On October 3rd, US Deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter gave a speech to the National Bureau of Asian Research on Washington’s so-called pivot to Asia. Carter’s boss, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, visited China last month during which he stressed that the US did not seek to “contain” or hinder China.
Reasons behind the pivot:
Our rebalance is not about the United States. It’s not about China. It’s not about any other individual country or group of countries. It’s about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all countries can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper.
Our political and military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is one of the most important tenets of the new strategy. There are several, this is the most important. Underlying our security engagement with the region is our support for long-standing principles that go well beyond security – of free and open access to commerce; of a just international order that upholds the rule of law; of open access to all domains; and of the peaceful resolution of disputes.
We seek a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all the states of the region – all of them – can enjoy the benefits of security and continue to prosper, just as they have for almost 70 years, since the valiant efforts of the brave men and women who fought so courageously in World War II.
Indeed, part of the reason states in the region have been able to rise and prosper is due – has been due – to our military presence. Thanks to that historic security, states in the region have had the freedom to choose and forge their own economic and political futures.
The stability provided in important measure by the United States military presence in the region helped, first, Japan and South Korea, to rise and prosper, then Southeast Asia to rise and prosper, and now, yes, China, and in a different way, India, to rise and prosper. Working with all of them, we intend to continue to play that positive, pivotal, stabilizing role. That’s what the rebalance is all about.
The practicalities of the pivot:
With the war in Iraq now over, and as we transition security responsibilities to the government of Afghanistan, we will release much of our military capacity that has been tied up there for other missions, like fostering peace and strengthening partnerships in the Asia-Pacific. Naval assets that will be released from Afghanistan and the Middle East include surface combatants, amphibious ships, and, eventually, aircraft carriers.
By 2020, we will have shifted 60 percent of our naval assets to the Pacific.
That’s an historic change for the United States Navy. The Marine Corps will have up to 2,500 Marines on rotation in Australia, we will have four Littoral Combat Ships stationed forward in Singapore – new Littoral Combat Ships, I was just aboard both of the variants in San Diego last week – and will proceed fully to build-out our military presence on Guam and surrounding areas, which is an important strategic hub for the Western Pacific.
We will begin to rotate B-1 bombers into the region, augmenting the B-52 bombers already on continuous rotation. We have already deployed F-22s to Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, and we will deploy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the region. Said differently, we are sending our newest assets to the Asia-Pacific region first.
An evolving US-China relationship:
A key objective of our rebalance is to build a healthy, transparent, and sustainable U.S.-China defense relationship, one that supports a broader U.S.-China relationship. As Secretary Panetta said when he was in China two weeks ago, a strong and cooperative U.S.-China partnership is essential for global security and prosperity in the 21st century, and we seek to cooperate with China on a range of diplomatic, economic, and security issues, including working closely with them to create – build an enduring foundation for U.S.-China military-to-military relations.
Recently, our navies participated in a joint counter-piracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, an area of strategic and economic importance for both countries. The exercise helped us to build trust, and gave our sailors a chance to work together. And Secretary Panetta invited China to participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which is our largest multilateral maritime exercise. So our relationship – our defense relationship with China is an essential part of our rebalance.
On the issue of containing China again, you have to watch what happens. And I would say the Chinese friends who have that concern, and not all do; many understand the point and the logic. To those who have concerns, I’d say the same thing: watch the steps.
And the steps we want to take are ones that are cooperative. We’re reaching out. We’re trying to do more with the Chinese military and make the Chinese military part of this security mix, which we are also an essential part of but not the only part of. But it’s that which has kept a good thing going for 70 years in that part of the world. It’s that — been that environment in which these tremendous economic transformations of one Asian state after another can take place.
We are deepening our security cooperation, technology sharing, and defense trade with India, another state so important to our rebalance, and, we believe, to the broader security and prosperity of the 21st century. We believe that given the inherent links between India and the United States, in values, in political philosophy, that the only limit to our cooperation with India should be our independent strategic decisions – because any two states can differ – not bureaucratic obstacles. So I personally am working daily to remove those obstacles. We are moving well beyond purely defense trade with India, towards technology sharing and co-production.