Thank you very much, John, for that kind introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour to have the opportunity to attend my first Shangri-La Conference. I want to commend the International Institute for Strategic Studies for fostering this very important dialogue, this very important discussion that is taking place here this weekend.
I am, as I understand it, the third United States Secretary of Defense to appear at this forum, across administrations from both political parties in the United States. That is, I believe, a testament to the importance that the United States places in this dynamic and critical region of the world.
It is in that spirit that I have come to Singapore, at the beginning of an eight-day journey across Asia that will take me to Vietnam and to India as well.
The purpose of this trip, and of my remarks today, is to explain a new defence strategy that the United States has put in place and why the United States will play a deeper and more enduring partnership role in advancing the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and how the United States military supports that goal by rebalancing towards this region.
Since the United States grew westward in the 19th century, we have been a Pacific nation. I was born and raised in a coastal town in California called Monterey, and have spent a lifetime looking out across the Pacific Ocean. As a fishing community, as a port, the ocean was the lifeblood of our economy. And some of my earliest memories as a child during World War II are of watching American troops pass through my community, trained at the military reservation called Fort Ord, and were on their way to face battle in the Pacific.
I remember the fear that gripped our community during World War II, and later when war again broke out on the Korean Peninsula. Despite the geographic distance that separates us, I’ve always understood that America’s fate is inexorably linked with this region.
This reality has guided more than six decades of U.S. military presence and partnership in this region – a defence posture which, along with our trading relations, along with our diplomatic ties, along with our foreign assistance, helped usher in an unprecedented era of security and prosperity in the latter half of the 20th century.
In this century, the 21st century, the United States recognizes that our prosperity and our security depends even more on the Asia-Pacific region. After all, this region is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies: China, India, and Indonesia to mention a few. At the same time, Asia-Pacific contains the world’s largest populations, and the world’s largest militaries. Defense spending in Asia is projected by this institute, the IISS, to surpass that of Europe this year, and there is no doubt that it will continue to increase in the future.
Given these trends, President Obama has stated the United States will play a larger role in this region over the decades to come. This effort will draw on the strengths of the entire United States government. We take on this role not as a distant power, but as part of the Pacific family of nations. Our goal is to work closely with all of the nations of this region to confront common challenges and to promote peace, prosperity, and security for all nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
My colleague and my good friend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also outlined our refocus on the Asia-Pacific, emphasizing the crucial part that diplomacy, trade, and development will play in our engagement.
The same is true for defence policy. We will play an essential role in promoting strong partnerships that strengthen the capabilities of the Pacific nations to defend and secure themselves. All of the U.S. military services are focused on implementing the president’s guidance to make the Asia-Pacific a top priority. Before I detail these specific efforts, let me provide some context for our broader defence strategy in the 21st century.
The United States is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war. We have significantly weakened al-Qaida’s leadership and ability to attack other nations. We have sent a very clear message that nobody attacks the United States and gets away with it. Our military mission in Iraq has ended and established – established an Iraq that can secure and govern itself.
In Afghanistan, where a number of Asia-Pacific nations are playing a critical role in the international coalition, we have begun our transition to the Afghan security lead and to an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself. Recent meeting in Chicago, NATO and its partners – over 50 nations – came together to support General Allen’s plan to accomplish this goal. In addition to that, we joined in a successful NATO effort to return Libya to the Libyan people.
But even as we have been able to draw these wars to a hopeful end, we are confronted today by a wide range of complex global challenges. From terrorism – terrorism still remains a threat to the world – from terrorism to the destabilizing behaviour of Iran and North Korea, from nuclear proliferation to the new threat of cyberattack, from continuing turmoil in the Middle East to territorial disputes in this region.
At the same time, the United States, like many other nations, is dealing with large debt and large deficits, which has required the Department of Defense to reduce the planning budget by nearly half a trillion dollars or specifically $487 billion that were directed to be reduced by the Congress in the Budget Control Act over the next decade.
But this new fiscal reality, challenge that many nations confront these days, has given us an opportunity to design a new defence strategy for the 21st century that both confronts the threats that we face and maintains the strongest military in the world.
This strategy makes clear the United States military, yes, it will be smaller, it will be leaner, but it will be agile and flexible, quickly deployable, and will employ cutting-edge technology in the future. It makes equally clear that while the U.S. military will remain a global force for security and stability, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region. We will also maintain our presence throughout the world. We will do it with innovative rotational deployments that emphasize creation of new partnerships and new alliances. We will also invest, invest in cyber, invest in space, invest in unnamed systems, invest in special forces operations. We will invest in the newest technology and we will invest in the ability to mobilize quickly if necessary.
We have made choices and we have set priorities, and we have rightly chosen to make this region a priority.
Our approach to achieving the long-term goal in the Asia-Pacific is to stay firmly committed to a basic set of shared principles – principles that promote international rules and order to advance peace and security in the region, deepening and broadening our bilateral and multilateral partnerships, enhancing and adapting the U.S. military’s enduring presence in this region, and to make new investments in the capabilities needed to project power and operate in Asia-Pacific.
Let me discuss each of these shared principles. The first is the shared principle that we abide by international rules and order.
