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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Carter at the Woodrow Wilson Center

Presenters: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter; Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Richard J. Ellings, President, The National Bureau of Asian Research
October 03, 2012

            MR. RICHARD J. ELLINGS:  In any case, for the sake of time, it is my pleasure -- let me turn this over to you, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. (Applause.) 

            DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON B. CARTER:  Thank you. 

            Thank you, thanks, Rich, for that great introduction.  Great reminder of Shali, and more about Shali in a moment.  Thanks to NBR and to the Woodrow Wilson Center.  And I just left Jane Harman, for those of you at the Woodrow Wilson Center, over in the Pentagon.  And she’s briefing right now, Secretary Panetta on – she’s a member of the Defense Policy Board - on Iran, actually, so she wasn’t able to here, but she’s a wonderful leader for that institution as well.  I want to recognize her as well.  

            Stape, Mr. Ambassador, all the members of the diplomatic community who are here, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, truly wonderful to be with you today to celebrate the launch of this year’s edition of Strategic Asia.   NBR’s mission – to strengthen Asia-Pacific policy through research – is one that’s close to my own heart.  

            I share NBR’s conviction that facts and ideas matter in the public realm.  NBR’s research helps us understand the world, and make decisions within it.  For the publications you produce, and the meetings you convene, Scoop Jackson would have been proud of your impact. 

            And for NBR, I’ve known many of the people in NBR for decades, Rich, Ashley, whom I’m glad to see here today, my friend.  I am especially pleased to see the great success of the John M. Shalikashvili Chair in National Security Studies.   Shali was a dear friend of mine, with whom I worked in the Pentagon in the 1990s, and then outside of government as well.  And the nation was lucky to have him as a citizen, a solider, a public servant.  

            Through his service as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1990s, when we were in the Pentagon together, he left us a really rich legacy – of stability in Europe, peace in the Balkans, of stronger relations with China – all of that Shali was responsible for – and, most importantly, a superb U.S. military, which has performed so well in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a range of missions around the globe.  He had rich and inquisitive mind, a sense of national purpose, both of which drew him to NBR after he moved back to Washington State.  

            And the Chair that NBR established carries Shali’s legacy, a very vibrant program of research.  I congratulate you on your many successes.  And for these reasons and many more, it gives me great pleasure to be here with you today. 

            The book that you launch is principally about China.  But I want to speak with you about a broader topic – and that is our defense strategy and budget, and particularly the defense aspects of our so-called rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, which is a key part of our strategy. 

            Our rebalance is not about the United States. It’s not about China.  It’s not about any other individual country or group of countries.  It's about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all countries can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper. 

            In the first pages of this year’s edition of Strategic Asia, which I did have the chance to peruse, you ask whether the United States has the ability to meet the objectives we’ve set for ourselves in the rebalance.  It is fair question, given our fiscal realities.  And today I want to tell you how it is that we do have the capacity to resource the rebalance and meet our commitments.  

            With our allies and partners, I think you’ll see, we are, in fact, across the Asia-Pacific region able to invest to sustain peace and prosperity.  In other words, we are not just talking the talk, we are walking the walk.  And I’d ask if you don’t believe us, to just watch our steps over coming months and years, and you’ll see us implement the rebalance.  

            And today I want to tell you a bit about those steps, at least the steps we in the Pentagon are taking as part of what is a broader government-wide rebalancing.    

            The overall strategic context in which the rebalance takes place is important.  And let me start with that.  We in the United States find ourselves in national defense at a moment of great transition. 

            After 11 years of conflict since September 11th, 2001, one war has ended, in Iraq.  The other, in Afghanistan, has for sure not ended, but is transitioning to Afghan lead, and thanks to the superb effort of U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces, will wind down in coming years.  

            And while we've been focused on fighting insurgency in two places and terrorism world-wide, the world has not stood still.  Our friends and enemies have not stood still.  And technology has not stood still.  

            And so this for us is a time to look up, look around, and look forward at what the world will need from us next – to the security challenges that will define our future after Iraq and Afghanistan.  

            That is the great transition upon which we are embarked in defense.  And we would need to make this strategic transition no matter what.  But we are also subject to a second great source of change.  And that is the need to keep the United States’s fiscal house in order, as outlined in the Budget Control Act, which Congress passed last year, and which required our Department to remove $487 billion dollars from our budget plans over this next ten years.  

            Can’t get through an hour here in Washington without this slight digression to rant about sequestration, so let me do that. The Budget Control Act, as I’m sure all of you know, also threatens a drastic process of sequestration if Congress does not pass a comprehensive and balanced overall budget plan that the President can sign.  

