SEC. GATES: Thank you, John, for that kind introduction.
And congratulations to the International Institute for Strategic Studies on reaching this important milestone with the tenth Shangri-La Security Dialogue. This conference, in that relatively short span of time, has become a vital forum for encouraging dialogue and understanding among the participant countries.
I’d also like to extend my thanks to the government of Singapore for hosting us once again, and to the Shangri-La hotel staff for all their hard work as well. Although the mix of weighty topics and senior governmental officials is clearly the main draw for attendees, I’ve long suspected that one of the key reasons people keep coming back to this event is the wonderful hospitality of this hotel and this city.
Indeed, this is the fifth consecutive year I’ve participated in this dialogue as Secretary of Defense, and as you know, it will be my last. The opportunity to lead the United States Department of Defense for four and a half years has been an extraordinary honor, for which I thank both President Bush and President Obama. It has also given me perspective on the principal subject I want to discuss today: the enduring and consistent nature of America’s commitments in Asia, even in times of transition and change.
As someone who will leave government having served eight presidents, I know something about the uncertainty that transitions can cause. In fact, I’ve touched on this subject in my remarks here before. At the 2008 session, not knowing what the outcome of the United States presidential election would be – and certainly not thinking that I would be a member of the new administration – I said that the next American president would be almost certain to sustain our engagement and our presence in this region. As the record shows, and my speech I hope will make clear, under President Obama that engagement has not only been sustained, it has been broadened and enhanced in a variety of ways. And I believe the same will hold true with respect to U.S. defense policy under Leon Panetta, the distinguished statesman nominated as my successor.
Nonetheless, we meet today at a time when the United States faces a daunting set of challenges at home and abroad. When questions are being raised about the sustainability and credibility of our commitments around the world. These questions are serious and legitimate.
No doubt, fighting two protracted and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has strained the U.S. military’s ground forces, and worn out the patience and appetite of the American people for similar interventions in the future. On the domestic front, the United States is emerging slowly from a serious recession with huge budget deficits and growing debt that is putting new scrutiny and downward pressure on the U.S. defense budget.
These are some of the stark realities we face, to be sure. But at the same time, it is important, in this place, before this audience, to recognize an equally compelling set of facts with respect to America’s position in Asia. A record demonstrating that, irrespective of the tough times the U.S. faces today, or the tough budget choices we confront in the years to come, that America’s interests as a Pacific nation – as a country that conducts much of its trade in the region – will endure. And the United States and Asia will only become more inextricably linked over the course of this century. As I hope my presentation today will show, these realities, and this understanding – shared by U.S. leaders and policy makers across the political spectrum – argue strongly for sustaining our commitments to allies while maintaining a robust military engagement and deterrence posture across the Pacific Rim.
This statement is underscored by the significant growth in the breadth and intensity of U.S. engagement in Asia in recent years – even at a time of economic distress at home and two major military campaigns ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three years ago, I spoke at this gathering and touted the fact that I was on my fourth major trip to Asia-Pacific in the previous 18 months. Now, I can report that this is my fourteenth Asia trip over the last four and a half years. Next month, Secretary of State Clinton will embark on her eighth trip to Asia, and President Obama has made a major Asia trip each year he has been in office.
Indeed, one of the most striking – and surprising – changes I’ve observed during my travels to Asia is the widespread desire across the region for stronger military-to-military relationships with the United States – much more so than during my last time in government 20 years ago.
Our engagement in Asia has been guided by a set of enduring principles that have fostered the economic growth and stability of the region. I spoke about these principles last year, but I think it is worth reiterating our commitment to them once more today:
Free and open commerce;
A just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law;
Open access by all to the global commons of sea, air, space, and now, cyberspace; and
The principle of resolving conflict without the use of force.
The commitment and presence of the United States as a Pacific nation has been one of relatively few constants amidst the furious changes in this region over the past half-century. But as this region has changed, America has always shown the flexibility not only to maintain our presence in the Asia-Pacific, but to enhance it – by updating relationships, developing new capabilities, and transforming our defense posture to meet the challenges of the day.