Let me underscore that this is not a new principle, our solid commitment to establish a set of rules that all play by is one that we believe will help support peace and prosperity in this region.
What are we talking about? These rules include the principle of open and free commerce, a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of all nations and a fidelity to the rule of law; open access by all to their shared domains of sea, air, space, and cyberspace; and resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force.
Backing this vision involves resolving disputes as quickly as possible with diplomatic efforts. Backing these principles has been the essential mission of the United States military in the Asia-Pacific for more than 60 years and it will be even a more important mission in the future. My hope is that in line with these rules and international order that is necessary that the United States will join over 160 other nations in ratifying the Law of Seas Convention this year.
The second principle is one of partnerships. Key to this approach is our effort to modernize and strengthen our alliances and partnerships in this region. The United States has key treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines and Thailand. We have key partners in India, Singapore, Indonesia, and other nations. And we are working hard to develop and build stronger relations with China.
As we expand our partnerships, as we strengthen our alliances, the United States-Japan alliance will remain one of the cornerstones for regional security and prosperity in the 21st century. For that reason, our two militaries are enhancing their ability to train and operate together, and cooperating closely in areas such as maritime security and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. We are also jointly developing high-tech capabilities, including the next generation missile defence interceptor, and exploring new areas of cooperation in space and in cyberspace.
In the past several months we have strengthened the alliance and our broader strategic objectives in the region with a revised plan to relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam. This plan will make the U.S. presence in Okinawa more politically sustainable, and it will help further develop Guam as a strategic hub for the United States military in the Western Pacific, improving our ability to respond to a wide range of contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another linchpin of our Asia-Pacific security is the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea. During a year of transition and provocation on the Korean Peninsula, this alliance has been indispensable, and I have made it a priority to strengthen it for the future. To that end, even as the United States reduces the overall size of its ground forces in the coming years in a transitional way over a five-year period, we will maintain the United States Army’s significant presence in Korea.
We are also boosting our intelligence and information sharing with the Republic of Korea, standing firm against hostile provocations from North Korea while transforming the alliance with new capabilities to meet global challenges.
The third shared principle is presence. While strengthening our traditional alliances in Northeast Asia and maintaining our presence there, as part of this rebalancing effort we are also enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean region.
A critical component of that effort is the agreement announced last fall for a rotational Marine Corps presence and aircraft deployments in northern Australia.
The first detachment of Marines arrived in April, and this Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be capable of rapidly deploying across the Asia-Pacific region, thereby enabling us to work more effectively with partners in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean and tackle common challenges such as natural disasters and maritime security.
These Marines will conduct training and exercises throughout the region and with Australia, strengthening one of our most important alliances and building on a decade of operational experience together in Afghanistan. Speaking of that, I welcome and applaud Australia’s announcement that later this year it will assume leadership of Combined Team Uruzgan, and will lead our security efforts there through 2014.
We’re also continuing close operational cooperation with our long-time ally, Thailand. The Thais annually host COBRA GOLD, a world-class multilateral military exercise, and this year we will deepen our strategic cooperation to meet shared regional challenges.
We are energizing our alliance with the Philippines. Last month in Washington I joined Secretary Clinton in the first-ever "2+2" meeting with our Filipino counterparts. Working together, our forces are successfully countering terrorist groups. We are also pursuing mutually beneficial capability enhancements, and working to improve the Philippine’s maritime presence. Chairman Dempsey will be traveling from here to the Philippines to further our military engagement.
Another tangible manifestation of our commitment to rebalancing is our growing defence relationship with Singapore. Our ability to operate with Singaporean forces and others in the region will grow substantially in the coming years when we implement the forward deployment of the Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore.
As we take existing alliances and partnerships in new directions, this rebalancing effort also places a premium on enhancing partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam, and New Zealand.
In the coming days I will travel to Vietnam to advance bilateral defence cooperation, building off of the comprehensive memorandum of understanding that our two nations signed last year.
From Vietnam, I will travel to India to affirm our interest in building a strong security relationship with a country I believe will play a decisive role in shaping the security and prosperity of the 21st century.
As the United States strengthens these regional partnerships, we will also seek to strengthen a very important relationship with China. We believe China is a key to being able to develop a peaceful, prosperous, and secure Asia-Pacific in the 21st century. And I am looking forward to traveling there soon at the invitation of the Chinese government. Both of our nations recognize that the relationship – this relationship between the United States and China is one of the most important in the world. We in the United States are clear-eyed about the challenges, make no mistake about it, but we also seek to grasp the opportunities that can come from closer cooperation and a closer relationship.
I’m personally committed to building a healthy, stable, reliable, and continuous mil-to-mil relationship with China. I had the opportunity to host Vice President Xi and later Defence Minister General Liang at the Pentagon in the effort to pursue that goal. Our aim is to continue to improve the strategic trust that we must have between our two countries, and to discuss common approaches to dealing with shared security challenges.
We are working with China to execute a robust military-to-military engagement plan for the rest of this year, and we will seek to deepen our partnership in humanitarian assistance, counter-drug, and counter-proliferation efforts. We have also agreed on the need to address responsible behavior in cyberspace and in outer space. We must establish and reinforce agreed principles of responsible behaviour in these key domains.
