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Remarks on "America's Growing Security Network in the Asia-Pacific" (Council on Foreign Relations)

Good afternoon everyone, and, Richard, thanks. Thanks so much for those words, for decades of friendship, your leadership here at the Council, and above all for your public service, which continues, as Richard is a member of the Department’s Defense Policy Board, we count on him for advice on all subjects all the time.  He and I were just talking shortly before this about some things that he is preparing to give us some advice on in just a few weeks’ time.

It’s nice to see a lot of old friends here at the Council. I looked at the list of attendees coming and it was like a homecoming in many, many ways.  Great to visit all my friends, and to be here at the Council.  Because for generations now, the Council has hosted the debates and supported the thinkers and ideas that have shaped America’s relationship with the world.  And those ideas are important as ever, as we enter a new strategic era.  Indeed, today's security environment is dramatically different from the one we've had for the last 25 years. 

In this era, we face no fewer five evolving major, immediate challenges:  countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion, especially in Europe; managing historic change in the vital Asia-Pacific region, including China’s rise, which we welcome, and some of its actions, such as in the South China Sea, about which we share the serious concerns of all in the region; strengthening our deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s continued nuclear pursuits and provocations; checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf and protecting our friends and allies, especially Israel; and accelerating the defeat of ISIL in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and everywhere it’s metastasizing around the world, as well as protecting our people here in the homeland.

The United States, and the Department of Defense, must and will address all five of those challenges.  To do so is going to require new strategic and operational approaches, new force posture in many places, and large investments in new and enhanced capabilities.  And all this we’re doing. 

But today, I want to talk to you about how we are meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities in the Asia-Pacific, and in particular our growing security network there.  Almost all the nations there are asking us to do more with them…bilaterally and multilaterally.  Tomorrow, as Richard said, I leave for India and the Philippines, and I’m going to highlight today some of the advances we’ll be announcing along the way.

The Asia-Pacific is, Richard made this point, the single most consequential region for America's future.  We have long played an essential and pivotal role in that region.  And we’re working today, both individually and with our allies and partners, to ensure the Asia-Pacific remains a region where everyone – everyone – can rise and prosper.

That has been America’s objective and practice for decades.  Regardless of what else was going on at home or in other parts of the world – during Democratic and Republican administrations, in times of surplus and deficit, war and peace – the United States has played a pivotal role…economically, politically, and militarily in the Asia-Pacific. 

Along with a wide variety of partners and allies, for decades we have stood tall for enduring principles, including peaceful resolution of disputes, and the freedom of navigation and overflight.  We helped ensure that countries can make their own security and economic choices, free from coercion and intimidation.  And we’ve promoted free trade and the rule of law to support development and unprecedented growth.

Of course, fundamentally, sustaining this human progress requires as a foundation security and stability.  And the United States has helped provide both with its strong defense engagement in the region.  The highly capable men and women of the American armed forces, and our unique technology and assets, coupled to our values, have long provided the necessary reassurance – an attractive, and appealing reassurance – and worked to keep the peace, in the Asia-Pacific.  And because we have done so inclusively, in a principled and respectful way, we have developed alliances and partnerships all over the region.  These relationships – nurtured over decades, tested in crisis, and built on shared interests, values, and sacrifice – form the bedrock of our role in the Asia-Pacific, and, accordingly, its stability and prosperity. 

The results have been extraordinary – in the interests of, and to the benefit of, all nations, including the United States.  Since World War II, millions have been lifted from poverty and into the middle class.  And even though there’s still room for improvement, democracy and freedom have spread to places across the region.  And economic miracle after miracle has occurred in the region: first Japan, then Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, rose and prospered, and now, today, China and India are doing the same.

This progress creates opportunities for the region to continue to grow.  But of course, dramatic change also can produce some negatives.  And, recently, not all the news out of the Asia-Pacific has been positive: indeed, in the South China Sea, China’s actions – in particular – are raising regional tensions. 

That’s why countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with militarization, and especially – over the last year – with China’s actions, which stand out in size and scope…they’re voicing those concerns publicly and privately, at the highest levels, in regional meetings, and global fora.  That’s why many of those countries are reaching out anew to the United States to uphold the rules and principles that have allowed the region to thrive.  That’s why we support intensified regional diplomacy, not increased tensions, the threat of force, or unilateral changes to the status quo.  And that’s one reason why we are making enormous investments in our capabilities; why so many are asking us to do more with them; and why we’ll continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.  Because we must continue the progress that has helped so many in the region rise and prosper.

President Obama launched the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific to ensure that we do our part to make that bright opportunity come to pass.

While I am of course absorbed myself with the defense component of the rebalance, I should be clear that one of the most important strategic parts of the rebalance is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.  TPP will bind the United States more closely together with 11 other economies, and unlock economic opportunities for the United States and many of its allies and partners.  And TPP will help reinforce the open and inclusive economic approach that has benefited so many in the Asia-Pacific.