For example, after fighting a devastating war, the United States and Japan built an alliance that has weathered innumerable tests and proven to be a cornerstone of stability in the region. The most recent and compelling display of the value of our alliance was the sight of the U.S. and Japanese troops working together to bring aid and sustenance to the survivors of the horrific earthquake and tsunami in March.
Consider that within 24 hours of the earthquake, the United States initiated Operation Tomodachi to deliver assistance to the affected areas in support of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces – more than 100,000 of whom had been mobilized by the Japanese government. At the peak of these closely coordinated joint relief efforts, the United States had more than 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft, and 24 ships supporting Japan’s response. The U.S. military and Japanese Self-Defense Forces delivered relief supplies to affected communities, repaired transportation infrastructure, and searched for survivors along the affected coast line. This effort demonstrated the high-level of interoperability between the U.S and Japanese defense forces and served to validate years of investments by both nations in combined training and capabilities. Today it is clear that the alliance not only has survived this tragedy, but emerged even stronger and even more vital.
The U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea remains another pillar of our Asia-Pacific security strategy – one that has emerged out of its Cold War origins to confront a new array of security challenges in the region and globally as well. Our two militaries continue to develop our combined capabilities to deter and defeat, if necessary, North Korean aggression. But the U.S.-ROK alliance is not designed to simply stand against another nation. It must also stand for something, in order to be meaningful and to endure. In this respect, our efforts to build a truly “global” alliance and to work with others in response to crisis situations around the world, such as in Haiti or Afghanistan, demonstrate our collective commitment to promote stability and prosperity beyond Korea’s shores as well.
Not only in Korea, but in nations across Asia, Cold War turbulence has given way to new partnerships and cooperation. Out of an era of conflict that left an indelible imprint on both our peoples, the United States and Vietnam have forged ahead and built a strong and vibrant bilateral relationship. Together, the United States and Vietnam have demonstrated how to build upon the past without being bound to repeat it. This commitment to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles led us to where we are today: partnership on a range of issues including trade and investment, education and health, and security and defense.
We are also now working together with China to build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship. In that effort, we are seeing the fruits of bold decisions by three American presidents in the 1970s, Republicans and Democrats, to build a rapport between the two nations that ultimately resulted in the normalization of relations in 1979. It was one of the highlights of my professional career to serve as a young staff assistant in the White House when that process unfolded.
Thirty years later, as Secretary of Defense, I have made it a priority to build military-to-military ties with China, which have steadily improved in recent months. Last January, I had a very positive visit to China, and just a few weeks ago our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, hosted General Chen, Chief of the PLA General Staff, for a week-long visit to the United States, where General Chen was shown a number of different U.S. military installations. It’s always my pleasure to meet again with pleasure dialogue, and we are very pleased to see him here at the Shangri-La dialogue.
Also remarkable is the transformation in the U.S.-India relationship over the past decade – from an uneasy coexistence during the Cold War to a partnership based on shared democratic values and vital economic and security interests. A partnership that will be an indispensable pillar of stability in South Asia and beyond. Whether countering piracy, increasing participation in multilateral venues, or aiding the development of Afghanistan, our partnership is playing a vital role.
Although bolstering our bilateral relationships in the region has been a key priority in the Asia-Pacific area, the United States has also made a major commitment to help foster new multilateral cooperation. One of the critical challenges of the Asian security environment has long been the lack of strong mechanisms for cooperation between nations in the region. Over the past few years, I have made it a personal priority to support efforts underway to remedy this problem. This is the reason that last year the United States was the first non-ASEAN nation to accept the invitation to join the ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus forum. It was an honor to attend the inaugural meeting of the ADMM-Plus in Hanoi last October, and I am optimistic that it will be a key body for making progress on a number of issues of shared interest – including maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping operations.
Maritime security remains an issue of particular importance for the region, with questions about territorial claims and the appropriate use of the maritime domain presenting on-going challenges to regional stability and prosperity. The U.S. position on maritime security remains clear: we have a national interest in freedom of navigation; in unimpeded economic development and commerce; and in respect for international law. We also believe that customary international law, as reflected in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, provides clear guidance on the appropriate use of the maritime domain, and rights of access to it. By working together in appropriate regional and multilateral fora, and adhering to principles that we believe are of benefit to all in the region, we can ensure that all share equal and open access to international waterways.
