Panetta Describes U.S. Shift in Asia-Pacific
SINGAPORE, June 1, 2012 - The United States is a Pacific power and will remain engaged in the region, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a speech delivered at the 11th Annual Shangri-La Dialogue here.
Panetta explained what America's enduring shift toward the Asia-Pacific means to the region. The speech took place June 2 here. Singapore time is 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.
The shift has long been forecast. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were those in the U.S. government who urged a re-focusing of U.S. strategy toward the Pacific. China and India are two of the fastest-growing economies on Earth and the nations of Southeast Asia also grew behind the shield of U.S. presence in the region.
The United States also has deep, lasting alliances with nations in the region including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.
This progress and shift, however, were interrupted by the attacks of 9-11 and American attention shifted to combating the terrorist menace.
But now the war in Iraq is over and U.S. troop levels are drawing down in Afghanistan. Last year, President Barack Obama approved a strategy shifting toward Asia. The United States has thousands of miles of Pacific coastline and is an integral part of the region.
"We take on this role not as a distant power, but as part of the Pacific family of nations, Panetta said at the conference. "Our goal is to work closely with all the nations of this region to confront common challenges and promote peace, prosperity and security."
Defense policy in the region calls for the U.S. military to expand military-to-military relationships well beyond the traditional treaty allies.
China is, of course, the major player in the region. China has grown to the second-largest economy in the world and is investing in modernizing its military. Panetta wants good relations with China and will travel there later this year to expand those contacts.
The secretary stressed that the U.S. shift toward the region in no way is aimed at China. "Our effort to renew and intensify our involvement in Asia is fully compatible with the development and growth of China," Panetta said. "Indeed, increased U.S. involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity."
The United States is working with many nations in the region to promote regional security. There are threats in the area. Terrorism, piracy, narco-trafficking, human trafficking are just a few of the problems. There are disputes over territory and the United States would like to see all these problems addressed peacefully by all nations.
Panetta praised the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for its "rules-based" regional security architecture. The secretary also said he looks forward to working with defense ministers from around the region.
Discussions and dialogue can help calm the waters in the South China Sea, where several countries in the region have claims in the area. "The U.S. position is clear and consistent. We call for restraint and diplomatic resolution; we oppose provocation, coercion or the use of force," Panetta said. The United States does not take sides on the disputes, the secretary said, and America has made this position clear to all in the region.
The U.S. military will shift its stance as the global situation shifts, the secretary said. Marine ground and aviation units have begun rotational deployments to Australia. The United States and the Philippines are looking at a similar arrangement.
American littoral combat ships will be berthing in Singapore and the number of Navy assets deployed will shift, too. "By 2020, the Navy will reposture its forces from today's roughly 50/50 split between the Atlantic and Pacific to about a 60/40 split between those oceans -- including six aircraft carriers, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines," Panetta said.
The United States will also shift resources to combat new threats of cyberwar and anti-access technologies.
The shift will continue, Panetta said, as leaders from both parties recognize the importance of the region.
"The United States has long been deeply involved in the Asia-Pacific," Panetta said. "Through times of war and peace, under Democratic and Republican leaders, through rancor and comity in Washington, through surplus and debt. We were here then, we are here now and we will be here for the future."