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Secretary Cohen's Pacific Dialogue - Security Session, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Presenter: Defense Secretary William Cohen
January 12, 1998

Palace of the Golden Horses Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 12 January 1998

The Deputy Prime Minister has entitled this session, and thus my remarks, "Security and Defense Cooperation: Practical and Substantive Unilateral, Bilateral and Regional Steps."

I must admit that when I first heard this I assumed it was the work one of my nearly three million employees, who have a collective reputation for prose as dense as tank armor.

Then I realized it could not be the creation of anyone in the Pentagon because there were no acronyms.

Upon further reflection I concluded that this title must have been the work of an aspiring haiku writer, because its sparse structure conveys some rich meanings.

And before he comments, let me assure George Yeo that I know that, with that syllabic arrangement, it is not haiku.

Yet within its individuals parts, this title reveals the complexities of our challenge in the security arena in the Asia-Pacific.

Why security and defense? Because while intimately connected, the two are not the same.

Because defense cooperation, which is not yet as developed in the region as security cooperation, is an area where we can make significant contributions to the stability and well being of this region.

Why practical and substantive?

Because ideas that seem practical may not really contribute substantively and, in some cases, could actually be counterproductive.

Because other ideas that are substantive and sound are beyond immediate reach, necessitating a step-by-step approach.

Why unilateral, bilateral and regional?

Not only because action can be taken at different levels – including, I would add, at the sub-regional level.

But because actions at every level should be of a whole.

They should be mutually reinforcing, and together form a coherent approach to achieving common objectives.

Security and defense … practical and substantive …unilateral, bilateral and regional.

These terms also capture the fundamentals of American engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

Indeed, America's deep and enduring engagement reflects our deep and enduring security interests in the Asia Pacific region.

We stand with Asia in the good times – and in the difficult and uncertain times.

During my time in the U.S. Senate, I chaired the committee responsible for overseeing U.S. security policy in Asia.

So I know very well that at times, and even recently, there has been concern over America's level of interest and long-term intentions in the region.

I am here to tell you that those concerns are not warranted.

We are here to stay and here to play – in the serious sense of being actively engaged in the critical challenges in the region that affect our common interests.

The United States is well aware that our military presence and engagement in the region has been the oxygen feeding the region's dynamic engine of growth.

We recognize that the reassurance provided by the American presence and engagement is even more important during periods of uncertainty, when the engine sputters.

Indeed, such times of tumult should give greater impetus to broadening and deepening defense cooperation between our countries.

Which brings us full circle to the subtitle "Unilateral, Bilateral and Regional Steps." Unilaterally, we each make decisions regarding our resources and forces.

One of my first efforts as Secretary was a comprehensive review of U.S. defense strategy and military posture.

While the resulting strategy was new, at its core was a continued commitment to remain forward deployed in the Asia Pacific region.

And in this review, I also made the hard choices to ensure that we would have the resources to maintain and modernize our forces.

But sustaining a forward presence at the levels and in the forms necessary to maintain stability and security in the region is most definitely not a unilateral enterprise.

Our ships need ports of call, repair and sustainment. Our forces need a variety of training opportunities to maintain readiness. And they need logistical support to be ready to respond to regional contingencies.

Just as critical to our engagement strategy in Asia is our ability to train and operate with each other.

These elements not only deepen the relationships between our militaries and our defense officials and support our multifaceted military presence.

They allow us to understand and to trust each other more, and thus create more opportunities for greater security and stability.

So the United States is extremely grateful for the support and cooperation many ASEAN countries already provide for our military presence.

This is one of the reasons why we have such excellent security relationships with many of these countries, far better than is generally realized.

And we look to our friends to contribute to regional security by helping to further solidify our presence and keeping us anchored in the region.

We would like, over time, to build on these already strong relationships by enhancing our military-to-military cooperation, our access arrangements and our defense policy dialogues.

We are pursuing similar efforts to enhance defense cooperation elsewhere in the world, including elsewhere in Asia.

We just concluded our first defense consultative talks with the Chinese Ministry of Defense.

And next week in Beijing, I will sign an agreement to establish a mechanism for dialogue between operational officers from our two navies, review progress in beginning table top exercises as was agreed at October's summit, and work for progress on other practical cooperative efforts.

The U.S. and Australia have agreed to revitalize their alliance and re-orient it to the needs of the Asia Pacific region in the 21st century.

And, in September, as you know, Japan and the United States finalized the revised Guidelines for Defense Cooperation.

Under these revised U.S.-Japan Guidelines, we will take practical and substantive steps to prepare our alliance for the challenges of the future, from providing humanitarian relief to responding to regional crises that affect Japan's security.

These challenges do not require more forces, but they do require more flexibility, which the revised Guidelines provide.

And they ensure that, just as it has for the last half century, the U.S.-Japan alliance will underpin the stability in the Asia Pacific region that has been the basis for the region's remarkable economic growth over the years.

The revised Guidelines clearly serve the security and economic interests of the entire region, especially China, which has benefited more than any other country from the stability created by America's military engagement and presence throughout the region.

Multilateral Mechanisms

I would like to emphasize that the United States seeks to enhance defense cooperation not only in our bilateral relationships, but multilaterally, as well.

