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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