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Strategy for East Asia and the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance
Remarks by S. Nye Jr., assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies/Japanese Institute of International Aff, Wednesday, March 29, 1995

Consider East Asia in 1975. The United States was withdrawing from Vietnam, and many observers predicted that widespread instability would follow a broader American withdrawal from the region. Compare these predictions with the stable and prosperous East Asia of 1995. The important reasons that the gloomy predictions proved wrong were American alliances in the region and the continued presence of substantial United States forces.

Concerns about American withdrawal heard today are, once again, unfounded. For the security and prosperity of today to be maintained for the next 20 years the United States must remain engaged in Asia, committed to peace in the region and dedicated to strengthening our alliances and friendships. The American electorate understands this essential, long-term commitment.

Security is like oxygen: You do not tend to notice it until you begin to lose it. The American security presence has helped provide this "oxygen" for East Asian development.

America has pledged its commitment to the security of the Asia-Pacific region. We have spent our troops and treasure fulfilling that pledge. During this century the United States has sent military forces to three major wars against aggression in Asia -- World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War -- as well as a number of smaller conflicts. As these experiences have proven, America's interests in the region must be protected and America's commitments will be honored. They also provide a lesson: Asian tensions have the potential to erupt in conflict, with dire consequences for global security.

History, geography and demography make the United States an integral part of the region. The United States has been the pre-eminent Pacific power since World War II, but our interests in the region date back more than two centuries. From these beginnings through the Second World War and the Cold War that followed the United States has served a key stabilizing role in the region.

United States trade with the Asia-Pacific region in 1993 totaled over $374 billion. It accounted for 2.8 million United States jobs. But most significant is the trend: from 1992-2000 Asian GNP [gross national product] is expected to increase from 25 percent to 33 percent of the gross world product; and the number of U.S. jobs tied to the region is projected to double to about 6.5 million. Moreover, the Asia-Pacific economies are estimated to climb to 50 percent of world GNP by the middle of the next century.

Given Japan's economic and political weight, it is an important partner in our efforts to fashion an enduring post-Cold War regional and international order. The region has also produced other economic successes -- China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand -- each of which is a key United States trading partner and will play an increasingly important role in the global economy. That is why it is critical that we pursue a more open international economic system.

President [Bill] Clinton has accorded a great deal of attention to the Asia-Pacific [region] in the first half of his term -- with summit visits to the region and support of APEC [Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation] -- underscoring the essential U.S. bipartisan commitment to engagement in the region. Secretary of Defense [William J.] Perry has reinforced the message with visits to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and China.

Our message is one of balance among economic, political and security policies in the Asia Pacific. These policies are like building blocks, forming an interlocking and reinforcing architecture. Security provides the critical foundation. We must be mindful of the undermining effects of trade frictions on our relationships and continue to seek progress in addressing fundamental economic issues with trading partners in the region. I am here today to talk about security. Our security strategy for Asia rests on three pillars: our alliances, in particular with Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia; our forward military presence; and our participation in multilateral dialogue.

The alliance structure in Asia is the bedrock of regional stability and a means of promoting American influence on important regional Asian issues. Cooperation with our Asian allies and friends is necessary to deter potential threats, counter regional aggression and help protect sea lines of communication both within the region and from the region to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Working with our allies is also critical to our efforts to stem the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

The U.S. recognizes the need for a strong forward United States military presence in the Asia-Pacific region to protect vital American interests. As the East Asia Strategy Report makes clear, reductions resulting from the end of the Cold War have been accomplished, no further changes in war-fighting capability are currently planned; the United States will maintain a force structure requiring approximately 100,000 personnel in the Asia-Pacific region. The continuing United States security presence is viewed by almost every country in the region as a stabilizing force.

Support for regional security dialogues is a significant new element of this administration's security strategy. Our alliances form the core around which multilateral institutions and dialogue are built. These serve as a supplement, not a replacement, for our alliances and forward military presence. As the president said in Seoul in July 1993, multilateral dialogues serve as "overlapping plates of armor," ensuring that the end of the Cold War does not provide an opening for regional rivalries, chaos and arms races. The United States believes the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Regional Forum, as Asia's first broadly based consultative body concerned with security issues, can play an important role in drawing together the emergent powers of Asia in a cooperative and open dialogue.

Historically Northeast Asia is the area where great power interests have clashed most sharply. Consequently, the United States believes that the unique long-term security challenges in Northeast Asia argue strongly for the creation of a separate subregional security dialogue for Northeast Asia. We envision a cooperative form of security dedicated to resolving disputes by force of argument, not the argument of force. Such a forum would be developed in close consultation with our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Within this broad framework I would like to address three key issues: the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, China's continuing emergence in global affairs and our approach toward North Korea.


  • Japan.

The U.S.-Japan security relationship is fundamental to the pursuit of American security objectives both worldwide and within Asia. As President Clinton and American leaders before him have said, there is no more important bilateral relationship than the one we have with Japan. But there are some that say the U.S.-Japan security relationship, born in response to Cold War threats, has lived out its usefulness. I completely disagree.