TTP should be ratified because of its economic and strategic benefits, and because we must recognize what the alternative to TPP really is: a regional economy with standards that don’t serve American interests, and one that’s carved up by lop-sided, coercively negotiated, lower-standard deals.  That’s why I’ve said that TPP is as strategically important to the rebalance as an aircraft carrier, and I strongly urge Congress to approve TPP this year. 

Militarily, the Department of Defense is operationalizing the next phase of the rebalance, and cementing it for the long term. 

We are enhancing America's force posture throughout this vitally important region to continue playing a pivotal role from the sea, in the air, and under the water, as well as to make our posture more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable.  To do so we continue to bring the best people and platforms forward to the Asia-Pacific – not only increasing the number of U.S. military personnel in the region, part of some 365,000 assigned the Asia-Pacific today, but also sending and stationing some of our most advanced capabilities there.  That includes F-22 and F-35 stealth fighter jets, P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, continuous deployments of B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers, and also our newest surface warfare ships, like the amphibious assault ship U.S.S America, and all three of our newest class of stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000, which will all be homeported with the Pacific fleet.  And all the while, we’re bringing America’s regional force posture into the 21st century, by rotating American personnel into new and more places, like northern Australia and new sites in the Philippines, and modernizing our existing footprint in Japan and the Republic of Korea.  How we’re doing this is a reflection of a shift we’re making across the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps – after fifteen years of intensive effort in counter insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan – toward full-spectrum operations.

In our 2017 defense budget, which I’ve presented to Congress over the past few weeks, we are making investments critical to the rebalance.  One is our surface fleet, which under our budget grows both the number of ships and, importantly, above all, their capabilities – to deter, and if deterrence fails, defeat even the most advanced potential naval adversaries, and protect the maritime security we all depend on.  Just one new example of how we’re making our ships’ capabilities increasingly lethal is by maximizing production of the SM-6 missile, one of our most modern and capable munitions, which now has a brand new anti-ship capability – and I could go on.  We’re also investing to ensure our continued air superiority and global reach, including with over $12 billion for the new B-21 Long-Range Strike Bomber.  Another investment is in undersea capabilities, where we continue to dominate and where we’re investing over $8 billion just next year to ensure ours is the most lethal and most advanced undersea and anti-submarine force in the world.  That includes new undersea drones – in multiple sizes and diverse payloads – that can, importantly operate in shallow waters where manned submarines can’t.  We’re also making large new investments in cyber, electronic warfare, and space capabilities, a total of $34 billion just next year.  Among other things, this will help build our cyber mission force, develop next-generation electronic jammers, and prepare for the possibility of a conflict that extends into space.  And more is coming, including some surprises.

We’re also strengthening our alliances and partnerships, which will be the focus of my trip this coming week.  And in that regard, let me take you on a brief tour of what we are doing with partners around the region, and then focus on India and the Philippines where I’ll be traveling next week and important advances are being made that occasion my trip.

Our alliances and partnerships are and will remain one of our most important strategic assets.  Our allies around the world, including those in the Asia-Pacific, have stood with us – and fought with us – time and again, most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against ISIL.  And we are just as committed to them.  As history has shown, we have fought with our friends and allies – and to defend the principles and values we share – in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

While I can’t take the time to detail it today, both Japan and Republic of Korea are strengthening their own militaries, and changing how they operate within our alliances in fundamental and forward-looking ways.  We’re sharing our best and newest capabilities, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which we’ll soon begin to operate with Japan and the Republic of Korea.  Meanwhile, we’re developing newer partnerships, with Vietnam, with Malaysia, with Indonesia and others, while also enhancing our high-performing partnership with Singapore.  And we’re holding more numerous and more sophisticated exercises with a growing network of partner countries, none larger than this summer’s RIMPAC, which will bring together more than two dozen navies – nearly twice the number that participated just six years ago – to develop the relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety and security and peace of the region’s sea lanes.

You can see the breadth and depth of our bilateral efforts with one of our key growing partners: India, where I’ll arrive a short time from now.  The U.S.-India relationship is destined to be one of the most significant partnerships of the 21st century.  Ours are two great nations that share a great deal: democratic governments, multiethnic and multicultural societies with a commitment to individual freedom and inclusivity and growing, innovative, open economies.

Over the course of my years at the Defense Department, I have seen a remarkable convergence of U.S. and Indian interests – what I call a strategic handshake.  As the United States is reaching west in its rebalance, India is reaching east, in Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East” policy that will bring it farther into the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

We see this handshake reflected in the Joint Strategic Vision Statement that President Obama and Prime Minister Modi released last January, and the 2015 Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship, also a new thing, which Indian Defense Minister Parrikar and I signed last year in Delhi.  The Defense Framework is foundational and it’s going to guide the U.S.-India defense relationship for the next decade.   

There’s another handshake between our countries as well – a technological one.  In 2012, the United States and India created the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative  to leverage the convergence between our industrial and technological abilities in an unprecedented way – This, after half a century since Indian independence, of separation of our militaries and our industrial systems – that Initiative grasps hands with Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” campaign to expand the nation’s industrial and defense base, and it will lead to greater co-production and co-development of defense capabilities.  While in India, I will meet with Prime Minister Modi and also Defense Minister Parrikar to discuss the progress we’ve made together in aircraft carrier, jet fighter, and jet engine collaboration.  And we’ll talk about exciting new projects, the details of which I can’t go into this afternoon.  But stay tuned for when I meet with Minister Parrikar.

There is so much potential here, which is why we’re seizing every opportunity we can.  Last year, the Modi government reached out to the United States to discuss the possibility of launching joint production on a new platform, to build on the work Lockheed Martin and Indian industry achieved on the C-130J project, and what Boeing and Indian industry will achieve in the production of the Apache and Chinook helicopters India – recently purchased. 

Members of my team, and industry, are right now – as we are here in New York – in India looking at the potential production of fighter aircraft.  These conversations represent the growing enthusiasm of the U.S.-India partnership, and even more than that, its promise.  While these negotiations can be difficult and global competition is high, I have no doubt that in the coming years, the United States and India will embark on a landmark co-production agreement that will bring our two countries closer together and make our militaries stronger.

As our strategic and technological interests have drawn together, so too have our military ties.  We are coming together operationally across domains – by air, land, and sea – to collaborate in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, and maritime domain awareness.  This week, we will also conclude several important agreements, including one on commercial shipping information exchange, which will make many new things possible in the future. 

Our gathering partnership in defense can also be seen in India’s return to major joint exercises like RED FLAG, our prestigious, U.S. Air Force-hosted aerial combat training exercise where all our top pilots – and those from countries like India – train together.  India will again participate in the RIMPAC – as I mentioned, the world’s largest international maritime exercise.  And, in the MALABAR exercise, Japan, India, and the United States – all three – have operated together at sea in such critical training as air defense and anti-submarine warfare. 

From India, I’ll travel to the Philippines, with which we have one of our longest relationships in the region.  We share much history and many common ties with the Philippines.  And our long-running defense alliance has been a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region for more than 65 years.  And as President Obama’s made clear: our commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. 

Today, our alliance is as close as it has been in many years, thanks to two major recent steps forward that occasion my visit in coming days: first is the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, a landmark agreement ratified in the Philippines in January, and also the new U.S. Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative by which we – that is, the Department of Defense – are helping to fund these changes in the Philippines and other partners.

As part of EDCA’s implementation, we’re supporting modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces and strengthening mutual defense, an arrangement that will allow our forces, at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines, to conduct regular rotational training, exercises, and activities. 

We recently announced an initial slate of five EDCA Agreed Locations for the alliance activities, locations arrayed throughout the archipelago that will offer the opportunity for increasingly complex bilateral engagements.  I plan to visit two of those locations next week: first, Fort Magsaysay and Antonio Bautista Air Force Base. 

At Fort Magsaysay, the former [sic – future] home of the Philippine Army’s premier training facility, we previously made use of limited pre-positioned disaster relief supplies that supported our response to Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.  EDCA will enable us to augment these stocks and add new ones to the air base, thereby improving our ability to respond to future disasters.  I’ll be discussing more at both of these sites when I arrive in the Philippines.

And, last year at the region’s Shangri-La Dialogue, I announced our Maritime Security Initiative.  This initiative represents a $425-million-dollar, five-year commitment by the Defense Department to help countries like the Philippines share information, identify potential threats, and work collaboratively to address common challenges in the region. 

We’ve just released the first tranche of this money, nearly 80 percent of which is going to the Philippines.  There it will help modernize the technology and train staff at the Philippines National Coast Watch Center, enhance an information network to enable the sharing of classified communications between U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and key Philippines maritime command centers, provide an aerostat reconnaissance platform, and outfit Philippine navy patrol vessels with better sensors so they can see and do more in the region’s waters.

These two things, EDCA and the Maritime Security Initiative will take the U.S.-Philippines alliance capability to a new level, one has not seen in decades.  I will also see some of this firsthand at Exercise BALIKATAN 2016, our premier exercise with the Philippines.  Balikatan is going on right now, and it includes over 7,000 personnel from every military service in both countries, dozens of American aircraft, vehicles, and vessels, including one of our air craft carriers, and several important components, including a simulated gas and oil platform recovery raid in the South China Sea.  

Balikatan signals shared resolve.  It enhances our shared capabilities.  And it demonstrates, once again, America’s dedication to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines.

Like our alliance with the Philippines and our developing partnership with India, America’s bilateral relationships remain the bedrock of our presence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific.  But in a large and interconnected region, especially one with so many strong, capable, and dedicated players, it makes sense to network and link relationships to produce gains for all. 

That’s what we are doing.  Now, unlike elsewhere in the world, peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific has never been maintained by a region-wide alliance like NATO – no comparable, formal structure .  That’s made sense for the Asia-Pacific, with its unique history, geography, and politics.  Instead, regional security, stability, and prosperity have required nations working together less formally, and the United States has been an important builder, cement, and participant in this arrangement.

Today, as the region changes, the United States is augmenting our bilateral relationships and alliances with trilateral and multilateral arrangements.  And we’re weaving these partnerships together to more effectively bolster American and regional security.  This network – with its shared values, habits of cooperation, and compatible and complementary capabilities –will expand the reach of all, responsibly share the security burden, and help ensure the peace and stability in the region for years to come. 

This burgeoning network builds in three ways.

First, the Defense Department is strongly emphasizing trilateral mechanisms to bring together like-minded allies and partners to maximize individual contributions to regional peace and security and link together nations that previously worked with us mostly separately.  For example, the U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral partnership helps us all work together as well as share information and coordinate responses to, for example, North Korean provocations.  Last month’s trilateral meeting between President Obama, Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and President Park on this topic was historic.

The U.S.-Japan-Australia relationship is also expanding practical cooperation; enhancing exercises, training, and information sharing; and building capabilities.  And our burgeoning U.S.-Japan-India trilateral relationship is evolving from a strategic dialogue – where it began – through joint activities like the MALABAR Exercise, to real, practical security cooperation that spans the entire region from the subcontinent right around to East Asia.

Second, to improve regional security, we’re encouraging our allies and partners to actively develop their own interconnected security relationships.  Many countries within the Asia-Pacific are strengthening their bilateral relationships with one another in ways that we think enhance regional stability, but they’re also creating their own trilateral arrangements.  The Japan-Australia-India trilateral meeting last June was a welcome development.

Third, we are helping create an interconnected regional architecture – from one end of the region to another – through engagement and activities in multilateral fora, such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting.  In this way, the United States is helping strengthen relationships and building partner capabilities on key issues like maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.  Singapore has shown great leadership in this area by hosting an operations center to coordinate activities across ASEAN.

It’s important to remember, that our bilateral, trilateral, and multinational relationships, and the developing network they comprise, is not aimed at any particular country.  Rather, it demonstrates that the region wants cooperation, not coercion, and a continuation, not an end, of decades of stability, peace, and progress. 

The network’s not closed and excludes no one: we want cooperation and shared leadership so that as other nations want to contribute to regional stability and security, they can work with the other nations of the region to do so.  For example, we have disagreements with China, but we are committed to working through them in ways that do not destabilize the region.  That is one reason why we will continue to pursue a military-to-military relationship with China focused on risk reduction and practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest. 

This network, over all, demonstrates the United States’ commitment to remaining a pivotal and essential leader in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.  By operationalizing the rebalance, by transforming old alliances and new partnerships, and by networking security, we can gather force and respond to any manner of crisis, man-made or natural disaster, and continue to promote and defend the principles that have allowed so many in the region to rise and proper for so long.

Let me close with a few words, about who makes that possible. As I stand here, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women serving and defending our country, right now, in every time zone, in every domain…in the air, ashore, and afloat.  They’re the ones who are operationalizing the rebalance.  They’re making the network work. They need always to be in our minds.

You know, they say that security – frequently, this is said in that region – is like oxygen…when you have enough of it, you pay no attention to it.  But when you don’t have enough, you can think of nothing else.  America’s servicemembers provide the oxygen…the security that allows millions upon millions of people, not just in America, and not just in the Asia-Pacific, but in so much of the world to be safe, to raise their children, to dream their dreams, to live lives that are full. 

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines take grave risks to provide that security, and some make the ultimate sacrifice.  They do so not just because they were ordered to.  They do so not only because they want to protect their buddies.  They do so because they know they help make the world a better place through American leadership.

In a new strategic era, and at a time of great change, we must and will continue that play that essential, principled role in the Asia-Pacific.  We will work with new partners, and old allies.  We will network our security relationships.  We will invest and innovate…we will change how we plan, how we operate, and even how we fight. 

But we’ll never change what we are willing to fight for: for our safety and freedoms, for that of our friends and allies, and for the values, principles, and rules-based order that produced security, stability, and prosperity for all.  Because we do so, we will continue to ensure the Asia-Pacific remains a region where everyone can rise and prosper for generations to come.

Thank you.