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International Institute for Strategic Studies
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Singapore, Saturday, May 30, 2009

          Thank you for that kind introduction, John. And, as always, let me thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies, our Singaporean hosts, and everyone else who has helped put together this event. As with all IISS forums I attend – whether in Manama or here in Singapore – the opportunity to speak about global issues in settings like these is unparalleled.
          Last year when I spoke here, I emphasized that the United States has enduring interests in Asia as a resident power – and thus everyone could expect continuity in our engagement with the region, even if a new administration brought changes in specific policies, or new initiatives and areas of emphasis. Little did I know that the “continuity” I spoke of would end up being quite so personal. I have now failed retirement from government service for the second – and hopefully final – time.
          It is an honor to stand here before you once again, this time as part of the administration of President Obama. President Obama is the eighth president I have worked for, and in all my years in government – beginning some 43 years ago – U.S. engagement with Asia has been a mainstay of our foreign policy.
          This is the first time, however, we’ve had a president with such a personal connection to the region. As you know, the president spent some of the early years of his childhood in Indonesia, and he has written about how it impacted him – how it demonstrated that citizens of a vibrant, pluralistic society could live together in harmony. I believe this is part of the reason the president has shown such energy and optimism when discussing his policies toward Asia.
          And it is no accident that Secretary of State Clinton’s first trip abroad was to this region. As she said just before her trip, “America cannot solve the problems of the world alone, and the world cannot solve them without America.” Surveying the international landscape, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that few, if any, of the world’s problems can be resolved without the support and ideas of the nations of the Pacific Rim. And so, with that in mind, I want to use my remarks today to discuss three main points:
          • First, the strategic reality of Asia and America’s role in this order;
          • Second, the kinds of challenges we face in an interconnected world and how our dependence on one another yields unprecedented opportunities for cooperation; and
          • Finally, the type of leadership you can expect to see from the Obama administration.
          Since the end of the Cold War, Asia’s security environment has undergone remarkable change – spurred in part by globalization and the technological revolution of the last two decades and inspired by the dynamism of the peoples of Asia. In recent years, the nations of Asia have, for the most part, achieved unprecedented wealth and stature as they have forged more mature political, economic, and military institutions. All of this has demonstrated the correlation between economic prosperity and stability, and the need to ensure that Asia is appropriately represented in the global economic order.
          All the while, the strategic landscape of Asia continues to evolve:
          • New and re-emerging centers of power – from China and Russia, to India and Indonesia – combined with other shifts, give impetus to the search for a new security architecture in the region;
          • When it comes to freedom, or standards of living, or security, the peoples of Asia are expecting more from themselves – and from their governments. Civil societies and democratic reforms have taken root, and, with them, we have seen a profound effect on domestic politics and national-security policies;
          • Military modernization has continued apace – with rising states seeking forces commensurate with their economic power, and smaller states trying to preserve their position in the regional order; and
          • The emergence of multiple transnational challenges – some new, some old, which I will discuss shortly – calls for greater cooperation between all of our nations.
          The United States has welcomed Asia’s rise over the last few decades, and, indeed, our continued presence in this part of the world has been an essential element enabling that rise. America has paid a significant price in blood and treasure to fight aggression, deter potential adversaries, extend freedom, and maintain peace and prosperity in this part of the world. We have done so over many generations and across many presidential administrations. Our commitment to the region is just as strong today as it has ever been – if not stronger since our own prosperity is increasingly linked with yours.
          The challenge for the United States has been to fashion defense policies that adapt to the new realities – but do so in a way that preserves and protects our fundamental, and enduring, interests and values on the Pacific Rim, which includes the security and stability of the region as a whole.
          Consider our relationships with long-standing treaty allies Japan and South Korea – cornerstones of our foreign policy. We entered into these alliances in the early years of the Cold War when both nations were impoverished and virtually destroyed.