Experience consistently shows that pursuing our common interests together increases our common security. As I have stated before, providing for security and upholding the principles I mentioned earlier is not the task of any one nation alone, but the shared responsibility of all nations. This is the one reason we have placed a premium on building the partner capacity of friends in the region and enhancing the role of multilateral cooperation and organizations in Asia-Pacific security affairs.
Even so, we recognize that the American defense engagement – from our forward deployed forces to exercises with regional partners – will continue to play an indispensable role in the stability of the region. Although much of the press in both the United States and the region has been focused in recent years on our efforts to modernize our basing arrangements with traditional allies in Northeast Asia – and our commitment to those efforts is absolute – we’ve taken a number of steps towards establishing a defense posture across the Asia Pacific that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable. A posture that maintains our presence in Northeast Asia while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean.
For example, this past November, the U.S. and Australia established a force posture working group tasked with expanding opportunities for our two militaries to train and operate together – to include alliance arrangements that would allow for more combined defense activities and shared use of facilities.
Together, we are evaluating a range of options, including:
Increasing our combined naval presence and capabilities to respond more readily to humanitarian disasters;
Improving Indian Ocean facilities – a region of growing international importance; and
Expanding training exercises for amphibious and land operations, activities that could involve other partners in the region.
In Singapore, we are strengthening our bi-lateral defense relationship within the context of the Strategic Framework Agreement and pursuing more operational engagement – most notably, by deploying U.S. Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore. We are examining other ways to increase opportunities for our two militaries to train and operate together, to include:
Prepositioning supplies to improve disaster response;
Improving command and control capabilities; and
Expanding training opportunities to help prepare our forces for the challenges both militaries face operating in the Pacific.
Although we will continue to maintain and enhance our traditional presence in the Asia-Pacific region through efforts such as these, we believe that U.S. presence, and the associated impact and influences should not solely be measured in terms of conventional metrics, or “boots on the ground.” In the coming years, the U.S. military is going to be increasing its port calls, naval engagements, and multilateral training efforts with multiple countries throughout the region. These types of activities not only broaden and deepen our relationships with friends and allies, they help build partner capacity to address regional challenges.
Taken together, all of these developments demonstrate the commitment of the United States to sustaining a robust military presence in Asia – one that underwrites stability by supporting and reassuring allies while deterring, and if necessary defeating, potential adversaries.
No doubt, sustaining this forward military presence and commitments is costly, and cannot be disentangled from the wider discussions of the U.S. fiscal predicament in general, and the pressures on our defense budget in particular. I know this topic is top of the mind at this conference and around the region.
As I noted at the beginning of my remarks, the U.S. faces some serious fiscal challenges at home, and the defense budget – even if not the cause of America’s fiscal woes – must be at least part of the solution. Anticipating this scenario, I have spent that last two years carving out as much budget space as possible by cancelling troubled or unneeded weapons programs and culling excess overhead.
As I said at a speech last week, having removed the most troubled and questionable weapons programs from the budget, we are left with modernization efforts that our defense leaders have deemed absolutely critical to the future – relating to air superiority and mobility, long-range strike, nuclear deterrence, maritime access, space and cyber, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Though the review is not complete, I am confident that these key remaining modernization programs – systems that are of particular importance to our military strategy in Asia – will rank at or near the top of our defense budget priorities in the future.
Many of those key modernization programs would address one of the principal security challenges we see growing over the horizon: The prospect that new and disruptive technologies and weapons could be employed to deny U.S. forces access to key sea routes and lines of communication.
The U.S. Navy and Air Force have been concerned about anti-access and area denial scenarios for some time. These two military services are working together to develop a new concept of operations – called “Air-Sea Battle” – to ensure that America’s military will continue to be able to deploy, move, and strike over great distances in defense of our allies and vital interests.