Over a period of only a few years, multilateral fora have become an important -- and permanent -- feature of the regional security architecture, and ASEAN's activism in this has been essential.

The United States is actively engaged in the ASEAN Regional Forum and believes the ARF has made substantial progress in fostering candid dialogue on issues of regional security concern.

During this conference last year as Senator, I highlighted the value in expanding the ARF format to enable defense ministry officials to participate more directly.

And this year as Secretary, I would like to express appreciation for ASEAN's willingness to expedite this change for the 1997 meeting.

If the ARF is to take practical and substantive steps forward, the involvement of defense ministries and militaries is increasingly important as the ARF discusses in more detail cooperative activities and confidence-building measures.

We are comfortable with the pace of the ARF's evolution and the issues under discussion.

But we do have concerns about certain proposals for military confidence-building measures that are sometimes circulated – measures that could lead to operational constraints on our military presence in the region.

The value of our military presence to regional stability depends upon our operational flexibility and the reassurance and deterrence that such flexibility provides.

So let me be clear in stating that the United States will not support initiatives that would either undermine our operational flexibility or constrain our military posture.

Multilateral mechanisms can be successful only if built upon the foundation of solid bilateral relationships and a U.S. forward presence in the region.

They cannot substitute for either.

Indeed, given the high stakes involved, security structures, no less than financial structures, must be built on a solid foundation, not shifting sands.

Korean Peninsula

In addition to their continued activism within the ARF, ASEAN countries can contribute to region-wide security by continuing and enhancing their support for addressing the security situation on the Korean peninsula, as can Tokyo and Beijing.

The security problems of the peninsula are not just South Korean or American problems, they are Asian problems.

As such, the entire region has enormous stakes in successfully managing the situation. There is a role for each Asian state, from supporting KEDO to applying political persuasion.

While we remain ever vigilant in facing the immediate threat on the peninsula, we have devoted considerable effort to looking over the horizon to when the current threat will have receded.

Following in-depth discussions, the United States and South Korea agreed last month on the need to maintain our bilateral security alliance for the long-term, while adapting it to changing circumstances.

And as with our updated alliances with Australia and Japan, our alliance with Korea will benefit the security, stability and, therefore, the prosperity of the entire region.

When reunification does occur, it will, of course, lead to security recalculations.

Ensuring regular and open channels of communication, promoting transparency, and fostering cooperation on common objectives will be essential.

And all will be facilitated by the continued U.S.-Korean alliance.


China, of course, will be a key participant in such dialogue, just as it is in the current Four-Party talks regarding the Korean Peninsula.

Let me be clear that as China's influence grows, America's objective is not to deny China her rightful place as an Asian power.

Rather, we seek to encourage China to assume the increasing responsibilities that come with increasing influence.

These include the need to become more open on security matters and to adhere to international norms regarding peaceful resolution of disputes, controlling weapons of mass destruction, freedom of the seas, and other matters.

In this regard, we are pleased by China's willingness to engage in broader discussions regarding the South China Sea, as well as China's past statements that international law should be used as a basis for finding a resolution of that dispute.

Customary international law and the Law of the Sea Convention might play a useful role in some aspects of the issue.

In short, we encourage China to reject a zero-sum attitude toward security by recognizing the common interests we all share in a stable environment that will allow our economies to prosper and our people to be enriched.

These various elements I have discussed – unilateral, bilateral, sub-regional and regional – are of a whole:

A firmament of U.S. commitment and military capability, upon which rests the solid foundation of bilateral alliances revitalized and redesigned for the new century.

And, built up from that foundation, a set of carefully constructed multilateral institutions. Separately, these are practical and substantive steps.

Together, they frame out a regional security architecture sturdy enough to withstand the gale winds and earth-shaking tremors that future years inevitably will bring.

The Asia Pacific region has benefited enormously from economic integration, notwithstanding the accompanying shared vulnerability highlighted by the events of the day.

All of those benefits of integration, however, will be vulnerable to much greater risk unless we complete the construction of this regional security architecture and then continue to reinforce it over time.

During interludes of peace, when the threat of conflict seems far removed, there is a tendency to think that this is the natural state of affairs for mankind.

That Thomas Hobbes was wrong and – given humankind's advanced state – that life is not nasty, brutish and short.

Unfortunately, history sits like a raven on our shoulder and is always there to remind us that we have rarely transcended our baser instincts.

Will and Ariel Durant noted that as of 1968, during the past 3,421 years, only 268 have been free of war.

The 30 years since they made that calculation have not reduced the disparity between what we profess and what we practice.

We have more information available to us today than at any time in the history of human existence, but more information has not yet transported us to higher regions of wisdom or enlightenment.

For most, wisdom still wanders like a blind beggar in the deserts of our mind.

While the 20th century has been one remarkable as much for its violence and destructiveness as it has been for its progress, the 21st century can be different.

Free peoples always have the capacity to begin again, to renew ourselves.

We are all indebted to our gracious and visionary host.

Because of his leadership and dedication to achieving a moral society as well as a prosperous one, we have the chance – working together – to reverse the horrible historical ratios of war and peace.

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