. Our cooperative efforts have kept the lid on regional conflicts, guaranteed freedom of the seas, reduced the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoted democracy, respect for human rights and free markets. The summit holds out the promise of more achievements in all of these areas. It ensured that the alliance will remain the cornerstone of stability throughout the region.

Our alliance with the Republic of Korea, forged in the crucible of war of more than 40 years ago, is also a key to the peace and security of the region. In April, President Clinton and President Kim [Yong Sam] met on Cheju Island to announce a proposal for four-party peace talks. The proposal invites North Korea and China to join the United States and South Korea in seeking a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. We are hopeful that the North Koreans will respond positively to this proposal.

Besides our security relationship with Japan and Korea, we have security interests that are shared by countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region. That is why the second pillar of our preventive defense strategy includes the promotion of multi lateral security initiatives designed to reduce tension and build regional confidence.

We encourage participation in joint military training exercises and joint peacekeeping operations. We also fully back multilateral institutions such as ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the ASEAN Regional Forum, where nations throughout the region can address mutual interests and concerns.

I am always looking for new ways to advance security dialogues among defense and military establishments all over the world and at all levels from sergeants to ministers of defense. I believe that the web of official and personal ties that these dialogues create builds trust, understanding and cooperation. NATO has been forming such a web in Europe with its Partnership for Peace initiative, where 27 partner nations are working together with the 16 NATO nations.

In the Western Hemisphere, defense leaders from all 33 democracies last summer convened the first Defense Ministerial of the Americas in Williamsburg, Va. I believe that it is time for the defense leaders of the Asia-Pacific region to begin forming our own web of security ties modeled after the Partnership for Peace or the Defense Ministerial of the Americas.

The third pillar of our preventive defense strategy is engagement with China. Engagement with China has been a consistent policy of the United States for more than 20 years under six presidents from both parties. Engagement is not a favor to China. It is a favor to ourselves -- to serve American security interests and more than incidentally the security interest of the entire region. As President Clinton said when he addressed you on Monday, "Engagement means using the best tools we have -- incentives and disincentives alike -- to advance core American interests."

As the secretary of defense, I support our strategy of engagement because it provides an avenue to influence China to help curb rather than exacerbate the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Engagement also provides an avenue to influence China to play a stabilizing role in unstable regions of the world where the United States interests are very much at stake, such as the Korean Peninsula.

Engagement opens lines of communication with the People's Liberation Army, which will significantly influence in China on such issues as Taiwan, South China Sea and proliferation. By engaging the PLA directly, we will lessen our chance of misunderstanding or incidents when our forces operate in the areas where Chinese military forces are also deployed.

The president's decision to unconditionally extend the most favored nation, or MFN, status for China must be seen in this overall context. The president's decision allows engagement to go forward. Revoking or conditioning MFN would sacrifice the advantages that engagement brings to the security, not just to the United States, but to the Asia-Pacific region.

As the president and Secretary [of State Warren] Christopher [have] noted, revoking or conditioning MFN would not advance human rights in China, but it would damage our own economy as well as those of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Overall, it would weaken our influence throughout a region that looks to America as a force for security and stability.

Some critics of the decision to extend MFN really want us to follow a policy of containing China, much as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. These critics see a strong, growing China as an implacable threat to U.S. interests and believe that we must oppose China at every turn. These critics go on to assume that since containment implies opposing China at every turn, that engagement must mean accommodating China at every turn.

This line of argument is just flawed. It is flawed in the practical sense because containment would actually undermine our security, not help it. It would push China to accelerate its defense modernization, contributing to regional arms races and increasing the likelihood of military conflict in the region. Containment would also lead the United States and China to close their markets to each other, thereby setting back our efforts to persuade nations throughout the region to open and not close their markets. Finally, containment would only provoke reflexive and intractable Chinese opposition to U.S.-led security initiatives in the U.N. and other multilateral bodies.

This containment argument is also flawed philosophically because it presumes that engagement equals acquiescence. That idea is dead wrong. Engagement does not mean that the United States will acquiesce [to] the policies or actions with which we disagree, such as China's recent exercises in the Taiwan Strait prior to the elections in Taiwan. Our response to these provocative exercises made it quite evident that we will take whatever actions are necessary to safeguard our interests. But engagement does mean that we will not try to isolate China over such actions. You cannot isolate a country of more than a billion people.

The president's decision on MFN, like our overall decision to pursue a policy of engagement with China, is founded on neither faith nor idealism. It is instead rooted firmly in reality and self-interest. Given the range of interests that the United States and China share and the importance of China to our future security, I enthusiastically second Secretary Christopher's call for our two countries to hold periodic cabinet-level consultations. I know from my own personal experience that these consultations go far towards improving trust and cooperation.

The fourth pillar of our preventive defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific is to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Our most notable success is the 1994 agreed framework for ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program. We arrived at this agreement through coercive diplomacy. That is a combination of diplomacy and defense measures. The diplomacy came from the threats used by the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan to impose economic sanctions if North Korea did not stop the nuclear weapon program and a promise of assistance in the production of commercial power if they did.

The defense came from our simultaneous efforts to beef up all of our military forces in the region. That was almost two years ago. Since then, our relations with North Korea have remained rocky, but the North Koreans have abided by the agreed framework. And they have sustained a freeze on their nuclear program.

Well, taken in aggregate, these four pillars of our preventive defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific have created the conditions that minimize the threat of war. But while preventive defense holds great promise for preventing conflict, we are still faced with dangers and potential threats that require us to maintain strong ready forces and the will to use them to deter and defeat threats to our interests.

The United States maintains a smaller but still highly effective nuclear arsenal. We have a robust ballistic missile defense program to protect our troops, our allies and ourselves. And we maintain highly capable and highly ready conventional military forces in the world, capable of dealing with major regional conflicts. This includes about 80,000 ground and Air Force personnel in Japan and Korea and 20,000 to 30,000 naval personnel in a powerful fleet in the Western Pacific.

These forces supplement the modern and competent military forces of Japan and the Republic of Korea. And any potential aggressor knows that they are backed up by a large, highly ready force from the United States, along with the airlift and the sealift that can project this force anywhere in the world.

This military force provides a security umbrella that protects the entire region. It is the damper on regional arms races and a damper on nuclear weapons proliferation. And it is America's presence that is the most important factor in guaranteeing peace and stability in the region. Indeed, the American military presence may be thought of as the oxygen which has fueled the dramatic economic growth in the Western Pacific in the last few decades.

More than 140 years ago, Commodore Matthew Perry, a man with whom I share both the family name and a deep interest in the Asia-Pacific region, sailed his black ships into Okinawa, where he spent the winter. And while there, he asked if the Okinawans could donate something to the Washington Monument, which was then under construction. And he was given the bell of the Gogokugi temple. This bell, which is three times older than America's revered Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, did not end up in the Washington Monument. Instead, it had a place of honor for almost 130 years in the U.S. Naval Academy, until one of my predecessors heard about its history and returned it to Okinawa as a gesture of good will.

This story says a lot about the deep ties and friendship between the United States and Japan. And it demonstrates the kind of values that we want to foster throughout the Asia-Pacific region, values such as trust, mutual respect and cooperation. By building these shared values into the fabric of our relationships, the nations of the Asia-Pacific region can build a better future, a future of peace, prosperity and freedom. I thank you very much.


Published for internal information by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the internet via the World Wide Web at