The record of growing U.S. engagement in Asia, combined with the investments being made in capabilities most relevant to preserving the security, sovereignty, and freedom of our allies and partners in the region, show that America is, as the expression goes, putting “our money where our mouth is” with respect to this part of the world – and will continue to do so. These programs are on track to grow and evolve further into the future, even in the face of new threats abroad and fiscal challenges at home, ensuring that that we will continue to meet our commitments as a 21st century Asia-Pacific nation – with appropriate forces, posture, and presence.
Now, I acknowledge that there are still some myopic souls who will argue that we cannot sustain our role in Asia-Pacific. That there are some voices of gloom and doom who would also argue that the best days of the United States are behind it. No doubt the challenges America faces as a nation are daunting. But as I end my career in government, I remain completely optimistic about the prospects of the United States because I have seen first-hand the staying power and adaptability of America over the course of my life. Indeed, history’s dustbin is littered with dictators and aggressors who underestimated America’s resilience, will, and underlying power.
It was forty-five years ago this summer that I first went to Washington to begin my career at the height of the U.S. buildup in Vietnam. What lay ahead during my first decade in government were:
Two assassinations at home of historic consequence, with violent domestic turmoil;
The resignation of a president in disgrace;
A costly and hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam; and
An economy battered by high inflation and high interest rates.
As I ended my first decade in government in the mid 1970s, the United States faced even more pointed questions about its place in the world, its place in Asia, and its ultimate prospects for success than it does today. But it was during that discouraging period that the groundwork was being laid – through policies pursued by administrations of both American political parties – for the remarkable turn of events of the following decades: victory in the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the liberation of hundreds of millions of people behind the iron curtain and around the world, and a period of renewed global prosperity – with Asia leading the way. And despite predictions to the contrary, America’s setback in Vietnam did not spell the end of our engagement in Asia – in fact, as I mentioned earlier, we pursued a new relationship in China and have been expanding our defense partnerships in the region, including Vietnam, ever since.
There is no way we can predict the future, nor can we predict the effect that decisions made today will have a decade or two from now. But I believe our work in Asia is laying the groundwork for continued prosperity and security for the United States and for all in the region. It has been enormously gratifying through the course of my career to see the profound good that has come about from American engagement in Asia. And as I leave the United States government, I have no doubt that future generations will have a similar story to tell about the benefits of American power, presence and commitment in this region.
For when America is willing to lead the way; when we meet our commitments and stand with our allies, even in troubling times; when we prepare for threats that are on the ground and on the horizon, and even beyond the horizon; and when we make the necessary sacrifices and take the necessary risks to defend our values and our interests – then great things are possible, and even probable for our country, this region, and the world.
MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for those remarks which brought a tremendous historic perspective to the challenges that are faced today in this region and that describe the continued aspirations that United States has today, to quote a phrase that you used in a previous Shangri-La Dialogue (inaudible) resident power in the Pacific.
I take out three sentences from your remarks. The requirement to understand the prospect of new and disruptive technologies and weapons that could be employed to deny U.S. forces access to key sea routes and lines of communication. The appreciation that a defense posture across the Asia-Pacific that is more geographically distributed operates in resilient and politically sustainable is a core U.S. goal. And thirdly, that the U.S. presence and the associated impact and influences should not be solely measured in terms of conventional metrics or boots on the ground. Others will have picked out other elements of your remarks but those three struck me as particularly important given the theme or themes of this conference.
I’d like now to open the floor for comments, questions, and answers. I’d like to remind you that this session is on the record, which means that not only the answers of the secretary are on the record, but your questions are too, so keep them disciplined and of a high quality as well. (Inaudible). Please keep your name tags up so I can read them and as Ambassador (inaudible).
Q: Thank you, John.
Secretary Gates, I agree with your comments on maritime security in Asia Pacific, especially on the issue of maritime access. In the light of the views that you’ve expressed, when will the United States accede to the Law of the Sea Convention?
SEC. GATES: Well, that is a question probably better addressed to the United States Senate than to me. I will tell you this: the Law of the Sea Treaty has no more ardent supporter in the United States government than the United States Navy. And our senior naval officers repeatedly have made themselves available on Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of the treaty because we do believe that it provides the kind of predictability and set of rules that clarify the rules of the road, if you will. So our position from the Department of Defense and especially from the Navy is that the sooner we accede, the better off we and this region will be.
