MELBOURNE, Australia, Nov. 7, 2010 — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen has called the 21st century the “Pacific century,” and U.S. interests in the region will be underscored here tomorrow when he and other leaders hold talks as part of the annual Australian‑U.S. Ministerial.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said the U.S. relationship with Australia is a key cog in making the century successful. “How we should work together is all a part of these discussions,” he told reporters traveling with him ahead of the meetings.
Mullen wants to improve military-to-military relations with China, and plans to discuss that with his Australian counterpart who has had success in that area. “I really want to put something in place that’s going to work, and I really want to know more about them and I’d like to get an assessment of their capabilities and how they are evolving over time,” he said.
China is a rising Pacific powerhouse, but the rise of China, as well as India, does not mean the United States will walk away from the region, Mullen said. “We’ve had long-standing relationships” in the Pacific, he said. “It’s a critical economic area, and peace and stability in this part of the world is absolutely vital, and we’re not going to cede that to anyone.”
In fact, Mullen said, “I really hope we can get to a solid military-to-military relationship with [China].” A good relationship would allow the United States and China to discuss areas they agree on, and try to bridge the gaps in areas they don’t. But on-again, off-again relations halt progress and sew distrust, he said.
Other key discussions are to include Australia’s role in military operations in Afghanistan, and its help in maintaining security in Cyberspace.
Australia has more than 1,500 servicemembers in Afghanistan, mostly in the central province of Uruzgan. The Australian contribution is substantial, with the country being the largest non-NATO troop donor.
The leaders also will discuss India, which President Barack Obama is visiting. “India is a rising power and a global economic power,” Mullen said. “When you are sitting in Australia and you look to the west, it’s hard not to notice the Indian Ocean, and I think this part of the world will become more significant in the decades to come.”
Cybersecurity is one aspect of concern to both countries. “I think it’s important for civilian and military leaders to recognize and address the cyber issues,” he said.
The U.S. military stood up U.S. Cyber Command this year and U.S. and Australian leaders have been discussing the situation for years. Mullen believes the ways the United States and Australia already share information will make it easy to work together in the cyber realm.
“I actually am very optimistic on the beginnings of this whole system and how we begin that with the Australians and how we move it forward,” Mullen said.
“This is a threat that knows no boundaries,” he said of threats to network computer systems. “It’s very pervasive and very dangerous. From my perspective, the threat sends the message that all of us better figure out how to work together.”
The leaders will discuss improving cooperation during humanitarian operations. On the way to Australia, the chairman’s plane refueled at Pago Pago in American Samoa. “I was reminded about the tsunami that hit there last year,” he said. “They tragically lost 200 people and [had] millions of dollars of damage. Australia was just one of the nations that helped out.”
There has been a drumbeat of recent disasters in the Pacific rim, including the 2004 tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, the eruption of volcanoes in Indonesia, typhoons hitting the Philippines and cyclones hitting Burma. “The international community has very positively responded to helping,” Mullen said. “In this part of the world … we are very involved with multi-country exercises that focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It is very easy to put together.”
Mullen will join Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the discussions. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Defense Minister Steven Smith and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the chief of the defense force will represent Australia. It is Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s first ministerial since taking office in June. Australia and the United States have been allies since World War I and close allies since World War II. “They’ve fought in every war with us for a long time, Mullen said. Australia has contributed troops and treasure to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have also worked side by side with American servicemembers in trouble spots from Africa to Kosovo to East Timor.
The ministerial “sends a strong signal just how important the relationship is, and how important this part of the world is,” Mullen said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)