            Secretary Panetta and I, as I said, have been railing about this since last winter, when many people didn’t know what the word sequester meant – and gradually it’s been sinking in here in Washington and also around the country that sequester would be a disaster for defense.  It’s chaotic, wasteful, damaging, not just to defense but every other function of government.  

            The intent of sequester was to use the threat of cuts to both defense and non-defense on top of the 487 billion dollar cuts but – and additionally, implemented mindlessly and inflexibly -- to force Congress to enact a compromise deficit reduction plan.   It was never designed to be implemented.  

            If it comes to pass, it will inevitably lead to a hollowing of the force, impacting our investments, the lives of servicemembers, our other employees and their families – as well, as I said, of all those of other agencies of government.  It is no way to do business from a management point of view.              

            The nature of sequestration makes it impossible to devise a “plan” that eliminates, or even substantially mitigates its foolish impacts.  We are working with OMB to understand this complicated legislation, and we are assessing its impacts, and we will be ready to implement if it ever comes to pass. 

            But we are still three months from January and I’m hoping, to quote Secretary Panetta, who has a lot of experience in this field, that Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, will exercise the necessary leadership to make sure that sequestration is de-triggered, putting the national interest above all else.  

            If sequester is averted, as so many in Congress actually wish, under the Budget Control Act, to get back to the beginning, our base defense budget will not go down -- not go down -- but neither will it continue to go up, as it has for the last ten years and as we planned for it to go up.  And that’s the 487 billion dollar difference outlined under the Budget Control Act – the difference between what we planned and what we will get. 

            So, these two forces, one of strategic history, and the other of fiscal necessity, led us to define a new defense strategy for the 21st century, in a remarkable process last winter, steered personally by President Obama, which was unprecedented in my experience.  The President brought together the leadership of the Department of Defense and others in a conversation about the future trajectory of national defense that went on through several months.  We made a series of decisions through that process to design a balanced, effective defense strategy, taking into account cuts imposed upon us, and above all making the transition from the era of Iraq and Afghanistan, building a force for the future to meet our strategic objectives.  

            That future force is what our Chairman, Mary Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, calls the Joint Force of 2020.  That’s what we’re building towards.  And as Secretary Panetta likes to say, our future force is gonna be agile, it’s gotta be lean, it’s gotta be ready, and it’s gotta be technologically advanced, and able to defeat any adversary, anywhere, anytime. 

            Our political and military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is one of the most important tenets of the new strategy.  There are several, this is the most important. Underlying our security engagement with the region is our support for long-standing principles that go well beyond security – of free and open access to commerce; of a just international order that upholds the rule of law; of open access to all domains; and of the peaceful resolution of disputes.  

            We seek a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all the states of the region – all of them – can enjoy the benefits of security and continue to prosper, just as they have for almost 70 years, since the valiant efforts of the brave men and women who fought so courageously in World War II.  

            Indeed, part of the reason states in the region have been able to rise and prosper is due – has been due – to our military presence.  Thanks to that historic security, states in the region have had the freedom to choose and forge their own economic and political futures.  

            The stability provided in important measure by the United States military presence in the region helped, first, Japan and South Korea, to rise and prosper, then Southeast Asia to rise and prosper, and now, yes, China, and in a different way, India, to rise and prosper.  Working with all of them, we intend to continue to play that positive, pivotal, stabilizing role.  That’s what the rebalance is all about.

            To those who ask whether we will be able to deliver on our security commitments under our rebalance, I am gonna give you five reasons why we will be able to do so. 

            The first is due to increased military capacity.  With the war in Iraq now over, and as we transition security responsibilities to the government of Afghanistan, we will release much of our military capacity that has been tied up there for other missions, like fostering peace and strengthening partnerships in the Asia-Pacific.  Naval assets that will be released from Afghanistan and the Middle East include surface combatants, amphibious ships, and, eventually, aircraft carriers.  

            From the Air Force, unmanned systems and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, as well as bomber, cyber, and space forces, can all be redeployed and refocused on the Asia-Pacific region.  In the Army and the Marine Corps, equipment and personnel previously committed to Iraq and Afghanistan are available for new missions in other regions.  

            Second, we are investing in new capabilities that will be especially relevant to the Asia-Pacific region.  And we have carefully protected these capabilities, even in the face of the Budget Control Act.  In the Navy, we are investing in the Virginia-class submarine and the Virginia payload module, which will allow our attack submarines to carry torpedo-sized weapons and over 60 cruise missiles.  