I will say that I first started dealing with Law of Sea issues 35 years ago and shall we say progress has been slow.
Q: From the Republic of Korea, Mr. (Inaudible). Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your outstanding service both for your government and on the part of our key allies. I wanted to ask you, sir, what type of burden sharing or operations sharing would you suggest for your key allies in this region, including Japanese, Koreans, and Australians as you look at the next 10, 20 years?
SEC. GATES: I think that it is essential to the whole concept of partnership and alliance that the burdens are shared, that the American people, in particular, are not saddled with the total cost or the predominant cost of our forward presence. We have had these kinds of arrangements, support arrangements for many years, certainly with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, with Germany, and some others. But I can assure you that in a time of economic duress, the Congress is going to be looking very carefully at these arrangements to ensure – they’re willing to support our forward presence, but I think they are going to want, I’m sure, that the terms of this presence are equitable and that the interests of the American people, financial interests of the American people are being looked at as well.
These are continuing discussions between us and our friends. And I must say that in all the cases that I mentioned we’ve made some good progress going forward. But I think – I think that people should expect this area of the relationships to come under further scrutiny in the time ahead.
MODERATOR: From the Hong Kong SAR, Daniel (inaudible).
Q: Secretary Gates, thank you for that (inaudible). I note with interest one of your areas of focus is access denial (inaudible). I wonder if you’d like to tell us a little bit how you propose to (inaudible) how to address China’s position on the integrity in the Taiwan Strait and a little more (inaudible) and how that objective of U.S. policy could be, as it were addressed (inaudible).
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think that we have begun a dialogue with China on these issues in recent months, but beyond that I think that the underlying principles applying not to the United States and to China, but to all states in terms of the rules of the road, in terms of the settlement of disputes through international law, and I think that there was progress made and has been progress made at the ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus meeting in terms of a code of conduct in waters in this region – that if people could reach agreement on that, it would clarify a lot of these situations.
This is an area where ASEAN has taken the lead. There is a 2002 code that could provide the basis for – for that kind of a dialogue. But the key here is to get these relationships and the rules, if you will, ironed out in the way that is agreed to by all parties and it provides a peaceful mechanism for resolving these disputes without increasing tensions.
I think potential is there. I was encouraged by the meeting in Hanoi and the discussion of the 2002 code. We’ll see how it goes in the future.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible), I might also remind that Prime Minister (inaudible) made a special point yesterday’s remarks emphasizing the importance of the code of conduct himself also on these issues.
From the United States, Bonnie (inaudible).
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your commitment to this region, this forum, and for the service to the United States. Last year at this forum, you addressed the issue of the (inaudible), I think that was the word you used, of oil companies’ exploration in this region. And just last month, Chinese patrol ships reportedly cut a cable of a PetroVietnam ship and there have also been some (inaudible) recently been established on reefs in the Philippines (inaudible) by China. I’m wondering if you could address those issues, your concerns, and how you think that they could be addressed so that they do not escalate to more tensions and conflict.
SEC. GATES: Well, I think the answer to this question relates very closely to the answer to the previous question. There are some mechanisms out there that were – we believe can be used to resolve these issues. They need to be resolved peacefully. They need to be resolved within the framework of international law. And finding a mechanism for adjudicating conflicts and disputes seems to me to be one of the institutional challenges confronting the entire region. And we will be significantly engaged in that process and supportive of that process. But the reality is that we should be engaged (inaudible) players out here as well.
MODERATOR: From the (Inaudible) Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Japan, Mr. (inaudible). Put your hand up to see Mr. (inaudible). Yes, there you are.
Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for a wonderful presentation and a long time service. I would like to ask about (inaudible) of China (inaudible). The United States government and in particularly DOD has been explaining that China continues to develop these (inaudible) capabilities, but not much about how these capabilities can be met or dealt with. And that gives – that makes states in the region, particularly friends and allies to have some concerns about the credibility of U.S. power projection capabilities. Can you tell us how you can assure your friends and allies in the region that your power projection capabilities is still credible in the face of these growing capabilities? Thank you.
