Willard: U.S. Welcomes Rotations, Not Bases, in Asia-Pacific

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2012 — The Unit­ed States has no inter­est in estab­lish­ing new mil­i­tary bases in Asia and the Pacif­ic, but wel­comes oppor­tu­ni­ties to rotate forces there and would con­sid­er doing so in the Philip­pines, if offered, the top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer in the region said today.

“We would wel­come dis­cus­sions with the Philip­pines along those lines, but there’s no aspi­ra­tion for bases in South­east Asia,” Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, the U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand com­man­der, said at the For­eign Press Club here.

Willard called the ongo­ing strate­gic-lev­el dia­logue between the Defense Depart­ment and the Philip­pine defense min­istry part of “episod­ic” engage­ments focused on the two coun­tries’ alliance and ongo­ing mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion.

“For a long time, we’ve been work­ing close­ly with the armed forces of the Philip­pines to seek a broad­er bal­ance in the capa­bil­i­ties with­in the Philip­pines,” he told reporters.

This, he said, rec­og­nizes that issues such as mar­itime secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty are as impor­tant as the army-cen­tric coun­terin­sur­gency and coun­tert­er­ror­ism coop­er­a­tion there. “We are inter­est­ed in the Philip­pines in a mar­itime sense becom­ing increas­ing­ly self-suf­fi­cient, and we’ll help where we can,” he said.

Asked direct­ly if the Unit­ed States would ever reestab­lish a per­ma­nent base at Subic Bay, once a major U.S. naval base, Willard made clear it’s high­ly unlike­ly. The base, which closed in the ear­ly 1990s, was once the largest U.S. Navy instal­la­tion in the Pacif­ic.

“There is no desire nor view right now that the U.S. is seek­ing bas­ing options any­where in the Asia-Pacif­ic the­ater,” he said.

Willard called Australia’s and Singapore’s offers for the Unit­ed States to rotate forces there much more attrac­tive. These arrange­ments enable Pacif­ic Com­mand to more con­ve­nient­ly and less expen­sive­ly main­tain a pres­ence clos­er and more con­ve­nient to poten­tial con­tin­gen­cies in the region, he said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Julia Gillard announced in Novem­ber that begin­ning in the mid­dle of this year, com­pa­ny-size rota­tions of 200 to 250 U.S. Marines will begin deploy­ing near Dar­win in Australia’s North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry for six-month rota­tions. Gillard said the pres­ence will expand to a force of 2,500 over the next sev­er­al years.

In addi­tion, Sin­ga­pore has invit­ed the Unit­ed States to for­ward-deploy lit­toral com­bat ships there. For­mer Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates first announced that plan at last year’s annu­al Asia Secu­ri­ty Con­fer­ence in Sin­ga­pore.

Mean­while, the Unit­ed States con­tin­ues work­ing to estab­lish clos­er mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary ties with Chi­na, Willard said. He not­ed that the rela­tion­ship is “sus­tain­ing itself” at the strate­gic lev­el but said he hopes to be able to advance it to the oper­a­tional and tac­ti­cal lev­els.

“I would say there’s poten­tial there,” he told reporters. “And I’m grat­i­fied that at the strate­gic lev­el, that dia­logue has per­sist­ed. I’m not sat­is­fied that the mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship is where it needs to be.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)