            We are investing in anti-submarine warfare capabilities to maintain our enormous undersea advantage, including P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, the M-60 helicopter, as well as ISR assets, like the Broad Area Maritime Sensor, BAMS, which is essentially a marinized version of the Global Hawk.  And the Air Force is investing in the KC-46 refueling tanker, a new very stealthy bomber, and a host of ISR investments that will be relevant to the region.  

            One of the key tenets of our defense strategy is to protect our future-focused investments – the “seed corn” of the future force.  President Obama was crystal clear – very insistent – about this himself during our strategy and budget deliberations last winter.  And that’s what we’re doing as we budget.  Our newest investments of course have the shallowest roots, so it’s easy to tear them away when budget cuts are made, but we can’t afford to do that, we can’t afford to lose our future technological edge, particularly as we look to the Asia-Pacific region.   And so we’re protecting those investments. 

            We are investing in things like cyber, space, and electronic warfare; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; the Long Range Strike family of systems, all of which are so important to the Asia-Pacific region.  And we will continue our science and technology investments across the board.  

            The third reason why we can carry out the rebalance is that we are shifting our posture forward and into the Asia-Pacific region.  That it, not what we have, but where we put it is also changing.  By 2020, we will have shifted 60 percent of our naval assets to the Pacific.  

            That’s an historic change for the United States Navy.  The Marine Corps will have up to 2,500 Marines on rotation in Australia, we will have four Littoral Combat Ships stationed forward in Singapore – new Littoral Combat Ships, I was just aboard both of the variants in San Diego last week – and will proceed fully to build-out our military presence on Guam and surrounding areas, which is an important strategic hub for the Western Pacific.  

            We will begin to rotate B-1 bombers into the region, augmenting the B-52 bombers already on continuous rotation.  We have already deployed F-22s to Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, and we will deploy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the region.  Said differently, we are sending our newest assets to the Asia-Pacific region first.  

            Fourth, we are working closely with our allies and partners to build a peaceful Asia-Pacific where every state in the region may prosper, and we do that project together.  The State Department of course leads our diplomatic engagement in the region, but our defense relationships play a big part as well.  

            A key objective of our rebalance is to build a healthy, transparent, and sustainable U.S.-China defense relationship, one that supports a broader U.S.-China relationship.  As Secretary Panetta said when he was in China two weeks ago, a strong and cooperative U.S.-China partnership is essential for global security and prosperity in the 21st century, and we seek to cooperate with China on a range of diplomatic, economic, and security issues, including working closely with them to create – build an enduring foundation for U.S.-China military-to-military relations.   

            Recently, our navies participated in a joint counter-piracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, an area of strategic and economic importance for both countries.  The exercise helped us to build trust, and gave our sailors a chance to work together.  And Secretary Panetta invited China to participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which is our largest multilateral maritime exercise.   So our relationship – our defense relationship with China is an essential part of our rebalance.            

            To foster security across the region, we are deepening our involvement in regional multilateral security institutions, like the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus. 

            We are expanding bilateral and multilateral exercises of all kind, increasing defense trade, and deepening our defense relationships.  Secretary Panetta has been to the region three times in the last 12 months.  

            And I spent ten days in the region during this summer, doing the practical work – that’s my job – of strengthening our ties with Japan, Thailand, Korea, and India.  Last year, the United States military participated in 172 exercises in the Asia-Pacific region with 24 countries.  And we are looking to expand that further.  

            We are taking a broad and comprehensive approach to our security cooperation.  We are building partnership capacity, improving interoperability, and cooperating on new capabilities.  Our security cooperation in the region includes a range of Foreign Military Sales, Direct Commercial Sales, and technology cooperation.  For us, exports are a “two-fer”: they help us build our partners’ capabilities, and they help our defense industry’s competitiveness.  

            We are improving our overall export control system under President Obama's 2010 Export Control Reform Initiative, and taking strong steps within DoD to improve our internal processes as well.  We're making our decision process more anticipatory – that is, looking to what partners are likely to want in the future, and beginning our thinking and technical preparations at an earlier stage.  These reforms should make it easier for us to cooperate with our partners across the region. 

            To strengthen our regional missile defense posture, we are forging with Japan, Australia, and South Korea new missile defense approaches.  We are integrating Japanese sensors into our space surveillance network, and cooperating with Australia on space capabilities.  

            We are enhancing our access and sustainment across the region.  In addition to rotationally deploying Littoral Combat Ships, in Singapore, as I mentioned earlier, we are exploring options for increased training there.  With the Philippines, we are exploring options for rotational force deployments in priority areas.  We are focused on building the Philippines’ maritime security presence and capabilities, and strengthening their maritime domain awareness.  

