By Cheryl Pellerin, AFPS, JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 21, 2013 - The Defense Department has begun to shift its intellectual and physical weight to the Asia-Pacific to reinforce longstanding military commitments to the region, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said here yesterday.
Jakarta was the final stop of the deputy defense secretary's weeklong trip to Asia, which included visits to defense and government officials in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
Speaking as part of an international panel at the third Jakarta International Defense Dialogue, or JIDD, Carter said the United States is serious about its commitment to the region and detailed elements now in motion of a rebalance called for in the department's 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance.
Despite U.S. spending cuts and ongoing budget debates in Congress, the deputy defense secretary said, DOD is using whatever flexibility it has in managing its budget to favor and protect the rebalance.
"The rebalance will continue and in fact gain momentum for two reasons. First, U.S. interests here are enduring and so also will be its political and economic presence," Carter told an audience of nearly 1,500 defense, government and security officials from around the world.
"This presence is accompanied by values -- democracy, freedom, human rights, civilian control of the military, and respect for the sovereignty of nations -- that America has long stood for and that human beings welcome and I think relate to," he added, "So our interest in the region will be both believed and reciprocated."
Former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and President Barack Obama have made recent visits to the region, he said, as have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
Secretary of State John Kerry will make his first trip here next month, Carter said, " ... and Secretary [Chuck] Hagel, who as a senator led the first U.S. congressional delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue, is staunchly committed to this region as well, [and] will be attending Shangri-La."
Carter said each U.S. leader visiting the region, in his or her own way, emphasized the central importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the United States, "and our commitment to making sure that this region remains safe, secure and prosperous."
He said the rebalance means that a higher proportion of defense assets will move to the region.
"Secretary Panetta announced last year that 60 percent of our naval assets will be assigned to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020," Carter noted, "a substantial and historical shift."
The Air Force, he noted, will increase its presence in the region with tactical aircraft like the F-22 stealth fighter; space, cyber and bomber forces; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets like the MQ-9 Reaper, the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft; and the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.
"We will be able to leverage more capacity from our ground forces, including the Army, Marines and special operations forces, now that they are coming home to the Pacific from Iraq and Afghanistan," Carter said, adding, "Also we are modernizing and enhancing our forward presence across the region in cooperation with our allies and partners."
Beginning with Northeast Asia, Carter said DOD is modernizing and updating alliances with Japan and South Korea.
"In Japan we've added aviation capability, we are in the process of realigning the Marine Corps presence in Okinawa, and we are upgrading our missile defense posture," he told the audience. The department is also working to revise defense guidelines there to meet 21st century challenges, he said.
On the Korean Peninsula, DOD is implementing the Strategic Alliance 2015 agreement and taking steps to advance the alliance's military capabilities to meet the North Korean threat.
Under the SA 2015 roadmap, wartime operational control of Korean forces will transition from the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command to the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff in December 2015, according to a January statement by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim.
U.S. Forces Korea will become the U.S. Korea Command, or Korcom, and provide manpower for a supporting relationship with the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States will continue to back the defense of the Republic of Korea with the full might of the U.S. military, Kim added.
The Defense Department also is enhancing its presence in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region, Carter said.
"We are not only rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific but also within the Asia-Pacific, in recognition of the growing importance of Southeast Asia to the region as a whole [and] emphasizing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, capacity building and multilateral exercises," the deputy secretary added.
In Australia last year, the initial company of Marines rotated through Darwin in the first step toward using this presence to engage in bilateral and multilateral exercises with regional partners.
In the Philippines, the department is working to enhance the capacity of the Philippines Armed Forces and increase DOD rotational presence and partnerships with that key treaty ally, Carter explained.
In Singapore, the first of four littoral combat ships will arrive early next month, providing a key capability to work bilaterally and multilaterally with partners in the region, he added.
"Next, while we will preserve and integrate the counter-insurgency capabilities that we have worked so hard to develop over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan," Carter said, "we are giving priority in our ... budget to development platforms and capabilities that have direct applicability and use in this region."
Such investments include the Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine, the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, the Broad Area Maritime Sensor, a new stealth bomber, the KC-46 tanker replacement, cruise missiles and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, the deputy secretary said.
"We are also protecting our investments in future-focused capabilities that are so important to this region," he added, "such as cyber, science and technology investments, and space."
DOD is also investing in its people, Carter said, in language and cultural skills and regional and strategic affairs to ensure that the department can cultivate the intellectual capital that will be required to make good the rebalance.
The United States is also making critical investments in training ranges and bases such as Guam, which the department is developing as a strategic hub for the Western Pacific, he said.
"Fourth, finally and most importantly," the deputy secretary noted, "we are revitalizing and expanding our partnerships across the region. That's the key. I've mentioned the work we are doing with Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore and the Philippines, but we're doing many other things in other parts of the region as well."
- Last November DOD worked with treaty ally Thailand to update the U.S.-Thailand Joint Vision Statement for the first time in 50 years.
- With New Zealand, signing the Washington Declaration and related policy changes opened new avenues for defense cooperation in maritime security cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping support.
- In Burma DOD has resumed limited military-to-military relations and is working to ensure that the Burmese military supports Burma's ongoing reforms.
- With the Vietnamese, through a new memorandum of understanding, DOD is expanding cooperation in maritime security, search and rescue, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
- In Malaysia and Indonesia, the department is working to build partner capacity and conduct maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
China and India also are a critical part of the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, Carter said.
DOD has invited China to participate in the U.S.-hosted RIMPAC exercise, the world's largest multinational maritime exercise, involving 22 nations during its most recent iteration in 2012.
"We are delighted to have their participation in what will be a strengthening and growing military-to-military relationship with China, which matches and follows our growing political and economic relationship with China," the deputy secretary said.
Carter called India "a key part of our rebalance and, more broadly, an emerging power that we believe will help determine the broader security and prosperity of the 21st century."
U.S. security interests with India converge on maritime security and broader regional issues, he said, "including India's 'Look East' policy, an attempt to forge closer and deeper economic integration with its eastern neighbors.
With India, Carter said, the department is also working to deepen defense cooperation, moving beyond defense trade to technology sharing and coproduction.
Multilaterally, he added, the department recognizes the importance of strengthening regional institutions like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which plays what the deputy secretary called "an indispensable role in maintaining regional stability and resolving disputes through diplomacy."
The United States can and will succeed in rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific in the years to come, Carter told the audience.
"As we succeed in this," he added, "we look forward to doing it with all of you represented in this room."
Note: Ashton Carter is a political appointee of Barack Obama.