U.S. Commitment to Asia Unwavering, Defense Secretary Says
USINFO Special Correspondent
Washington –The United States remains deeply committed to a strong, vibrant partnership with Asia across the full spectrum of economic, political and security dimensions, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a broad-ranging policy address in Singapore June 2.
"Our commitments elsewhere notwithstanding, we will fulfill our commitments in Asia," Gates declared in remarks to representatives of the 25 nations participating in the Sixth International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Far from neglecting Asia, Gates said, the United States has been adjusting and strengthening its regional and bilateral relationships "in all points of the Asian compass" to meet the challenges of a new century.
The United States paid a significant price in lives and resources to defeat aggression and maintain peace and prosperity in the past, Gates reminded his audience, and will continue to maintain its Asian alliances and partnerships in the future.
He cited such key regional initiatives as counterterrorism, nonproliferation, missile defense, maritime security and crisis response to natural and humanitarian disasters.
Gates highlighted the Proliferation Security Initiative launched by the United States as the "cornerstone" effort to prevent the spread of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to regimes like Iran and North Korea that might sell such materials to others, including terrorist organizations. (See related article.)
The defense secretary stressed the need to account for the unique circumstances of each country and work "to make each relationship more relevant, more resilient, more responsive and more enduring."
As South Korea has strengthened both its economy and military, the United States has reduced its military presence there and realigned its forces in Japan, he said.
In other cases, such as India and Pakistan, Gates observed, the United States has reinvigorated a growing strategic relationship with both countries, and cooperates with many nations to overcome the terrorist threat. (See related article.)
The United States shares a broad range of security interests with China, including terrorism, nonproliferation, and energy issues, according to Gates, as well as broad, remarkably interconnected economic and trading ties. Despite differences on some issues, Gates said, "I believe there is reason to be optimistic about the U.S.-China relationship."
TERRORISM AND STRONG ALLIANCES
No single nation can deal with the many international challenges the world faces, according to Gates. They require all civilized nations "to come together in new and dynamic ways – as we are doing in Asia."
In particular Gates cited the challenge of fighting terrorist networks that "have become adept at taking advantage of the ungoverned spaces of the real and virtual worlds to organize, train, and recruit." (See related article.)
Organizations such as al-Qaida and the Jemaah Islamiya Organization do not seek to take over countries as did the guerilla movements of the 20th century, Gates said, but to weaken states and create "vacuums of authority" from which they can operate.
"We have learned the hard way that allowing failed states to turn into terrorist sanctuaries has catastrophic consequences," he said.
Gates said that terrorist attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as plots foiled in Singapore and elsewhere, reinforce the need to cooperate at all levels, including military operations, law enforcement, information sharing, training, and in some instances, joint operation.
The defense secretary paid tribute to the remarkable contribution of many Asian nations to Afghanistan's economic recovery, including Japan's bilateral aid, India's construction of the new parliament building in Kabul, and South Korea's health and reconstruction projects. In addition, Australia and New Zealand have led provincial reconstruction teams that are critical to Afghanistan's growth and security.
Even though NATO is taking the security burden in Afghanistan, Gates said, the former Soviet states of Central Asia greatly need help with economic development, integration, capacity building, anti-drug and security assistance. (See related article.)
"Integrating these newly independent states into the fold of the greater Asian family is in the interest of every country represented in this room," he said.
As someone who served in the U.S. government during the Cold War, Secretary Gates drew upon several lessons from that era for dealing with the current struggle against violent extremism.
First, Gates said, both challenges require long, sustained effort measured in decades, not years. Second, both struggles were "fundamentally an ideological struggle, where the appeal of principle and the power of example provided by secure, prosperous, and tolerant societies will become the decisive edge," he declared. "It will take strong alliances and vibrant coalitions."
A transcript of Gates’ remarks is available on the U.S. Defense Department Web site.