U.S. Building on Past Alliances, Expanding Engagements in Asia

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)

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