At a time of rapid change -- the end of the Soviet empire, the rise of economic powers in Asia -- the steadfast U.S.-Japan relationship provides a predictable and secure environment for Asia. Fifty years ago U.S. and Japanese soldiers were fighting hand-to-hand on the battlefields of the Pacific. Today our soldiers stand side by side. The U.S.-Japan alliance enters its fourth decade with unprecedented levels of cooperation and a high degree of political support in both countries.

Over the last 40 years the U.S. and Japan have developed a unique interdependence across the board. Together as the world's two largest economies we share an enormous interest in fostering free markets and maintaining ready access to Asian markets and capital, which will be crucial to our societies in the next century.

Fundamental to the U.S.-Japan relationship are the common values that guide us: democracy to ensure freedom, free-market capitalism to bolster prosperity, and observance of international norms to ensure peace and stability and forestall arbitrary use of coercive power.

Our political and military security are also deeply intertwined. Far from diminishing in importance, the U.S.-Japan alliance remains as the linchpin of our security involvement in the region. Japan relies on the U.S. for its defense; the U.S. relies on Japan both as an anchor of America's forward presence in the region, as well as a reliable political and economic partner in global policy initiatives. The region relies on the U.S.-Japan security relationship as an important force -- indeed, the essential force -- promoting regional stability.

Under the alliance and with the assistance of generous host nation support, the U.S. forward-deploys about 45,000 troops in Japan. Forward-based forces provide visible, credible deterrent power that affects the strategic calculations of potential adversaries and thereby contributes to Asian and U.S. security. Furthermore, the reconnaissance, training and operational activities of these forces allow the U.S. to monitor strategic developments in the region and stay engaged to an extent not possible from the U.S. mainland.

These enduring and convergent interests, when viewed against the tremendous national resources our nations possess, mean that the end of the Cold War has not made the U.S.-Japan security alliance obsolete. On the contrary, if the alliance did not already exist, we would have to create it now.

Sweeping changes in the European security environment occasioned by the end of the Cold War have not yet been mirrored in Asia. The U.S. and Japan must remain vigilant in our approach to potential instability on the divided Korean Peninsula. We must confront the potential for further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery in Asia.

Our two countries must manage the consequences, both anticipated and unexpected, wrought by the dynamic economic, technological and political shifts occurring in the Asia Pacific [region]. We must help ensure that long-standing territorial disputes do not escalate into major crises. And we must be aware of the possible effects of generational change and leadership transitions. The U.S.-Japan alliance is our anchor in these uncharted waters.

We do not need to manufacture new threats to justify the alliance. For the moment and with few exceptions, Asia is moving towards increased stability and prosperity. But remaining uncertainties underscore that security, and wealth is not guaranteed. The Cold War provided a relatively predictable structure in Asia. The end of the Cold War has provided great hope for a new structure in Asia, but that new architecture has not yet been built. The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of this new structure.

In recognition of this need the U.S. and Japan have embarked on an enhanced dialogue aimed at reaffirming the alliance and ensuring its cohesion over the long term. This initiative is not seeking to change the U.S.-Japan security treaty or any other bilateral security arrangement with Japan. Rather it is focused on aligning the U.S. and Japan's perspectives on how to keep the alliance strong.

Isn't this effort just good alliance management? Yes, but it is also more. We are seeking ways to strengthen cooperation, both through existing mechanisms as well as new bilateral, regional and global measures. This includes enhanced interoperability and cooperation as well as continuing our joint progress on important issues including host nation support, technology exchange and base issues.

Continued cooperation on halting the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and enhancing regional security dialogue -- as a supplement, not a replacement, for the alliance -- are additional areas for vigorous cooperation. It also means ensuring a healthy alliance by moving toward a stronger, more balanced partnership.

Important to this new vision is adjusting the alliance to Japan's evolving international role. Japan is increasingly a player on global political as well as economic issues. As the largest donor of Official Development Assistance and as a nation actively involved in humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, Japan is a critical contributor to peace and stability both in the region and around the globe.

Both governments remain firmly committed to this alliance, because of shared values and because of the vital national interests at stake for both countries. The task before the U.S. and Japan is to ensure that this relationship remains robust and vibrant and that it will be able to meet the security challenges of the next century. In some ways our task is harder than during the Cold War, because it entails common action, not just reaction. We must plan not just to meet threats but to shape the new era.

That brings me to two very different challenges that I would like to discuss: China and the Korean Peninsula.


  • China.

How we work with China over the near term will set the course for the region over the long term. China's rapid growth in material strength has raised the importance of China in the Asian security equation.

China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with nuclear weapons and is destined to become a global economic power. Our best prospects for positively influencing its emergence as a global power lie in encouraging trends already under way in China -- such as the movement toward a market economy and greater participation in the international economic system. Our policy of comprehensive engagement with China, including military contacts, has the best chance of ensuring we achieve this objective.