            We are integrating roles, missions and capabilities with Japan, and taking numerous steps to solidify and strengthen our enduring presence on the Korean peninsula.  

            We are deepening our security cooperation, technology sharing, and defense trade with India, another state so important to our rebalance, and, we believe, to the broader security and prosperity of the 21st century.   We believe that given the inherent links between India and the United States, in values, in political philosophy, that the only limit to our cooperation with India should be our independent strategic decisions – because any two states can differ – not bureaucratic obstacles.   So I personally am working daily to remove those obstacles.  We are moving well beyond purely defense trade with India, towards technology sharing and co-production.  

            So our engagement with our allies and partners is a key step in executing our rebalance, as they help us achieve all of our regional security objectives.  

            Fifth, and last, the Defense Department is turning its formidable innovative power to the Asia-Pacific region.  We are by no means abandoning counterinsurgency – that’s a core skill-set we’ve gotten very good at doing, and which we’re gonna keep.  But as we come out of Iraq and Afghanistan, defense planners, analysts, scientists, and institutions across the country are devoting more and more of their time to thinking about the Asia-Pacific region.  

            We are developing new operational concepts for our forces.  We are integrating operations and aligning the Air Force and Navy to maintain access in contested regions.  We are reviewing our contingency plans to ensure we are prepared for any opportunity or challenge that may arise.   

            So the Pentagon leadership is focused intently on executing the rebalance.  Secretary Panetta hosts a video teleconference – this is something new.  This is something that Secretary Gates and then Secretary Panetta have been doing with commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way of keeping involved, keeping in touch, constantly consulting, constantly working on issues.  And we’ve decided to do that with Admiral Locklear, out in Honolulu, also, to keep the tempo of our activities up so the Defense Department leadership can make decisions effectively and quickly about the Asia-Pacific region.  I am conducting a Defense Department-wide management review to support, assess, and implement all of those rebalance initiatives.   We are watching every dollar, every ship, and every plane to make sure that we execute our rebalance effectively. 

            So, in conclusion, we are not just talking the talk of rebalance – we are walking the walk.  Even in a period of fiscal austerity, we can and will invest in a continued military presence and engagement for the Asia-Pacific region, for all of the reasons and in all the ways I’ve outlined today.  

            For each of our strategic initiatives, we have had to make careful investment decisions.  We have had to weigh costs, and measure benefits.  We are investing in new capabilities we need for the future.  And to do so, we have had to let go of some unneeded and overlapping capabilities, and make difficult calls on underperforming programs to make way for new capabilities and better performing programs.  Choices like this are the essence of strategy.  We are balancing our investments to meet our strategic objectives.  

            So thank you very much for being here today, inviting me to join you.  NBR and the Woodrow Wilson Center, you conduct valuable public policy research in support of the national interest.  And so as we execute our rebalance, we will continue to look to you to provide us with insights and analysis about this important region of the world.  I know you will have some thoughts of your own and some questions of your own, and I welcome them.   Congratulations again on all of your success, and thank you. 

            Congratulations again on all of your success.  And thank you. (Applause.) 

            MR. ELLINGS:  We are extremely privileged to have you give a major address on the rebalancing here.  And I think we're all kind of impressed at the comprehensiveness of your remarks, and deeply appreciative. 

            I would now like to open this to questions.  And let me kind of search around here.  Can we start over here, the gentleman on the end of the row? 

            MR. ELLINGS:  I chose the gentleman furthest from the microphone.  I apologize. (Laughter.) 

            Q:  Well, thanks for calling on me.  Eric McVadon, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. 

            I wonder if the new leadership in China and the relatively new leadership in North Korea provide us with some opportunities or whether we can create opportunities for further cooperation and engagement. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think for China, that is definitely the case.  Obviously, that's not new leadership either to China or to us.  Many of those individuals we've known, we've worked with in the past, and they've all indicated they're -- not only their willingness but their desire to continue to develop this relationship in a positive way, economically, politically, but for us in the Defense Department and in a security sense. 

            In North Korea, we'll have to see.  We remain concerned about so many dimensions of North Korea.  And that's one of the reasons why we're so intent upon solidifying our posture there.  And that's the reason why we're looking at number of steps in Korea that I'm sure you're familiar with, but I'll just remind you of what's going on there. 

            We are making our presence there, particularly our ground force presence, they're putting it on a more permanent basis, some more solid basis.  That's what the Yongsan relocation plan and land partnership program is all about.  We're in the middle of executing them.  We're making a number of improvements in our force structure, number of command and control arrangements with the government of the ROK.  Looking at the way our operations plans are configured in making sure that they're completely up to date. 

