WASHINGTON, May 7, 2010 — The Asia-Pacific region stands at a pivotal point in history as it draws on the strength of regional alliances and partnerships to contend with a broad range of threats and challenges, a senior defense official said yesterday.
In remarks at the East-West Center’s Washington office, Wallace “Chip” Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, cited the dramatic transformation in the region since the East-West Center’s main campus was established in Hawaii 50 years ago at a time of regional uncertainty.
“Yet while this dynamism continues to fuel tremendous progress and growth, there are also tectonic shifts taking place in the region that create a continued sense of uncertainty,” he told the U.S.-Asia Pacific Council’s annual conference.
Asia is home to four of the world’s five largest military powers and some of its most-advanced military capabilities, Gregson noted. In light of ongoing territorial disputes and contested sovereignty claims, “the potential impact of a large-scale conflict would be unprecedented in scope,” he said.
But Gregson also cited new, cross-border threats: the challenge of rising powers and failing states, the proliferation of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies and extremist violence, among them. In addition, he said, new anti-access capabilities threaten to prevent open access to the global commons – oceans, forests and atmosphere – which Asia’s economic stability depends upon.
“Because we face a far more complex range of threats, the strength of our mutual commitments is more critical than ever before,” Gregson said.
“These threats are not any one nation’s alone, nor does the responsibility to counter these threats belong to any one nation alone,” he continued. “Just as we all have a shared interest in ensuring continued peace, prosperity and stability in the region, we must all share in the responsibility for maintaining this peace.”
Gregson emphasized the need to build on existing alliances and partnerships in the region and to foster more multilateral cooperation. “If we are to successfully meet the challenges ahead, we must bring a renewed sense of purpose to the concept of regional cooperation,” he said.
The United States must instill confidence among its regional partners that it stands by its security commitments and will maintain deterrence against the full range of potential threats and aggression, Gregson said. He noted steps the United States is taking to strengthen its deterrent capabilities, particularly in light of destabilizing activities in North Korea and China.
Gregson noted the United States’ efforts to promote stronger multilateral, rather than simply bilateral, relationships in the region. This includes helping partners and allies build their own security capacities.
Yet, the United States must do a better job of providing this support in a timely, reliable manner, Gregson told the audience. He emphasized the need to overcome limitations in the United States’ security assistance system and to reform export control laws to enable partners and allies to play a greater role in their own defense and in regional affairs. “If we are to build deep and enduring partnerships, we must ensure that this assistance is reliable, and that our partners know we will not be a fair-weather friend,” Gregson told the audience.
Looking toward the future, Gregson offered assurance that the United States will provide greater support to its partners – but emphasized that it also will expect more in return. The United States, he said, will expect its partners in the Asia-Pacific region to increase their capability in a transparent, responsible, way, and to begin taking the lead in regional security dialogue and initiatives.
“Finally, we also expect that as America fulfills our commitment to building greater partner capacity, our partners will in turn take greater leading roles in their own defense, and in regional and global security affairs,” he said.
The United States and its Asia-Pacific partners face an incredibly important series of choices in the years ahead, Gregson said. He noted years of discussion about the need to recalibrate existing partnerships and develop a broader set of roles, missions and capabilities to address a wider range of threats. “Our ability to implement this commitment will be the true test of our mettle in the next several years,” he said.
“Our alliances and our partnerships must foster real patterns of cooperation, built on mutual trust, mutual responsibility and mutual exchange of ideas,” he said. “By creating these types of partnerships, we will ensure that these relationships have tangible meaning, depth and value for the next generation of leaders.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)