I know that many in the region and across the world are closely watching the United States-China relationship. Some view the increased emphasis by the United States on the Asia-Pacific region as some kind of challenge to China. I reject that view entirely. Our effort to renew and intensify our involvement in Asia is fully compatible – fully compatible – with the development and growth of China. Indeed, increased U.S. involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity for the future.
In this context, we strongly support the efforts that both China and Taiwan, both have made in recent years trying to improve cross-strait relations. We have an enduring interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The United States remains firm in the adherence to a one-China policy based on the Three Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act.
China also has a critical role to play in advancing security and prosperity by respecting the rules-based order that has served the region for six decades. The United States welcomes the rise of a strong and prosperous and successful China that plays a greater role in global affairs.
Another positive step towards furthering this rules-based order is Asia’s deepening regional security architecture, which the United States strongly supports. Last October, I had the opportunity to be the first U.S. secretary of defense to meet privately with all ASEAN defence ministers in Bali. We applaud the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus for producing real action plans for multilateral military cooperation, and I strongly support the ASEAN decision to hold more frequent ADMM-Plus discussions at the ministerial level. We think this is an important step for stability, real coordination, communication, and support between these nations.
The United States believes it is critical for regional institutions to develop mutually agreed rules of the road that protect the rights of all nations to free and open access to the seas. We support the efforts of the ASEAN countries and China to develop a binding code of conduct that would create a rules-based framework for regulating the conduct of parties in the South China Sea, including the prevention and management of disputes.
On that note, we are obviously paying close attention to the situation in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The U.S. position is clear and consistent: we call for restraint and for diplomatic resolution; we oppose provocation; we oppose coercion; and we oppose the use of force. We do not take sides when it comes to competing territorial claims, but we do want this dispute resolved peacefully and in a manner consistent with international law. We have made our views known and very clear to our close treaty ally, the Philippines, and we have made those views clear to China and to other countries in the region.
As a Pacific power, the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, in unimpeded economic development and commerce, and in a respect for the rule of law. Our alliances, our partnerships, and our enduring presence in this region all serve to support these important goals.
For those who are concerned about the ability of the United States to maintain a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region in light of the fiscal pressures we face, let me be very clear. The Department of Defense has a five-year budget plan and a detailed blueprint for implementing this strategy I just outlined for realizing our long-term goals in this region, and for still meeting our fiscal responsibilities.
The final principle – shared principle that we all have is force projection.
This budget is the first in what will be a sustained series of investments and strategic decisions to strengthen our military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. I would encourage you to look at the increasing technological capabilities of our forces as much as their numbers in judging the full measure of our security presence and our security commitment.
For example, over the next five years we will retire older Navy ships, but we will replace them with more than 40 far more capable and technologically advanced ships. Over the next few years we will increase the number and the size of our exercises in the Pacific. We will also increase and more widely distribute our port visits, including in the important Indian Ocean region.
And by 2020 the Navy will reposture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines.
Our forward-deployed forces are the core of our commitment to this region and we will, as I said, sharpen the technological edge of our forces. These forces are also backed up by our ability to rapidly project military power if needed to meet our security commitments.
Therefore, we are investing specifically in those kinds of capabilities – such as an advanced fifth-generation fighter, an enhanced Virginia-class submarine, new electronic warfare and communications capabilities, and improved precision weapons – that will provide our forces with freedom of manoeuvre in areas in which our access and freedom of action may be threatened.
We recognize the challenges of operating over the Pacific’s vast distances. That is why we are investing in new aerial-refuelling tankers, a new bomber, and advanced maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
In concert with these investments in military capabilities, we are developing new concepts of operation which will enable us to better leverage the unique strengths of these platforms and meet the unique challenges of operating in Asia-Pacific. In January, the department published a Joint Operational Access Concept which, along with these related efforts like Air-Sea Battle, are helping the Department meet the challenges of new and disruptive technologies and weapons that could deny our forces access to key sea routes and key lines of communication.
It will take years for these concepts and many of the investments that I just detailed, but we are making those investments in order that they be fully realized. Make no mistake – in a steady, deliberate, and sustainable way the United States military is rebalancing and bringing an enhanced capability development to this vital region.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy. And there I had the pleasure of handing a diploma to the first foreign student to achieve top graduate honours, a young midshipman from Singapore: Sam Tan Wei Chen.
I told that graduating class of midshipmen that it would be the project of their generation to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that are emanating from the Asia-Pacific region.
By working in concert with all elements of American power, I truly believe that these young men and women will have the opportunity to play a vital role in securing a century of peace and prosperity for the United States and for all of the nations of this region.
Over the course of history, the United States has fought wars, we have spilled blood, we have deployed our forces time and time again to defend our vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region. We owe it to all of those who have fought and died to build a better future for all nations in this region.
The United States has long been deeply been involved in the Asia-Pacific. Through times of war, times of peace, under Democratic and Republican leaders and administrations, through rancour and through comity in Washington, through surplus and through debt. We were there then, we are here now, and we will be here for the future.