International Institute for Security Studies
International Institute for
Security Studies (Shangri-La Dialogue)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense
Robert M. Gates, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, Saturday, June 04, 2011.
Source : U.S. Department of Defense.
Thank you, John, for that kind introduction.
And congratulations to the International Institute for
Strategic Studies on reaching this important milestone with the tenth Shangri-La
Security Dialogue. This conference, in that relatively short span of time, has
become a vital forum for encouraging dialogue and understanding among the
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
addresses the audience during the 10th International Institute for Strategic
Studies Asia Security Summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on June 4,
I’d also like to extend my thanks to the government of
Singapore for hosting us once again, and to the Shangri-La hotel staff for all
their hard work as well. Although the mix of weighty topics and senior
governmental officials is clearly the main draw for attendees, I’ve long
suspected that one of the key reasons people keep coming back to this event is
the wonderful hospitality of this hotel and this city.
Indeed, this is the fifth consecutive year I’ve participated
in this dialogue as Secretary of Defense, and as you know, it will be my last.
The opportunity to lead the United States Department of Defense for four and a
half years has been an extraordinary honor, for which I thank both President
Bush and President Obama. It has also given me perspective on the principal
subject I want to discuss today: the enduring and consistent nature of America’s
commitments in Asia, even in times of transition and change.
As someone who will leave government having served eight
presidents, I know something about the uncertainty that transitions can cause.
In fact, I’ve touched on this subject in my remarks here before. At the 2008
session, not knowing what the outcome of the United States presidential election
would be – and certainly not thinking that I would be a member of the new
administration – I said that the next American president would be almost certain
to sustain our engagement and our presence in this region. As the record shows,
and my speech I hope will make clear, under President Obama that engagement has
not only been sustained, it has been broadened and enhanced in a variety of ways.
And I believe the same will hold true with respect to U.S. defense policy under
Leon Panetta, the distinguished statesman nominated as my successor.
Nonetheless, we meet today at a time when the United States
faces a daunting set of challenges at home and abroad. When questions are being
raised about the sustainability and credibility of our commitments around the
world. These questions are serious and legitimate.
No doubt, fighting two protracted and costly wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan has strained the U.S. military’s ground forces, and worn out the
patience and appetite of the American people for similar interventions in the
future. On the domestic front, the United States is emerging slowly from a
serious recession with huge budget deficits and growing debt that is putting new
scrutiny and downward pressure on the U.S. defense budget.
These are some of the stark realities we face, to be sure.
But at the same time, it is important, in this place, before this audience, to
recognize an equally compelling set of facts with respect to America’s position
in Asia. A record demonstrating that, irrespective of the tough times the U.S.
faces today, or the tough budget choices we confront in the years to come, that
America’s interests as a Pacific nation – as a country that conducts much of its
trade in the region – will endure. And the United States and Asia will only
become more inextricably linked over the course of this Century. As I hope my
presentation today will show, these realities, and this understanding – shared
by U.S. leaders and policy makers across the political spectrum – argue strongly
for sustaining our commitments to allies while maintaining a robust military
engagement and deterrence posture across the Pacific Rim.
This statement is underscored by the significant growth in
the breadth and intensity of U.S. engagement in Asia in recent years – even at a
time of economic distress at home and two major military campaigns ongoing in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Three years ago, I spoke at this gathering and touted the
fact that I was on my fourth major trip to Asia-Pacific in the previous 18
months. Now, I can report that this is my fourteenth Asia trip over the last
four and a half years. Next month, Secretary of State Clinton will embark on her
eighth trip to Asia, and President Obama has made a major Asia trip each year he
has been in office.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
addresses the audience during the 10th International Institute for Strategic
Studies Asia Security Summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on June 4,
Indeed, one of the most striking – and surprising – changes
I’ve observed during my travels to Asia is the widespread desire across the
region for stronger military-to-military relationships with the United States –
much more so than during my last time in government 20 years ago.
Our engagement in Asia has been guided by a set of enduring
principles that have fostered the economic growth and stability of the region. I
spoke about these principles last year, but I think it is worth reiterating our
commitment to them once more today:
- Free and open commerce;
- A just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of
nations and fidelity to the rule of law;
- Open access by all to the global commons of sea, air, space, and now,
- The principle of resolving conflict without the use of force.
The commitment and presence of the United States as a Pacific
nation has been one of relatively few constants amidst the furious changes in
this region over the past half-century. But as this region has changed, America
has always shown the flexibility not only maintain our presence in the Asia-Pacific,
but to enhance it – by updating relationships, developing new capabilities, and
transforming our defense posture to meet the challenges of the day.
