WASHINGTON, May 30, 2015 —
A strong and inclusive security architecture is key to ensuring the opportunity for the Asia-Pacific region to continue to rise, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Delivering a speech at the event's first plenary session, Carter stressed the importance of safeguarding the freedom of the seas for all nations, deterring conflict and coercion in the region and adherence to international rules.
“The United States wants a shared regional architecture that is strong enough, capable enough, and connected enough to ensure that all Asia-Pacific peoples and nations have the opportunity to rise and continue to rise in the future,” he said.
America wants a future, Carter said, in which an Indonesian fisherman, an energy executive from Malaysia, an entrepreneur from Singapore, a small business owner in California, and a Chinese businesswoman have the security and opportunity to rise and prosper.
The defense secretary said the U.S. seeks to protect the rights of all countries -- large or small -- to help them rise, prosper and be able to determine their own destiny.
In order to realize this future, Carter said the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture must be inclusive, open, and transparent.
“It must respect rights, and not just might,” he said. “It cannot shy away from the hard issues; it must provide a forum to openly discuss the challenges we face, so that we can tackle them collectively.”
This architecture must be “action-oriented,” Carter said, to help manage today’s challenges and prevent tomorrow’s crises while rewarding cooperation -- not coercion.
“That’s an audacious idea,” he said, “but we meet today in a country that demonstrates what determination, consistency, and persistence can do, though we do so with heavy hearts.”
Carter quoted Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, whose leadership style served as an example of determination.
Here men and women of goodwill come together to think critically about the region’s future, he said, and “we owe it to all those we represent -- citizens, organizations, governments and businesses -- to work together until we succeed; until every nation can rise and everybody wins.”
70 Years of Success
Over the past 70 years, Carter said the Asia-Pacific has grown and prospered in many ways.
“Miracle after miracle has occurred,” he said. “First Japan, then Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, including Singapore, rose and prospered, and now, China and India are rising and prospering.”
And the region is not done yet, Carter added. “Today, over 60 percent of the world’s population lives in the Asia-Pacific. It’s the fulcrum of the global economy; one of the fastest growing regions of the world.”
Sustained growth, supported by increased regional and international trade has lifted millions out of poverty and into the middle class, he said.
“Even though there’s still room for improvement,” Carter said, “democracy and freedom have spread throughout the region.”
The defense secretary noted the U.S. is also “doing well” following its worst recession since the Great Depression, and the economy has since “made great gains.”
Progress will continue, Carter said, because of America’s “dynamic and innovative businesses, strong commitment to the rule of law, world-class universities, and the domestic energy revolution now underway.”
“The U.S. military,” he said, “long the finest fighting force the world has ever known, has improved its readiness while maintaining its unmatched operational edge and unrivaled capabilities.”
U.S. Commitment to the Region
Carter explained the purpose of America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is about sustaining the progress occurring all around the region and helping it continue to fulfill its promise.
The defense secretary said he is “personally committed” to the next phase of the rebalance where DoD will deepen “long-standing alliances and partnerships,” while diversifying America’s force posture, and making new investments in key capabilities and platforms.
According to Carter, this includes investing in technologies most relevant to the complexity of the security environment there, such as new unmanned systems for the air and sea, a new long-range bomber, and other technologies like the electromagnetic railgun, lasers, and new systems for space and cyberspace.
As new systems are developed, he said, “DoD will continue to bring the best platforms and people forward to the Asia-Pacific.”
This includes, Carter said, the latest Virginia-class submarines, the Navy's P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the newest stealth destroyer, the Zumwalt, and brand-new carrier-based E-2D Hawkeye early-warning-and-control aircraft.
Economic and Diplomatic Engagement
Carter said the rebalance’s next phase is about more than just security; it includes increasing economic and diplomatic engagement.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, he noted, once complete, will “unlock tremendous economic opportunities,” for the U.S. and countries across the Pacific Rim.
It will create a diverse network of trade and investment relations, Carter said, driven by TPP’s high standards, reducing reliance on any one network.
The defense secretary also lauded other U.S. leaders’ devotion to standing with its allies and partners to help maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
Rebalance Strategy Inclusive
“It’s important to remember that America’s rebalance,” Carter said, “and our overall and long-standing strategy to promote an Asia-Pacific regional security architecture where everyone rises, has never aimed to hold any nation back or push any country down.”
“The United States wants every nation to have an opportunity to rise and prosper,” he said, “and win, because it’s good for the region and good for all our countries.”
