SINGAPORE, June 3, 2011 — The United States is reaching out to countries all around Asia and the Pacific to build the web of engagement so important to security, stability and prosperity, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today during a speech June 4 to the Shangri-La Dialogue here.
The secretary stressed the United States is constantly seeking out ways to build alliances between the United States and individual Asian states and to help form multilateral organizations. His address came during the International Institute of Strategic Studies annual Asia Security Summit.
The secretary said the United States wants to build new relationships with Asian nations, while expanding relationships that have been the bedrock of security in the region since World War II.
The United States and Japan have built an alliance that has weathered innumerable tests and proven to be a cornerstone of stability in the region.
“The most recent and compelling display of the value of our alliance was the sight of the U.S. and Japanese troops working together to bring aid and sustenance to the survivors of the horrific earthquake and tsunami in March,” Gates said.
Within 24 hours of the earthquake, the United States initiated Operation Tomodachi to deliver assistance to the affected areas. At the peak of relief efforts, the Defense Department had more than 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft and 24 ships supporting Japan’s response.
“The U.S. military and Japan Self-Defense Forces delivered relief supplies to affected communities, repaired transportation infrastructure and searched for survivors along the affected coastline,” the secretary said.
The effort went smoothly because of the high-level of interoperability between the U.S and Japanese defense forces and served to validate years of investments by both nations in combined training and capabilities, he said. “Today it is clear that the (U.S.-Japanese) alliance has not only survived this tragedy, but emerged even stronger and more vital,” Gates said.
The U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea has emerged out of its Cold War origins to confront a new array of security challenges in the region and globally as well, he said.
“Our two militaries continue to develop our combined capabilities to deter and defeat, if necessary, North Korean aggression,” the secretary said. “But the U.S.-ROK alliance is not designed to simply stand against another nation. It must also stand for something, in order to be meaningful and endure.”
The alliance is strong well beyond the peninsula and the two militaries work together in Afghanistan and have supported responses to global crises like the earthquake in Pakistan and the Indonesian tsunami, he said.
“Not only in Korea, but in nations across Asia, Cold War turbulence has given way to new partnerships and cooperation,” Gates said.
Vietnam and the United States are building a strong and vibrant bilateral relationship, he said. “Together, the United States and Vietnam have demonstrated how to build upon the past without being bound to repeat it,” Gates said. “This commitment to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles led us to where we are today: partnership on a range of issues including trade and investment, education and health, and security and defense.”
The United States is working with China to build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship. U.S. presidents of both parties have worked since the normalization of relations in 1979 to grow this relationship, he said.
“It was one of the highlights of my professional career to serve as a young staff assistant in the White House when that process unfolded,” Gates said. “Thirty years later, as secretary of defense, I have made it a priority to build military-to-military ties with China, which have steadily improved in recent months.”
The United States and India are working more closely together than ever before. During the Cold War there was an uneasy co-existence between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest. Now there is “a partnership based on shared democratic values and vital economic and security interests,” the secretary said. “A partnership that will be an indispensable pillar of stability in South Asia and beyond – whether countering piracy, increasing participation in multilateral venues, or aiding the development of Afghanistan, our partnership is playing a vital role.”
But while bilateral relationships are important, multilateral alliances are key to success.
“One of the critical challenges of the Asian security environment has long been the lack of strong mechanisms for cooperation between nations in the region,” he said. “Over the past few years, I have made it a personal priority to support efforts underway to remedy this problem.”
Last year, the United States was the first non-Association of Southeast Asian Nations nation to accept the invitation to join the ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus forum. Gates participated in the forum in Hanoi in October 2010 and sees it as a body that can address issues of shared interest including maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and peacekeeping operations.
“Maritime security remains an issue of particular importance for the region, with questions about territorial claims and the appropriate use of the maritime domain an on-going challenge to regional stability and prosperity,” he said. “The U.S. position on maritime security remains clear: we have a national interest in freedom of navigation; in unimpeded economic development and commerce; and in respect for international law.”
(Editor’s note: Singapore is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.)
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)