For example, after fighting a devastating war, the United
States and Japan built an alliance that has weathered innumerable tests and
proven to be a cornerstone of stability in the region. The most recent and
compelling display of the value of our alliance was the sight of the U.S. and
Japanese troops working together to bring aid and sustenance to the survivors of
the horrific earthquake and tsunami in March.
Consider that within 24 hours of the earthquake, the United
States initiated Operation TOMODACHI to deliver assistance to the affected areas
in support of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces – more than 100,000 of whom had
been mobilized by the Japanese government. At the peak of these closely
coordinated joint relief efforts, the United States had more than 24,000
personnel, 190 aircraft, and 24 ships supporting Japan’s response. The U.S.
military and Japanese Self-Defense Forces delivered relief supplies to affected
communities, repaired transportation infrastructure, and searched for survivors
along the affected coast line. This effort demonstrated the high-level of
interoperability between the U.S and Japanese defense forces and served to
validate years of investments by both nations in combined training and
capabilities. Today it is clear that the alliance not only has survived this
tragedy, but emerged even stronger and even more vital.
The U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea remains another
pillar of our Asia-Pacific security strategy – one that has emerged out of its
Cold War origins to confront a new array of security challenges in the region
and globally as well. Our two militaries continue to develop our combined
capabilities to deter and defeat, if necessary, North Korean aggression. But the
U.S.-ROK alliance is not designed to simply stand against another nation. It
must also stand for something, in order to be meaningful and to endure. In this
respect, our efforts to build a truly “global” alliance and to work with others
in response to crisis situations around the world, such as in Haiti or
Afghanistan, demonstrate our collective commitment to promote stability and
prosperity beyond Korea’s shores as well.
Not only in Korea, but in nations across Asia, Cold War
turbulence has given way to new partnerships and cooperation. Out of an era of
conflict that left an indelible imprint on both our peoples, the United States
and Vietnam have forged ahead and built a strong and vibrant bilateral
relationship. Together, the United States and Vietnam have demonstrated how to
build upon the past without being bound to repeat it. This commitment to
overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles led us to where we are today:
partnership on a range of issues including trade and investment, education and
health, and security and defense.
We are also now working together with China to build a
positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship. In that effort, we are
seeing the fruits of bold decisions by three American presidents in the 1970s,
Republicans and Democrats, to build a rapport between the two nations that
ultimately resulted in the normalization of relations in 1979. It was one of the
highlights of my professional career to serve as a young staff assistant in the
White House when that process unfolded.
Thirty years later, as Secretary of Defense, I have made it a
priority to build military-to-military ties with China, which have steadily
improved in recent months. Last January, I had a very positive visit to China,
and just a few weeks ago our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral
Mullen, hosted General Chen, Chief of the PLA General Staff, for a week-long
visit to the United States, where General Chen was shown a number of different
U.S. military installations. It’s always my pleasure to meet again with pleasure
dialogue, and we are very pleased to see him here at the Shangri-La dialogue.
Also remarkable is the transformation in the U.S.-India
relationship over the past decade – from an uneasy coexistence during the Cold
War to a partnership based on shared democratic values and vital economic and
security interests. A partnership that will be an indispensable pillar of
stability in South Asia and beyond. Whether countering piracy, increasing
participation in multilateral venues, or aiding the development of Afghanistan,
our partnership is playing a vital role.
Although bolstering our bilateral relationships in the region
has been a key priority in the Asia-Pacific area, the United States has also
made a major commitment to help foster new multilateral cooperation. One of the
critical challenges of the Asian security environment has long been the lack of
strong mechanisms for cooperation between nations in the region. Over the past
few years, I have made it a personal priority to support efforts underway to
remedy this problem. This is the reason that last year the United States was the
first non-ASEAN nation to accept the invitation to join the ASEAN Defense
Ministers Plus forum. It was an honor to attend the inaugural meeting of the
ADMM-Plus in Hanoi last October, and I am optimistic that it will be a key body
for making progress on a number of issues of shared interest – including
maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and peacekeeping
Maritime security remains an issue of particular importance
for the region, with questions about territorial claims and the appropriate use
of the maritime domain presenting on-going challenges to regional stability and
prosperity. The U.S. position on maritime security remains clear: we have a
national interest in freedom of navigation; in unimpeded economic development
and commerce; and in respect for international law. We also believe that
customary international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the
Sea, provides clear guidance on the appropriate use of the maritime domain, and
rights of access to it. By working together in appropriate regional and
multilateral fora, and adhering to principles that we believe are of benefit to
all in the region, we can ensure that all share equal and open access to
Experience consistently shows that pursuing our common
interests together increases our common security. As I have stated before,
providing for security and upholding the principles I mentioned earlier is not
the task of any one nation alone, but the shared responsibility of all nations.