China's economic rise has been accompanied by military modernization. China's published defense budget figure has doubled in the past five years, with real growth -- adjusted for inflation -- estimated at about 40 percent over that period. This figure does not encompass all of China's defense expenditures. By comparison, American, Japanese and Russian defense spending has either remained level or decreased in the same period.

China's military posture and development have a great impact on the expectations and behavior of other states in the region. Greater assertiveness in the Spratlys [island group in the South China Sea claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia], for example, has raised concerns around the region. Although China's leaders explain that their military buildup is defensive and commensurate with China's overall economic growth, others in the region cannot be certain of China's intentions.

Absent a better understanding of China's plans, capabilities and intentions, other Asian nations may feel a need to respond to China's growing military power. This will be particularly true as China modernizes its strategic forces, naval assets and other forces capable of power projection beyond its territory. Yet an arms race in the region would leave everyone worse off. And to cast China as an enemy would risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead the U.S. has chosen to engage China.

We are working with China and with our friends and allies in the region, seeking greater transparency in China's defense policy and military activities. Last fall Secretary of Defense Perry began an effort to enhance military dialogue with Beijing, aiming to promote better mutual understanding as well as greater transparency and trust.

Last week, as an example of continuing progress in confidence building, the U.S. completed the first ship visit to China since 1989. The U.S. is also encouraging China's participation in regional security and economic organizations. o The Korean Peninsula.##

North Korea remains a source of unpredictability and potential danger for the region. Its excessive emphasis on military development at the expense of basic economic, political and social development poses a threat to its neighbors and regional stability. Even with a badly deteriorating economy and years of poor harvests, North Korea has given priority to its military posture.

North Korea's history of aggression, threats to peace and exports of missile technology have created a context in which its development of nuclear weapons would be an extremely dangerous threat to security on the peninsula, in Asia and for global nonproliferation. At the same time North Korea's conventional military threat to the Republic of Korea has not abated and requires continued vigilance and commitment of the United States and its forces.

Since 1993 the United States has worked intensively with the Republic of Korea, Japan and others to secure North Korea's agreement to reaffirm its commitment to the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and fulfill its IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards obligations on the one hand and to halt, and ultimately dismantle, its nuclear program.

We have sought to preserve regional peace and stability while also ensuring that the Korean Peninsula remains verifiably free of nuclear weapons. The broad international support for the NPT, which we are working to extend indefinitely and without conditions next month, helped focus international pressure on North Korea to comply with its nonproliferation commitments.

The Oct. 21, 1994, Agreed Framework with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea takes a major step toward achieving those vital goals. At the same time the agreement secures North Korea's pledge to engage in dialogue with the South. The agreed framework also offers the first opportunity since the end of the Korean War for a significant opening of North Korea's society to positive influences from outside.

Yet that framework is far from being implemented. It will be undermined, for instance, if North Korea does not ultimately accept South Korea-origin light water reactors provided by KEDO, the international consortium formed by Japan, the ROK [Republic of Korea] and the U.S.

Stability will remain the U.S. concern if the agreement is fully implemented and North Korea reaches broad accommodation with the South on a wide range of differences. United States forces will continue to underwrite the stability of this region as long as they are welcome.

Our security relationship with the Republic of Korea continues to be central to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, as it has been for over 40 years. It is more than a treaty commitment, it is a vital component in our national objective of supporting and promoting democracy. Even after the North Korean threat passes, the United States intends to maintain its strong defense alliance with the Republic of Korea in the interest of regional security.

The Asia-Pacific region is now more at peace than it has been at any time in this century. Much about the current security environment is positive, but it is also uncertain. Territorial disputes, leadership transitions and proliferation are just some of the possible destabilizing forces in the region. The dissolution of the Soviet Union has led to renewed attention to traditional and potential rivalries among the major Asia-Pacific powers.

Our unique partnership with Japan is the foundation of our strategy in East Asia. We have entered a period of unprecedented change in the international security environment. This process continues as we speak and is not likely to come to closure soon. The U.S. and Japan, with our shared values and enduring interests, and our political, economic and military resources, cannot leave this process to chance or worse, allow the process to be manipulated by adversaries. A new era must be shaped -- therein lies the continuing importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

The United States is uniquely positioned to be a constructive and enduring force for stability in the region. As the only Asia-Pacific power with truly global capabilities, the United States is able to bring together multilateral coalitions, as it did during the gulf war. As a powerful state with no territorial ambitions, the United States presence is reassuring rather than threatening.

Our interest is in the peaceful resolution of territorial and other disputes. Our ability to protect the vital sea lines in the Pacific and Indian oceans enhances regional prosperity. United States security commitments to Japan make a major contribution to an enhanced sense of security in that country, and throughout the region United States and Korean forces deter aggression on the peninsula, and the United States' policy of comprehensive engagement with China offers hope for creating constructive long-term relations that contribute positively to the international community. Our goal is to integrate, not isolate, the region's powers and to find solutions, short of conflict, to the area's continuing security challenges.

By maintaining our strong alliances and friendships and forward military presence, the United States will remain a Pacific power in the 21st century and will continue to contribute to the oxygen of security that allows East Asia to flourish.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the 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