Mullen: United States Stands Firm on Stable Pacific Region

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)

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