USA — Mullen Cites Importance of Asian Partners, Stability in Pacific Region

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)