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all I will say that the growing capabilities of which you speak on part of China are there and are of concern. I would say that they are not an imminent concern. We have a number of programs underway that are intended to deal with this issue as part of our own modernization programs and all I can say in this kind of a forum we have been paying attention to this problem for some years. It has implications not just here, in this region, but elsewhere as well.
At this point, we face the situation where Hezbollah, a non-government entity, now has anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of more than 65 miles that potentially puts our and other ships at risk off the coast of Lebanon. So this is – this is not a capability that is limited to one or two situations, but in fact reflects growing capabilities from the part of a number of countries. And all I will tell you, because many of the programs that we have underway are obviously classified is that we take this seriously. We understand the long-term challenge and we are investing significant sums of money in these efforts in a number of different areas and I – best estimate is that those investments will be protected, whatever changes are coming in the defense budget.
MODERATOR: From the Cable John (inaudible).
Q: Thank you. The Pentagon is soon to release a new cyber policy that for the first time allows some form of cyber attacks to be considered acts of war. Now, for years, it’s been well reported that a great number of cyber attacks, especially on U.S. defense systems and U.S. defense contractors emanate from computers in China. (Inaudible) suspicion that many of these attacks are perpetrated (inaudible) by explicit or inexplicit permission of the China government.
Could you please explain to us how the U.S. plans to implement the new policy, what kind of international engagement do you see China and other international actors to work on this issue? And how seriously do you currently take the cyber security threat emanating from China, especially in light of this new (inaudible)?
SEC. GATES: Well, we take the cyber threat very seriously and we see it from a variety of sources, not just one or another country. And the truth to the matter is I think all countries should (inaudible) cyber threat as a potential problem for them. One of the things that I have been trying to get going over the last four , four and a half years is to examine this world of cyber in the context of defense responsibility and what in fact does constitute an offensive act by a government – what would constitute an act of war in the cyber world that would require some kind of response, either in kind or kinetically?
And I would say we’re in the beginning of this process and I think – I think that one of the things that would be beneficial would be for there to be a more open dialogue among countries about cyber and establishing some rules with respect to cyber, so we have a clear understanding of the left and right lanes, if you will, so that somebody doesn’t inadvertently or intentionally begin something that escalates and gets out of control.
One of the problems with a lot of the cyber attacks is that attributable ability to say is a challenge sometimes and it is hard to know or it often takes a lot of time to figure out where a particular attack came from. There is no question that our defense systems are under attack all the time, fairly routinely in fact. We’ve taken a number of steps to try and protect ourselves. But I think that our new cyber policy that we’re trying to put out or that we have put out and the cyber legislations that Congress is working on, are all attempts to try and put our arms around this new area of potential concern. And I think we’re right at the beginning of that process, but I think we could avoid some serious international tensions in the future if we could establish the rules of the road as early as possible that let people know what kinds of acts are acceptable, what kinds of acts are not, what kinds of acts may in fact be an act of war.
MODERATOR: I might mention that the (inaudible) Journal of Survival has an article in this issue suggesting the ten rules of the road for cyber security (inaudible). Mr. (inaudible) from Pakistan.
And I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name. Yes, right there.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you’re remarks are particularly timely on the issue of Afghanistan and (inaudible) if I may draw you out and ask your opinion of the (inaudible) Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: I think there is a generally accepted view that virtually -- nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close with some kind of a political settlement. But the reality is in my view, that the prospects for a political settlement do not become real until the Taliban and the others – their adversaries are – the Afghans’ adversaries begin to conclude that they cannot win militarily.
And so, as I have said before, I believe that the progress we have made over the last year to 15 months in ejecting the Taliban from their home territory of Helmand and Kandahar, if we can sustain those successes, if we can further expand the security bubble, we have enough evidence that the Taliban are under pressure and that their capabilities are being degraded, that perhaps this winter the possibility of some kind of political talks of reconciliation might be substantive enough to offer some hope of progress.
It is clear that the Taliban must sever their relationships with al Qaeda. They must agree to live under the Afghan constitution, and they must be willing to put their arms down in terms of living in a society where the government has the dominant monopoly over the use of force.
