Pacific command stands at forefront of defense change, Panetta says
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, May 31, 2012 – The personnel at U.S. Pacific Command are at the forefront of changes to American defense strategy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said here today.
The secretary spoke to about 300 members of the command in front of the Nimitz-MacArthur headquarters building. The command has a huge role, “in promoting peace and prosperity and security throughout the Asia-Pacific region,” Panetta said.
The new defense strategy will play out particularly in the Pacific, the secretary said. “It is going to be in your hands,” he told them.
The secretary said new strategic guidance protects a strong military for the future while still cutting $487 billion over 10 years. Cuts to the military must be done carefully and must maintain the military capabilities needed to counter the possible threats. Officials used the strategic guidance to form the budget, and it was done carefully.
“The last damn thing I want to do is hollow out the force,” Panetta said. “I want to ensure that we maintain the strongest military in the world, and I want to make sure that we don’t break trust with those who have put their lives on the line -- you. What we promised you we will stick to.”
The key elements of the strategy are at play in the Asia-Pacific region, he said. The American military must be more agile, more flexible and more deployable, and it must maintain capabilities on the cutting edge of technology.
“We’ve got to focus on where the main threats are,” Panetta said. “That means we continue to focus on the Pacific region and the Middle East, because that’s where the potential problems are for the future.”
But the U.S. military has worldwide commitments and forces must show the flag in other parts of the world. “The way to do that is develop these kind of creative rotational movements that allow us to go into countries and be able to work with countries to develop their capabilities,” he said.
The U.S. must be able to confront and defeat multiple threats at the same time. “If we have to fight a war in Korea at the same time we have to fight in the Middle East, we can do that, and we have to be able to do that,” he said.
Finally, the strategy isn’t just about cutting, but investing. The U.S. must invest in cyber capabilities, invest in space and invest in the technologies that make the military more agile and deployable.
Panetta stressed that service members are the key to the strategy. “It’s because of you we really are at a turning point,” he said. “We brought the war in Iraq to an end, we’ve given Iraq the opportunity to govern and secure itself.”
There is also a plan to responsibly withdraw from Afghanistan, the secretary said.
“There is tough fighting ahead, but we are headed in the right direction,” Panetta said. “We have successfully gone after al-Qaida, we[have]successfully gone after bin Laden and their leadership, and we’ve made very clear that nobody attacks the United States and gets away with it – nobody.”
There is still a threat from al-Qaida but it has shifted to Yemen, Somalia and North Africa. And U.S. pressure has meant the organization cannot plan with impunity, he said.
“Look at the last 10 years, and we have something to point to because of those who were willing to serve, to put their lives on the line,” he said. “Because of those who did everything we asked them to do, we are making the world safer.”