WASHINGTON, June 10, 2010 – Citing the violence in Afghanistan and renewed tensions with China, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen last night encouraged military partnerships between the United States and all Asian nations in order to bring stability to the region.
„From the bedrock alliances we have with the Republic of Korea, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, to burgeoning relationships we foster with emerging partners like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, … we are duty bound and will remain so to dedicate our might to mutual defense,“ Mullen said. „Those who need our help may depend upon it, [and] those who question our sincerity, need not.“
Mullen spoke to members of the Asia Society Washington here at the group’s 23rd annual awards dinner. Mullen accepted the society’s Public Policy award on behalf of the U.S. military. The organization promotes better understanding and relationships between the United States and Asia through dialogue, cultural exchange and ideas. Diplomats from more than 20 Asian nations, including China, attended the event.
Mullen touched on various military-to-military relationships the U.S. has in the region, articulating his concerns and explaining the need to expand Asian interaction. Security, prosperity and the future depend on such exchanges, he said.
Regarding increasing U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, Mullen expressed his gratitude for the good-standing relationship he and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have with their counterparts in India and Pakistan.
Those partnerships are „critical,“ he said, as U.S. and international forces attempt to eradicate Taliban extremists and terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan and along that country’s border with Pakistan.
„Nothing could be more critical, in my view, than these relationships right now, especially as we ramp up our military presence in Afghanistan and begin to improve security in Kandahar and across the south,“ Mullen said.
Despite heavy casualties this week – at least 20 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan since June 7, progress is being made, the admiral said, noting U.S. allies shouldn’t waver in their support. The Taliban is feeling the pressure of the U.S. troop surge, he said.
„We must resist ourselves the temptation to lose heart, because I am certain of the strength of our strategy and in the leadership we have in place there,“ Mullen said. „We will succeed in Afghanistan. We will prevent that country from ever becoming a safe haven again, but it will be a slow, messy and often deadly business.“ Afghanistan will require „heavy lifting“ from the U.S. military and its partners in the region, he added.
„We all have a stake in a stable Afghanistan, in particular those of us who have a stake in a stable Asia-Pacific region,“ he said.
On China, Mullen said he was encouraged by that country’s call for accountability of those responsible for the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, Cheonan, in March. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed.
But Mullen added that he is disappointed with China’s „tepid response to calls by the international community for support.“
Mullen called the North Korean attack an „egregious breach of the fragile peace“ on the Korean peninsula and another example of the „sort of provocation and pre-meditation“ by which North Korea continues to threaten its neighbors.
„We in the United States military stand firmly by our allies in the Republic of Korea and will move forward, in keeping with international agreements, to demonstrate that solidarity in coming weeks,“ the admiral said. „I think it’s of no surprise to anyone that we are planning maritime exercises to sharpen skills and strengthen collective defenses. „I would offer that South Korea’s neighbors and friends can assist as well, in whatever manner best suits their sovereign needs,“ he added.
Also, the Pentagon remains concerned with China’s lack of interest to engage with U.S. military leaders, the admiral said. Secretary Gates, in a trip to Asia for a security summit last week, was disinvited to meet with Chinese military leaders despite Chinese President Hu Jintao’s advocacy for U.S. relations. Mullen said his position on China has „moved from curious to being genuinely concerned.“
„[China’s] recent rejection of military-to-military contact is particularly disappointing, because it removes the opportunity to listen and to learn from and about each other,“ Mullen said, noting China’s „heavy investments“ in new military capabilities.
„Every nation has a right to defend itself, and to spend as it sees fit for that purpose,“ he continued. „But a gap as wide as what seems to be forming between China’s stated intent and its military programs leave me more than curious about the end result.“
It is hoped, Mullen said, that China’s military will move toward becoming more transparent in its aims, and eventually trust the United States as a partner. The people of Asia deserve sustainable stability, he said.
Mullen noted that military engagements alone, however, won’t guarantee regional stability. But simply reaching out to other nations could build the bonds necessary to ensure a secure and prosperous future in Asia. Having mutual understanding of each other’s capabilities and priorities will drive change and make a difference, he said.
„I certainly don’t believe that military forces alone can bring about regional stability in an area as vast and diverse as Asia, nor am I suggesting that we’ll ever really achieve something akin to perfection in this regard,“ Mullen said. „But I do believe that in the attempt — in the pursuit of stability — there is goodness and, perhaps, great effect. „From the effort comes a greater appreciation of mutual need and capability,“ he continued. „From the effort comes a greater focus on cooperation and transparency. And from the effort comes reduced tensions, and reduced risks of miscalculation.“
Mullen lauded Indonesia’s integrated maritime surveillance system and the country’s positive relationship with Malaysia and Singapore. These nations share responsibility in patrolling the Strait of Malacca, and they set a „great example of how military forces can cooperate to improve security,“ he said.
Mullen also recognized Cambodia’s military for becoming the newest country to partner this week with U.S. Pacific Command and other Asian nations in a training exercise in Indonesian waters.
The exercise is part of the series of bi-lateral exercises known as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training. It contributes to regional maritime security by enhancing capabilities in areas such as interdiction, information sharing, anti-piracy and anti-smuggling.
However, nations must will themselves to do more, the admiral said.
„Security requires more than just exercises,“ Mullen said. „It requires real investments and real strategies.“
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)