That said, the Taliban are probably a part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point, and can I think have, if they abide by all of the rules that I just described, by all the conditions I just described, could potentially have a political role in the future in the country. But my own view is that the political opportunities will flow from military pressure. And only as long as the military pressure doesn’t (inaudible) further gains, will the prospects for a political solution be improved.
I think that the growth of the Afghan national security forces, the transition to Afghan security lead, the various development programs that many nations have underway in Afghanistan, all are important contributors to the future of the country.
And it is also clear that a political outcome in Afghanistan has to provide some comfort and reassurance to Afghanistan’s neighbors that Afghanistan, even if it’s not any longer a threat to the United States, nor will it be a threat to its neighbors. And I think under those circumstances, we could see real opportunities over the course of the next year.
MODERATOR: Mr. (inaudible). Mr. (inaudible). There you are. Please.
Q: Actually, my question (inaudible) question is to offer my (inaudible) question about the position of the prospect of (inaudible) in China and U.S., the (inaudible) and what sort of measures you would like to be taken to (inaudible)? Thank you.
SEC. GATES: Cooperation in outer space – is that your question?
We have just begun a dialogue that I think is very important. On the sidelines of the strategic and economic dialogue that has been going on for several years now between China and the United States at very senior levels. We had the first session beginning with a security dialogue. The first two subjects we discussed were cyber and maritime security. General Liang and I yesterday talked about other subjects that might be addressed going forward in that form and other subjects would – would I think include outer space. So, I think that there is an opportunity in the future. I have believed for some time that expanding this dialogue between us would be quite beneficial to both of us.
MODERATOR: Mr. (inaudible)?
Q: What is the (inaudible) of the (inaudible) of the U.S. in the South China Sea? And what is the U.S. position on the joint development between the (inaudible) of the South China Sea? Thank you.
SEC. GATES: I think I’ve answered this question in the respect that I think that there are mechanisms for resolving the issues relating to the South China Sea. I think there are opportunities to strengthen those mechanisms. We refer to the code of conduct that was drawn up by ASEAN in 2002 that there are more opportunities. I think the key here -- the U.S. interest is ensuring that these conflicts and competing claims are resolved in a peaceful way and in accordance with international law. And that was the position that we will be taking today.
MODERATOR: Gentleman over there. Yes. Give us your name.
Q: (Inaudible.) Secretary Gates, in the last year (inaudible) South China Sea and other maritime areas (inaudible) everyone has been very sanguine about China, but even some of our Chinese friends are now starting to say it’s undermining the security of the peace (inaudible). Do you agree with that?
SEC. GATES: I don’t think it’s risen to that level yet. I think there are increasing concerns and I think we should not lose any time in trying to strengthen these mechanisms that I’ve been talking about for dealing with competing claims in the South China Sea. I fear that without rules of the road and without agreed approaches to dealing with these problems that there will be (inaudible) and I think that serves nobody’s interest. The key is to find some kind of a mechanism – multilateral mechanism that can be used for resolving this along the lines of (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Mr. (inaudible).
Q: Thank you very much. My question actually has to do with India. We built a strategic partnership with India, primarily bilateral, very much naval. I wonder what you thought the next step might be in the India-U.S. partnership, particularly in Asia?
SEC. GATES: I think one of the – two of the developments that came as the biggest surprises to me when I returned to government in 2006 I believe were both positive surprises. One was the significantly improved relationship between the United States and India and the other was the significantly improved relationship between the United States and Japan.
I think that these relationships have built over a period of time. I think there has been significant progress made with respect to India over the last several years. They have begun buying some military hardware from us. We are beginning to do more in the way of exercises and training and cooperative undertakings with them. And so I see this as a long-term investment on the part of both countries.
I have visited India several times in this job and each time, believe that the aperture is widening for cooperation between our governments. But as I indicated in my remarks, there is in India and in both countries for that matter a certain legacy left over from the Cold War. Happily I think it’s quickly fading and maybe the retirement of old Cold War warriors will accelerate that process.
MODERATOR: Mr. (inaudible). There is a Mr. (inaudible)? (Inaudible). You raise your hand? (Inaudible). Thank you.
