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Chairman Travels to Indo-Pacific; Affirms Region's Strategic Importance

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Army Gen. Mark A. Milley's first overseas trip as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to the Indo-Pacific region, re-emphasizing the importance of the region in American strategic thinking.

Milley will visit Japanese and South Korean leaders over the next week, discussing ways to improve bilateral and multilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia.

While aboard a U.S. military aircraft en route to the region yesterday, Milley said U.S. treaty allies Japan and South Korea — along with Australia and New Zealand — are key to American strategy in Asia. "The United States, South Korea and Japan are stronger when we are together and shoulder to shoulder," the chairman said to reporters traveling with him. 

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sits next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Meeting Prime Minister
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Nov. 12, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 191112-D-PB383-006

But there have been disagreements between South Korea and Japan arising from Japan's occupation of Korea from 1905 to 1945. 

From a security standpoint, South Korean officials have announced they are withdrawing from an intelligence-sharing agreement the nation has with Japan that was signed in 2016. The pact — called the General Security of Military Information Agreement — is key for security and stability in the region, Milley said. 

The only countries well served by a falling out between Japan and South Korea are North Korea and China, the chairman said. "These are friction points within the alliance that need to be resolved amicably between countries that have way more in common — common values, common outlook, common security needs," Milley said. "We've got to get past some of these friction points in a way that is helpful to the alliance."

Marines stand by a vehicle under a helicopter.
Vehicle Transport
Marines prepare a tactical vehicle to be transported by a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during training in Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 28, 2019.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Isaiah Campbell
VIRIN: 190828-M-TU241-0178C
An amphibious assault vehicle approaches a ship.
Amphibious Approach
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brian Hone approaches the USS Germantown while operating an amphibious assault vehicle during training at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan, July 16, 2019.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Hannah Hall
VIRIN: 190717-M-YY851-1075C

All countries operate in their own interests and Japan and South Korea are no different, the general said. Japan and South Korea have common interests when it comes to national security. Both nations must work together to deter attacks, provocations and threats from North Korea and China. "They have common security problems to solve and that they will [be] stronger together rather than separate," Milley said. "It is clearly in China's interests and North Korea's interests, to separate South Korea from Japan and the United States. It is in our interests to keep all three of us very closely aligned." 

Milley's visit is a chance to take the temperature of the U.S. alliance with both nations, and an opportunity to tout the value of the alliances. He said the average American looking at the forward deployed U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan ask some fundamental questions: Why are they needed there? How much does it cost? These are very rich and wealthy countries, why can't they defend themselves?

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley shakes hands with troops.
Meeting Troops
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Marines assigned to the Marine Security Group at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Nov. 12, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro
VIRIN: 191112-D-PB383-002

"These are main street USA questions," the general said. "It is incumbent on us … to make sure we adequately explain how the U.S. military is a stabilizing force in Northeast Asia in preventing and deterring the outbreak of armed conflict."

The international order in place since 1945 has been a true boon to the world: It has given 70 years of great power peace, Milley said.

A soldier aims a weapon.
Prone Position
Army Sgt. James Balestrini positions himself in the prone position during qualifications on Montana Range in South Korea, Jan. 25, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Alon Humphrey
VIRIN: 190124-A-YG558-711Y

"We're in the seventh decade of great power peace," Milley said. "There have been wars — the Korean War, the Vietnam War, to Gulf Wars, our current campaigns against terrorists — but they have been limited wars. There hasn't been a great power war."

If we can maintain overwhelming, unquestioned military power and economic strength, I think we will be able to sustain great power peace, he said.

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