As nations develop, military spending increases, and economies thrive, Carter said there’s an expectation of changes in how countries define and pursue their interests and ambitions.
“In addition to those changes,” he said, “we’ve seen the region’s complex security environment become more fraught.”
Carter cited North Korea’s provocations, disputes over international water and airspace, climate change challenges, natural disasters terrorism, foreign fighters, cyberattacks, and trafficking in both people and narcotics that plague the region like any other.
“These challenges risk upsetting the positive trajectory we’ve all been on,” he said, “and the rise of so many in the Asia-Pacific.”
“That can make it hard to remember our common interests, but the progress we’ve made, and must continue, demands that we do so,” Carter said.
Security a Shared Responsibility
The defense secretary said the Asia-Pacific has never had a region-wide alliance like NATO in Europe, and encouraged partnership in promoting regional peace, stability, and security.
“We must continue to come together,” Carter said. “Today and in the years ahead, security must be the shared responsibility of … of all our nations.”
The foundation for a stronger architecture is there, he said, but it’s incumbent on collective effort to make it better.
Carter laid out several points in achieving this collective security effort:
- Reaffirming guiding principles and rules to resolve disputes peacefully
- Strengthen regional institutions such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and continue to seek new, innovative ways to pool resources for regional security.
- Modernizing alliances to address the evolving threat environment as America has done with partners in the region.
- Enhance the capacities of the regional security architecture, particularly on maritime security such as DoD’s new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.
- Better communication and cooperation habits to ensure institutions, alliances, partnerships, and capacity-building efforts meet their potential.
“That’s how we reach the future a stronger security architecture affords,” Carter said, “ … where everyone continues to rise and everyone continues to win.”
South China Sea Dispute
In order to realize this future, Carter said the “urgent” issue of security and stability in the South China Sea must be addressed.
“Yesterday, I took an aerial transit of the Strait of Malacca,” he said. “And when viewed from the air, it is even clearer how critical this region’s waterways are to international trade and energy resources.”
“We’ve all benefitted from free and open access to the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca,” Carter said. “We all have a fundamental stake in the security of the South China Sea.”
The defense secretary noted there are many claims to the area, but one country has “gone much further and much faster” than any other -- China.
“China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined,” Carter said, “and more than in the entire history of the region.”
This has occurred in only the last 18 months, he said, and it is unclear how much farther China will go which why the stretch of water has become a source of tension in the region.
The U.S. and other nations across the region are concerned about China constructing massive outposts, Carter said, before clarifying the U.S. position on the issue.
“We want a peaceful resolution of all disputes,” he said. “To that end, there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants.”
“We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features,” Carter said. “We all know there is no military solution to the South China Sea disputes.”
Carter called for renewed diplomacy to find a “lasting solution,” and encouraged ASEAN and China to conclude a Code of Conduct this year.
Secondly, he said, the U.S. will continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight principles that have ensured security and prosperity in this region for decades.
“There should be no mistake,” Carter said. “The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world.”
“America,” he said, “alongside its allies and partners in the regional architecture, will not be deterred from exercising these rights the rights of all nations.”
Turning an underwater rock into an airfield, Carter said, simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.
Call For Stability
Carter said with its actions in the critical body of water, China is “out of step” with both the international rules and norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture, and the regional consensus that favors diplomacy and opposes coercion.
These actions, he said, are spurring nations to respond together speaking up for the importance of stability in the area.
The U.S. will always stand with its allies and partners, Carter said. “It’s important for the region to understand that America is [going to] remain engaged … and help provide security and stability in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.”
More Work to be Done
Carter said the South China Sea is just one issue and, while nations can’t predict future challenges, they can work together to ensure peace and prosperity.
The region needs an architecture “where everyone rises and everybody wins,” he said, and that is happening right now, but there is more work to do.
By taking steps now, Carter said, “we can ensure our successors at the Shangri-La Dialogue, in 20 years, will be the challenges and opportunities presented by the rise of yet other Asia-Pacific nations.”
Carter said he hopes by then discussions are about tripartite multilateral maritime engagements, and an ASEAN-wide security network.
“If those are the conversations at Shangri-La 2035, we will have succeeded,” he said. “We will still face challenges and crises, but we will face them together, with a regional security architecture where everyone rises and everybody wins.”
That will be a worthy legacy, Carter said.
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallDoDNews)