Asia-Pacific Shift Will Improve Relations, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2012 — The Defense Department’s new strate­gic shift toward the Asia-Pacif­ic region will solid­i­fy long­stand­ing part­ner­ships, build on new­er ones, and allow the mil­i­tary to address secu­ri­ty chal­lenges in the area, the com­man­der of U. S. Pacif­ic Com­mand said today.

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard out­lined the command’s bud­get pri­or­i­ties to the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. Willard not­ed it was his last planned tes­ti­mo­ny before the com­mit­tee before his impend­ing retire­ment.

The Pacom region cov­ers half the globe, includ­ing 36 nations, and con­tains most of the world’s great nation­al pow­ers, Willard not­ed. The U.S. mil­i­tary has five strong part­ners in the area – Aus­tralia, Japan, South Korea, the Philip­pines and Thai­land – and is advanc­ing impor­tant rela­tions in India and through­out South­east Asia, he said.

As evi­denced by Pacom’s March 2011 response to the earth­quake, tsuna­mi and nuclear melt­down in Japan, Willard said, the command’s close coop­er­a­tion with its part­ners, as well as its inter­op­er­a­ble mil­i­tary sys­tems, make it a quick and sol­id reac­tion force in the most dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.

North Korea con­tin­ues to threat­en sta­bil­i­ty in the Asia-Pacif­ic region, and there is no indi­ca­tion that its new leader, Kim Jong Un, will break from the total­i­tar­i­an lead­er­ship of his deceased father, Kim Jong Il, Willard said. “He is a Kim,” sur­round­ed by the guid­ance of old­er rel­a­tives, he added.

Mean­while, Chi­na “con­tin­ues to be a chal­lenge at many lev­els,” the admi­ral said. Mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions “are not what they should be” with Chi­na, although they are pro­gress­ing, he said. China’s army “is advanc­ing capa­bil­i­ties at an impres­sive rate,” he said, and con­tin­ues to chal­lenge oth­er Pacif­ic nations in the sea, air and space.

“It’s growth unabat­ed,” he said. “They con­tin­ue to grow capa­bil­i­ties in vir­tu­al­ly all areas.”

There has been increas­ing demand from Asia-Pacif­ic nations for the U.S. mil­i­tary to repo­si­tion itself there after pulling away dur­ing 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Willard said. While U.S. air and sea pow­er stayed rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble, he said, ground forces were reduced by 10 per­cent.

“The amount of encour­age­ment that has come from vir­tu­al­ly all actors in the region for U.S. stay­ing pow­er and increased engage­ment in the region was the per­cep­tion in the past decade that our pres­ence was dimin­ished,” he said. “That refrain has not stopped.”

Asia-Pacif­ic nations broad­ly rec­og­nize that the U.S. mil­i­tary will down­size after 10 years of war, as it his­tor­i­cal­ly has done, and that the country’s debt and deficit prob­lems will affect the amount of resources it can devote to the region, the admi­ral said.

Willard also said he is not con­cerned about a draw­down of air­craft and oth­er assets, because the rec­om­men­da­tions were built on sound mil­i­tary strat­e­gy. That said, he added, mil­i­tary lead­ers must keep a watch­ful eye that the repo­si­tion­ing remains in keep­ing with oper­a­tional needs.

One of many needs of the U.S. mil­i­tary in the Pacif­ic region is mar­itime secu­ri­ty and access, Willard said. About $5.3 tril­lion in com­merce flows through the South Chi­na Sea — much of it belong­ing to the Unit­ed States – and at least six Asian nations strug­gle to con­trol it, said he not­ed.

“What makes Chi­na unique is that they’ve laid claim to vir­tu­al­ly all of” the mar­itime routes around Asia, and con­tin­ue to chal­lenge mil­i­tary and com­mer­cial ships, Willard added.

Still, he added, even as pow­er strug­gles ensue, par­tic­u­lar­ly in South­east Asia, “from a region­al, eco­nom­ic stand­point, China’s rise has ben­e­fit­ted us all.” Chi­na is the No. 1 trad­ing part of most of the Pacif­ic nations, he said.

An increas­ing U.S. pres­ence in the Asia-Pacif­ic region is not just about the econ­o­my, but also about the growth of democ­ra­cies there, the admi­ral said. “There are a lot of U.S. val­ues that are high­ly regard­ed in the region, and our form of gov­er­nance is one of them,” he said.

The admi­ral said he is aware of a pro­pos­al to put one of three pre-posi­tioned Marine Corps squadrons in the Pacif­ic on decreased readi­ness sta­tus, but said they will not be on Guam or Diego Gar­cia. The 2012 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act requires the Marine Corps com­man­dant and sec­re­tary of defense to cer­ti­fy that the change will not affect readi­ness.

He also said the Unit­ed States is at a dis­ad­van­tage by not sign­ing on to the Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea Treaty. Willard not­ed that the Unit­ed States has adhered to the legal frame­work of the treaty since 1994, and believes that ele­ments of the con­ven­tion, name­ly com­mer­cial pro­vi­sions, that caused it to be set aside in the 1980s “have all been cor­rect­ed.”

“This is so impor­tant,” he said. “We believe strong­ly that the Unit­ed States must have a voice in this and a seat at the table,” not­ing that Chi­na is involved in the process.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)