          The Republic of Korea and Japan have since become economic powerhouses with modern, well-trained and equipped military forces. They are more willing and able to take responsibility for their own defense and assume responsibility for security beyond their shores. As a result, we are making adjustments in each country to maintain a posture that is more appropriate to that of a partner, as opposed to a patron. Still, though, a partner fully prepared and able to carry out all – and I repeat, all – of our alliance obligations.
          On the Korean Peninsula, we will transition wartime operational control in 2012, a historic moment when the Republic of Korea will take the lead role in its own defense. The United States will continue to maintain its firm commitment to security on the peninsula, even as we seek to broaden the alliance to address other security challenges in the region and beyond.
Similarly, our relationship with Japan is evolving. Just a couple weeks ago, Japan’s Diet ratified the Guam International Agreement that Secretary Clinton signed during her trip. This agreement is a significant step in the implementation of our plan to strengthen our alliance, modernize our posture, and maintain our engagement in Asia over the long term.
          So, in the central and western Pacific, we are actually increasing our military presence, with new air, naval, and marine assets based over the horizon in Guam and throughout the region – prepared as always to respond to a number of contingencies, natural or man-made.
          At the same time, we are seeing developments with other nations and other friends:
          • Australia remains a steadfast ally whose cooperation is critical on a broad array of issues. We welcome Australia’s new Defense White Paper reaffirming its role regionally and globally, and continue to seek ways to advance common interests together.
          • Last year we celebrated the 175th anniversary of U.S.-Thailand relations. And we look to expand our cooperation in coming years.
          • Our alliance with the Philippines has deepened as we tackle challenges ranging from terrorism to disaster relief to defense reform. And I look forward to visiting Manila soon.
          • Earlier this year, the administration announced that we are seeking to build a new comprehensive partnership with Indonesia. We congratulate Indonesia on the significant steps it has taken to strengthen its democracy – and its role in the region. 
          • Our partnership with Singapore remains strong and we are working to increase cooperation with Malaysia, Vietnam, and others.
          • We are also looking to forge new partnerships in places long disregarded. This includes our emerging dialogue with Cambodia, as well as developments with Laos.
          When it comes to India, we have seen a watershed in our relations – cooperation that would have been unthinkable in the recent past. As Admiral Keating, commander of United States Pacific Command, recently wrote, it is a “genuine convergence of national interests.” In coming years, we look to India to be a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.
          And we are working with China on common challenges – from economic matters to security issues such as regional areas of tension, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, energy security, piracy, and disaster relief. It is essential for the United States and China to find opportunities to cooperate wherever possible. This includes maintaining a defense relationship marked by consistent and open channels of communication and contact. The United States, for its part, will remain committed to this goal. Likewise, it is essential that we are transparent – both to each other and to the rest of the world – about our strategic goals, political intentions, and military development.
          What we have seen in the U.S. approach to Asia in recent years – and what I believe we will see in the future – is a very real shift that reflects new thinking in U.S. defense strategy overall. A shift that, while continuing to fulfill our commitments to the permanent presence of, and direct action by, U.S. forces in the region – places ever greater emphasis on building the capacity of partners better to defend themselves. A shift away from solely conventional military deterrence as traditionally understood – think of mechanized divisions poised along the Korean demilitarized zone or the central plains of Germany. A shift toward a re-balanced mix of the so-called “hard” and “soft” elements of national power – where military, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and humanitarian elements are integrated seamlessly.
          It is an approach that brings together various parts of the United States government to work more closely with diverse partners with a range of shared interests – from old allies such as Australia to former adversaries like Vietnam. It is an approach intended to further strengthen and deepen security in the Pacific Rim through maintaining our robust military presence but also through strengthened and deepened partnerships.
          These new strategic realities will play a central role as the United States undergoes a number of policy reviews this year, including the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review. These documents will lay out our view of the threats and challenges to our nation, and how that will be reflected in our future defense procurement and spending strategies. While it is at times a messy process, it will be an open and transparent exercise – so that no one will get the wrong idea about our intentions. We will consult with key allies and partners. And we will articulate our strategy clearly. It is our hope that this effort can be an example of the power of openness and its ability to reduce miscommunication and the risk of competitive arms spending.
          I believe these documents will help us pursue whole-of-government approaches that offer the only solution to the vexing security challenges of the modern era. Which brings me to my second point: the nature of the threats we face.
          As in the rest of the world, in Asia the traditional dilemmas posed by rising, resurgent, or rogue nation states coexist with a range of diverse, unconventional threats that transcend national borders. Some are ancient – such as piracy, ethnic strife, and poverty. Others are of more recent vintage: terrorist networks harnessing new technologies; weapons proliferation; environmental degradation; drug and human trafficking; cyber security; climate change; economic turmoil in the global markets; and the emergence of deadly and contagious diseases that can spread more rapidly than ever before in human history.
          It has become clear in just the last two decades that “security” encompasses far more than just military considerations. An economic crisis can become a security crisis. A lack of good governance can undermine order and stability. Under pressure from criminals or disease, weak states can become failed states.
          What these challenges all have in common is that they cannot simply be overcome by one, or even two countries, no matter how wealthy or powerful. While the United States has unparalleled capabilities, we also recognize that the best solutions require multiple nations acting with uncommon unity.
          I have been heartened in recent months by the global response to the economic crisis, the threat of a pandemic flu, and piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa. While there have been some differences of opinion, overall our nations have shown the willpower to come together and develop unified responses.
          One of the areas in which we are most engaged is maritime security – and the efforts to combat piracy and proliferation. United States Pacific Command works closely with a number of nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and more – to provide the training and equipment, from radars to patrol craft, enabling them to assert control over waterways that have been used by drug smugglers, weapons smugglers, and terrorists.
          The United States has also provided assistance to help nations work together: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and others are securing and improving transit routes in the region. And of course, Asian countries have played a major role off the Horn of Africa – with Malaysia, India, Singapore, Korea, Japan, and China all taking part in anti-piracy efforts.
          In addition to improving the capabilities of friends, we are encouraging them wherever possible to partner and cooperate more with their neighbors and other nations. Here we are trying to overcome the conventions and habits of the Cold War. For decades after World War II, Asia’s security architecture mostly reflected a “hub and spokes” model, with the United States as the “hub” and the “spokes” representing a series of bilateral alliances with other countries that did not necessarily cooperate much with each other. To be sure, Asia already has a number of formal and informal multilateral institutions:
          • ASEAN, for example, has for decades been the foundation for prosperity and stability in Southeast Asia – relying upon the idea that a broader dialogue spreads trust and stability.
          • Similarly, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum plays an important role in regional development and trade.
          • And there are also ad hoc arrangements, such as ones centered on efforts to combat piracy and illegal trafficking.
          Moving forward, we would like to see a good deal more cooperation among our allies and security partners – more multilateral ties in addition to hubs and spokes. Let me be clear: This does not mean any weakening of our bilateral ties, but rather enhancing security by adding to them multilateral cooperation.
          These kinds of efforts have faced no shortage of obstacles. Countries have sometimes found it hard to work with us, or with each other. But we believe that the nations of the region must move in a more multilateral direction in order to deal with the most pressing threats in this era.
          One of the greatest challenges, and one that cannot be overcome without close cooperation between and among countries, is of course terrorism – as an ideological movement, as a criminal enterprise, as a scourge that transcends borders, peoples, and religions. Working together, we have made substantial progress in suppressing terrorism in Asia and reducing the conditions under which it thrives.
          I know some in Asia have concluded that Afghanistan does not represent a strategic threat to their countries, owing in part to Afghanistan’s geographic location. But the threat from failed or failing states is international in scope – whether in the security, economic, or ideological realms. Extremists in Asia have engaged in terrorist acts such as in Bali, terrorist activity and guerilla warfare in Mindanao, and they have plotted attacks in several Southeast Asian nations. They are inspired by, and at times received support directly from, groups operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border – the ungoverned space from which this threat ultimately emanates.
          Failure in a place like Afghanistan would have international reverberations – and, undoubtedly, many of them would be felt in this part of the world.
