Flournoy: Asia Will be Heart of U.S. Security Policy

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 — While the Unit­ed States is con­fronting ter­ror­ism and hos­tile regimes in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Libya, lead­ers also are look­ing east­ward to shape U.S. secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy for the long-term, the Pentagon’s top pol­i­cy offi­cial said last night.
“When future his­to­ri­ans look back at this era, I am con­vinced that the rise of Asia will be not­ed as the cen­tral geo-strate­gic fact of our time,” Michèle Flournoy, under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy, told a packed room of pol­i­cy experts at Johns Hop­kins University’s “Rethink­ing Sem­i­nar” here.

“By most mea­sures, the Asia-Pacif­ic region is the most impor­tant and most dynam­ic region in the world today — and like­ly to be more so as this still-young cen­tu­ry unfolds,” she said. 

While the Unit­ed States still ranks as the world’s largest econ­o­my as mea­sured by gross domes­tic prod­uct, the next three largest are Chi­na, Japan, and India. As of last year, ten of the world’s 15 fastest-grow­ing economies were in Asia, Flournoy said. 

U.S. trade with Chi­na rose to an esti­mat­ed $459 bil­lion last year, com­pared to $2 bil­lion in 1979, mak­ing it the Unit­ed States’ biggest source of imports and sec­ond-largest trad­ing part­ner, the under­sec­re­tary said. At the same time, she said, China’s econ­o­my is grow­ing rapid­ly with­in Asia, caus­ing the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund to esti­mate that Asia’s econ­o­my will eclipse that of the Unit­ed States by 2030. 

Mean­while, “Asia sits at the cross­roads of the world’s emerg­ing threats” of cyber secu­ri­ty, cli­mate change and ter­ror­ism, Flournoy said. This grow­ing impor­tance of Asia means the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue to build and strength­en its alliances there, with a focus on build­ing capac­i­ties where need­ed, and encour­ag­ing Chi­na and India to use their growth to secure and sta­bi­lize the region, Flournoy said. 

Despite ten­sions over Chi­nese mil­i­tary secre­cy and its increas­ing assertive­ness in the South Chi­na Sea, Flournoy said, the Unit­ed States and Chi­na “are not inevitably des­tined for con­flict, as some have posit­ed. Even as we man­age our dif­fer­ences, we can deep­en our coop­er­a­tion across the full range of our shared inter­ests.” U.S. mil­i­tary forces must be struc­tured to align with emerg­ing threats, the under­sec­re­tary said. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has said the U.S. mil­i­tary in the region must be oper­a­tional­ly resilient, geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­trib­uted and polit­i­cal­ly sustainable. 

“We must ensure that our region­al allies and part­ners are con­fi­dent in the con­tin­ued strength of our deter­rence against the full range of pos­si­ble threats,” Flournoy said. Strength­ened mis­sile defense and long-range recon­nais­sance and strike are cen­tral com­po­nents, she said. U.S. offi­cials “think our pos­ture in North­east Asia is about right,” Flournoy said, but there’s need to expand efforts in South­east Asia. Rather than build­ing more bases, she said, the U.S. mil­i­tary is focused on work­ing more close­ly in mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships to include com­bined train­ing, joint patrols, and shared med­ical and civ­il engi­neer­ing missions. 

As for alliances, Flournoy said Japan remains a cor­ner­stone of U.S. secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy in the region. U.S. offi­cials are con­fi­dent of Japan’s abil­i­ty to recov­er ful­ly and con­tin­ue to play a vital role in the region, she said, despite the 9.0 mag­ni­tude earth­quake, result­ing tsuna­mi and ongo­ing nuclear cri­sis it has endured since March 11. The Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to strength­en its ties with South Korea to ensure inter­op­er­abil­i­ty of their mil­i­tary forces to pre­serve sta­bil­i­ty on the Kore­an penin­su­la, she said. The rise of Asia has made Aus­tralia an increas­ing­ly strate­gic loca­tion, Flournoy said, which led the Unit­ed States as the end of last year to estab­lish a work­ing group with the Aus­tralians for com­bined mil­i­tary force posture. 

The Unit­ed States is strength­en­ing alliances with the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore, and Thai­land, Flournoy said, and must do more with Indone­sia and Viet­nam. She not­ed that a small group of U.S. forces have worked qui­et­ly in the Philip­pines since 2001 “in a mod­el of suc­cess­ful coun­terin­sur­gency” to pre­vent al-Qai­da from gain­ing a foothold there. Flournoy high­light­ed the work of the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment and oth­er U.S. civil­ians in the region and said they will remain crit­i­cal to U.S. rela­tions in Asia. Despite its chal­lenges else­where in the world, Flournoy said, the Unit­ed States will stay engaged in Asia. 

“The Unit­ed States has proven repeat­ed­ly — over decades –that is it ful­ly com­mit­ted to uphold­ing its strate­gic oblig­a­tions through­out Asia. No one in Asia — any­where in Asia — needs to ask if the U.S. will show up when it is needed.” 

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

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