            So we're doing a lot on the Korean Peninsula for a lot of reasons, but one of them is in order to continue to keep the peace on the Korean Peninsula. 

            And we'll just have to see what the new leadership there is like. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  Yes, Stanley Roth. 

            Q:  I'll just shout. 

            ELLINGS:  We actually -- this is... 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Stanley's like that. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  ... televised so... (Laughter.) 

            ... let's bring him (inaudible) 

            Q:  I wanted to ask you about the reaction in the region to the rebalancing, particularly given Secretary Panetta's recent trip to China and your own contacts with the Chinese. 

            For those of us outside government, it appears to be a fairly negative reaction -- i.e., talking about it as containment, that it's aimed at them, all the things we say it's not.  But any insights you can share in what we say to them to try to persuade China that this is, indeed, you know, a region-wide not defense-specific initiative. 

            And on the other side, for all the rest of the people in the region, the question of how credible is the pivot or rebalancing.  People are looking particularly at all the Chinese naval activity in the South China Sea and East China Sea, and what do we say to them? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  You -- you've -- Stanley, you've hit on the head.  I mean, overall, I think the reaction has been positive among old friends and new friends.  But there are two questions that come up.  The one, I addressed specifically today is, are you really going to do this or not?  Or are you going to walk the walk or are you just talking the talk? 

            I told you why we're going to walk the walk and I told you if you don't believe it just watch the steps.  So watch the steps.  That's all I can say on that one. 

            On the issue of containing China again, you have to watch what happens.  And I would say the Chinese friends who have that concern, and not all do; many understand the point and the logic.  To those who have concerns, I'd say the same thing:  watch the steps. 

            And the steps we want to take are ones that are cooperative.  We're reaching out.  We're trying to do more with the Chinese military and make the Chinese military part of this security mix, which we are also an essential part of but not the only part of.  But it's that which has kept a good thing going for 70 years in that part of the world.  It's that -- been that environment in which these tremendous economic transformations of one Asian state after another can take place. 

            We welcome that.  We think that's a good thing.  We want to keep going with that.  That's what it's all about. 

            So I, you know, on both of those questions, Stanley, all I can say is watch. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  OK, one more question.  How about in the back there, the hand raised?  I'm trying to be equal opportunity per section of the audience here. 

            Q:  Thank you.  I'm Tom Reckford with the Malaysia-America Society and the World Affairs Council. 

            You talk about the need for peaceful resolution of disputes.  I wonder if you can elaborate a bit about what Stan Roth referred to in the South China and East China Seas, where China's assertiveness is causing so much concern. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Sure. 

            Well, we see that and I think we have a very principled position on all of this.  You know, first of all, people say we don't take sides in these disputes, but that's not true.  We actually do take a side, and we take a side for freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of these disputes. 

            That's where we are.  That's where we're going to stay.  And, you know, we don't  we don't always have a direct intermediating role.  I understand that.  

            But that's  when I talk about the American position in the regions beginning from principle, that's a good example of it.  And our principle is equal access and peaceful resolution. 

            And I think for those in all of the states that have all of these historic disputes, these things have to be kept in proportion.  The big game is peace and security that allows prosperity and development.  And to endanger that for small things is not in anybody's interest.  Everybody needs to keep that in perspective. 

            And to play the freedom of navigation game, you know, everybody can play that around the world.  And that there, down that road lies trouble for everybody. 

            So, you know, our -- our position's pretty clear.  And it is related to the rebalance, because it -- the rebalance sets up a vision of what the security system in that part of the world ought to be.  And I think if people keep this in proportion, they'll realize that not to sacrifice the big game for little games. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  Secretary Carter, I'm going to exercise the -- having a microphone in my hand, the prerogative of one who holds the microphone:  Is there anything you want to say specifically?  He asked about the South China Sea.  How about the maritime difficulties, disputes, particularly between Japan, China... 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Same thing. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  Same thing? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Same thing. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  Anything specific there? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  No, the same -- the same principles, same thing.  And different set of parties in that particular case, somewhat different history.  And, you know,  it indicates that this is a part of the world where many historic animosities never dispelled, wounds were never properly healed after World War II and beyond, and didn't have the experience that Europe had with NATO, which, remember, took decades itself to heal these things. 

            So that's another task before us and another reason to have the kind of cooperative security structure in the region that I'm talking about and that the United States seeks.  So that over time these things can be put behind and people can march on to the future that their people really deserve. 

            MR. ELLINGS:  Well, tremendous thanks and a tremendous job.  We really are pleased to have you here.  Thank you so much on behalf of everyone.  And we really appreciate your coming. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Thank you, appreciate it.  Thank you. (Applause.)