          The United States has unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan – with new leadership, new resources, and a new sense of urgency. I am optimistic that we will gain momentum over the next year – but it will require hard work.
          I thank the countries here that have contributed to this mission. Among them:
          • Australia continues to be in the thick of some of the toughest fighting;
          • Japan has made great financial contributions;
          • India continues infrastructure projects throughout Afghanistan; and
          • New Zealand and Singapore continue to help man Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
          But Afghanistan needs more. To establish a sustainable and effective government in Afghanistan, it needs additional:
          • Aid and expertise to help build infrastructure;
          • Funding to expand and maintain the Afghan National Army and police;
          • Experts in a variety of fields, such as prison reform, civil service, health care, agriculture, engineering, and education; and
          • Assistance to ensure that the presidential and provincial elections this year – and next year’s parliamentary and district council elections – are free, fair, and credible.
          The challenge in Afghanistan is so complex, and so untraditional, that it can only be met by all of us working in concert. All must contribute what they can to a cause that demands the full attention of the international community – a cause that is worthy of sacrifice and in everyone’s national interest.
          Other developments pose challenges to the long-term stability, security, and peace of Asia. Whether on the sea, in the air, in space, or cyberspace, the global commons represents a realm where we must cooperate – where we must adhere to the rule of law and the other mechanisms that have helped maintain regional peace. Only by committing to openness and transparency – by adhering to standard operational practices and international law – can we prevent misunderstandings, accidents, and even open conflicts.
          We also have to contend with the problem of Burma, one of the isolated, desolate exceptions to the growing prosperity and freedom of the region. We saw Burma’s resistance to accept basic humanitarian aid last year following the cyclone – a decision indicative of that country’s approach to the rest of the world. We need to see real change in Burma – the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the institution of meaningful dialogue between the junta and the opposition.
          And then there’s North Korea. Dependent on the charity of the international community to alleviate the hunger and suffering of its people, North Korea’s leadership has chosen to focus the North’s limited energy and resources on a reckless and ultimately self-destructive quest for nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. These programs have isolated North Korea globally and, quite literally, starved its people.
          The policy of the United States has not changed: Our goal is complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. North Korea’s nuclear program and actions constitute a threat to regional peace and security. We unequivocally reaffirm our commitment to the defense of our allies in the region. The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies. And we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.
          President Obama has offered an open hand to tyrannies that unclench their fists. He is hopeful, but he is not naïve. Likewise, the United States and our allies are open to dialogue, but we will not bend to pressure or provocation. And on this count, North Korea’s latest reply to our overtures isn’t exactly something we would characterize as helpful or constructive. We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region – or on us.
          At the end of the day, the choice to continue as a destitute, international pariah, or chart a new course, is North Korea’s alone to make. The world is waiting.
          There are no easy solutions to the challenges I have outlined this morning. And that brings me to my final point: the type of leadership you can expect from President Obama and the United States in coming years.
          When Secretary Clinton visited the region, she said that this administration is committed to listening to the views of friends and partners across the globe. For example, we are now beginning to negotiate accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation – which demonstrates our willingness to take regional norms into account as we consider our relationships across the globe.
          The President, similarly, has spoken of a more collaborative and consultative foreign policy – one committed to forging common solutions to common problems. Do not get me wrong: The United States will continue to be assertive on the international stage. We will protect our allies and our interests. We are, as a former secretary of state said, an indispensable power – but we are also one that is aware of our own limitations, aware that the world and nearly all the challenges we face are simply too complex to go it alone.
          Let me close with a final thought. Throughout more than two centuries, the United States has been a beacon of freedom. In our efforts to protect our own freedom – and that of others – we have from time to time made mistakes, including at times being arrogant in dealing with others. But we always correct our course, and our willingness to do so is one of our most enduring strengths. In the end we know that our own democracy’s strength ultimately depends on adhering to our nation’s values and ideals – and on the strength and independence of other democracies and partners around the world. Those remain the guiding principles of our foreign policy today.
          Thank you.