Official Notes Readiness Challenges in Pacific

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 — The U.S. mil­i­tary response fol­low­ing the March 11 earth­quake and tsuna­mi in Japan high­lights the impor­tance of a for­ward troop pres­ence in the region, a senior defense offi­cial told Con­gress today.
Michael Schif­fer, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for Asian and Pacif­ic secu­ri­ty affairs, tes­ti­fied today before the House Armed Ser­vices Committee’s readi­ness sub­com­mit­tee on long-term chal­lenges in the Pacif­ic region.

“Our for­ward pres­ence in Japan and through­out the Asia-Pacif­ic region has allowed us to respond to Japan’s urgent needs quick­ly,” Schif­fer said.

The U.S. mil­i­tary is con­tribut­ing human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and heli­copter search-and-res­cue oper­a­tions in Japan, Schif­fer said, while U.S. Navy ships are pro­vid­ing water purifi­ca­tion, med­ical teams and hos­pi­tal beds. The mil­i­tary ser­vices will con­tin­ue to pro­vide “what­ev­er assis­tance our Japan­ese friends require,” he added. U.S. ser­vice mem­bers in the Pacif­ic region are ready to meet any chal­lenges they may face in the near, medi­um or long term, Schif­fer said.

The Asia-Pacif­ic region rep­re­sents $1 tril­lion annu­al­ly in U.S. trade and holds more than half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, 15 of the world’s major ports and six of its largest armies, Schif­fer said: “Chi­na, India, North Korea, South Korea, Rus­sia, Japan and, of course, our own.”

Schif­fer dis­cussed U.S. mil­i­tary readi­ness in the con­text of the rise of Chi­na, North Kore­an provo­ca­tion and the evolv­ing U.S. region­al pos­ture. Chi­na offers coop­er­a­tion and part­ner­ship on cer­tain region­al chal­lenges, he said, but also pos­es region­al chal­lenges.

“Areas such as its mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion efforts, its opaque­ly defined long-term strate­gic inten­tions, and ques­tions about the devel­op­ment of its anti-access and area-denial capa­bil­i­ties [cause] con­cern,” Schif­fer said.

Long-term readi­ness requires the Unit­ed States to work with its allies and with Chi­na to “pos­i­tive­ly shape China’s rise both with­in the Asia-Pacif­ic region and glob­al­ly,” he said.

U.S. strat­e­gy must be flex­i­ble enough to cap­i­tal­ize on the poten­tial of the nation’s rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, while man­ag­ing the risk inher­ent in China’s rise, he added.

As China’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties con­tin­ue to increase, both nations ben­e­fit from a healthy mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship, Schif­fer said.

The Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to strength­en its pos­ture, pres­ence and capa­bil­i­ties in the region and to build its alliances there, he said.

North Kore­an provo­ca­tions rep­re­sent a com­pli­cat­ed secu­ri­ty threat, Schif­fer said.

“The Unit­ed States and our ally, the Repub­lic of Korea, are enhanc­ing our deter­rent capa­bil­i­ties and so ensur­ing that we are ful­ly pre­pared to meet any threat from North Korea,” he said.

The U.S. must main­tain a for­ward-deployed mil­i­tary pres­ence on the Kore­an penin­su­la, he said.

“The Depart­ment of Defense is eval­u­at­ing U.S. glob­al pos­ture on an ongo­ing basis, to bet­ter posi­tion us and our forces to meet the demands of the myr­i­ad emerg­ing threats and provo­ca­tions in the region,” Schif­fer said. The U.S. defense pos­ture in Asia is shift­ing to one that is more geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­trib­uted, oper­a­tional­ly resilient and polit­i­cal­ly sus­tain­able, he told the pan­el.

Schif­fer said the Unit­ed States and Japan are work­ing close­ly to relo­cate Marine Corps Air Sta­tion Futen­ma from its present loca­tion to a less-pop­u­lat­ed area on the Japan­ese island of Oki­nawa.

“Indeed, events in the region have con­spired to remind us all of the impor­tance and the neces­si­ty of Marine forces on Oki­nawa, and the vital role [U.S. forces play] in both deter­ring poten­tial con­flict and respond­ing to cri­sis in Japan,” he said.

Amer­i­ca has deep roots and endur­ing inter­ests in the Asia-Pacif­ic region, and DOD remains focused on “pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can inter­ests and allies against the range of threats and chal­lenges we will face togeth­er in the 21st cen­tu­ry,” Schif­fer said.

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

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