Q: From – (inaudible). Mr. Gates (inaudible) effort to promote closer ties to the (inaudible) to U.S. arms to Taiwan. Is the U.S. happy (inaudible) nuclear activity in China (inaudible). Why is the U.S. (inaudible) access to (inaudible) but the proper Chinese (inaudible) sometimes China may find U.S. activity intimidating and intruding. Now, as a regional (inaudible) sometimes the U.S. also exercise some (inaudible) global (inaudible) at best and also issues that (inaudible). So as (inaudible) China. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Your question is do you agree?
SEC. GATES: I would say that the U.S. activities are completely consistent with international law and with freedom of navigation, freedom of the skies, and we are respectful of our territorial limits. This is a subject that we have begun discussing. And the key here I think began with one word, and that is transparency. And the more transparent nations are in terms of what they are doing and what their intentions are, what their programs are, in many instances the less need there is for us unilaterally to try and figure that out on our own.
One of my colleagues long ago in the intelligence business said that there are two kinds of information that we seek: secrets and mysteries. Mostly what we’re trying to break are the mysteries. And I think greater transparency of intent and greater transparency of capability, which we are fully prepared to reciprocate, will help us in this arena.
MODERATOR: Lady (inaudible) yes.
Q: Thank you. My name is (inaudible) from the Japanese Diet. My question deals with the DPRK. You have not developed (inaudible) for too long (inaudible). I just would like to know what is your focus for the future of the DPRK and how (inaudible) adopt responsible (inaudible). Is (inaudible) the most (inaudible) a course that is getting (inaudible). We have tried to (inaudible) for so many years (inaudible) and in meantime time is on their side (inaudible) so what is your (inaudible) for the future for the DPRK and its implications for the (inaudible)?
SEC. GATES: All I can tell you is the same thing that President Obama told President Hu last fall and that I told my Chinese hosts when I was in China in January. We believe the situation in North Korea has changed in this respect. And with the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and their continuing development of nuclear weapons, that North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.
Second, the situation in South Korea has changed. Where for many years South Korea turned the other cheek to North Korean provocation, the sinking of the Cheonan and the unprovoked attack on the island, the killing of civilians last fall, has best we can tell changed public opinion in the Republican of Korea. And now that public opinion is much less tolerant of the possibility of turning the other cheek another time.
So this creates I think greater danger with respect to the DPRK and their provocations. And one of the worries we have dealt with over the last seven or eight months, both with our friends in the Republic of Korea and also in our dialogues with our Chinese friends and other members of the Group of Six is the danger of unpredictable escalation in the event of another provocation. And I think we all need to work much harder in terms of trying to prevent that from happening.
But as I mentioned in this forum several years ago (inaudible) Six-Party talks, there is this cycle on (inaudible) North Korea where they will create a provocation, there will be a great deal of strain, great deal of international pressure will be brought to bear for negotiations. And negotiations with concessions will be undertaken. That will move on for a while and then the cycle will begin again.
And my response at that time is I’m tired of buying the same horse twice. And so I think the time has come to make some long-term judgments and some long-term decisions in terms of how the international community deals with North Korea and the expectations we have of North Korean behavior. So that the kind of belligerence, and frankly unprovoked belligerence that we see from time to time is constrained and my hope is that this is not tied to the succession as a way of somebody proving their (inaudible) to the North Korean military and that we can find a peaceful way to deal with these kinds of issues between the north and the south in particularly given the north's proliferation programs that are particularly destabilizing the entire region. Let me just say, the United States has no interest in regime change. We have no interest in destabilizing North Korea. What we do have an interest in is developing North Korea relationships using we hope the group of six to get the North Koreans to live by the same rules of international engagement that everyone else does.
Q. Mr. Secretary Gates, we are all heartened by assurance that the United States will maintain its presence in this region. But as you said in your speech, economic logic will drive American defense expenses down, China defense expenses up, (inaudible). From five years from now, that the perception that American influence is going to be declining, what do you do to reassure the countries in the region that things will actually remain the same five years from now?
SEC. GATES: I have a very simple answer. I will bet you a hundred dollars that five years from now the United States' influence in this region is as strong if not stronger than it is today.