This is the one reason we have placed a premium on building the partner capacity
of friends in the region and enhancing the role of multilateral cooperation and
organizations in Asia-Pacific security affairs.
Even so, we recognize that the American defense engagement –
from our forward deployed forces to exercises with regional partners – will
continue to play an indispensable role in the stability of the region. Although
much of the press in both the United States and the region has been focused in
recent years on our efforts to modernize our basing arrangements with
traditional allies in Northeast Asia – and our commitment to those efforts is
absolute – we’ve taken a number of steps towards establishing a defense posture
across the Asia Pacific that is more geographically distributed, operationally
resilient, and politically sustainable. A posture that maintains our presence in
Northeast Asia while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia and into the
For example, this past November, the U.S. and Australia
established a force posture working group tasked with expanding opportunities
for our two militaries to train and operate together – to include alliance
arrangements that would allow for more combined defense activities and shared
use of facilities.
Together, we are evaluating a range of options, including:
- Increasing our combined naval presence and capabilities to respond more
readily to humanitarian disasters;
- Improving Indian Ocean facilities – a region of growing international
- Expanding training exercises for amphibious and land operations,
activities that could involve other partners in the region.
In Singapore, we are strengthening our bi-lateral defense
relationship within the context of the Strategic Framework Agreement and
pursuing more operational engagement – most notably, by deploying U.S. Littoral
Combat Ships to Singapore. We are examining other ways to increase opportunities
for our two militaries to train and operate together, to include:
- Prepositioning supplies to improve disaster response;
- Improving command and control capabilities; and
- Expanding training opportunities to help prepare our forces for the
challenges both militaries face operating in the Pacific.
Although we will continue to maintain and enhance our traditional presence in
the Asia-Pacific region through efforts such as these, we believe that U.S.
presence, and the associated impact and influences should not solely be measured
in terms of conventional metrics, or “boots on the ground.” In the coming years,
the U.S. military is going to be increasing its port calls, naval engagements,
and multilateral training efforts with multiple countries throughout the region.
These types of activities not only broaden and deepen our relationships with
friends and allies, they help build partner capacity to address regional
Taken together, all of these developments demonstrate the
commitment of the United States to sustaining a robust military presence in Asia
– one that underwrites stability by supporting and reassuring allies while
deterring, and if necessary defeating, potential adversaries.
No doubt, sustaining this forward military presence and
commitments is costly, and cannot be disentangled from the wider discussions of
the U.S. fiscal predicament in general, and the pressures on our defense budget
in particular. I know this topic is top of the mind at this conference and
around the region.
As I noted at the beginning of my remarks, the U.S. faces
some serious fiscal challenges at home, and the defense budget – even if not the
cause of America’s fiscal woes – must be at least part of the solution.
Anticipating this scenario, I have spent that last two years carving out as much
budget space as possible by cancelling troubled or unneeded weapons programs and
culling excess overhead.
As I said at a speech last week, having removed the most
troubled and questionable weapons programs from the budget, we are left with
modernization efforts that our defense leaders have deemed absolutely critical
to the future – relating to air superiority and mobility, long-range strike,
nuclear deterrence, maritime access, space and cyber, and intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance. Though the review is not complete, I am
confident that these key remaining modernization programs – systems that are of
particular importance to our military strategy in Asia – will rank at or near
the top of our defense budget priorities in the future.
Many of those key modernization programs would address one of
the principal security challenges we see growing over the horizon: The prospect
that new and disruptive technologies and weapons could be employed to deny U.S.
forces access to key sea routes and lines of communication.
The U.S. Navy and Air Force have been concerned about anti-access
and area denial scenarios for some time. These two military services are working
together to develop a new concept of operations – called “Air-Sea Battle” – to
ensure that America’s military will continue to be able to deploy, move, and
strike over great distances in defense of our allies and vital interests.
The record of growing U.S. engagement in Asia, combined with
the investments being made in capabilities most relevant to preserving the
security, sovereignty, and freedom of our allies and partners in the region,
show that America is, as the expression goes, putting “our money where our mouth
is” with respect to this part of the world – and will continue to do so. These
programs are on track to grow and evolve further into the future, even in the
face of new threats abroad and fiscal challenges at home, ensuring that that we
will continue to meet our commitments as a 21st century Asia-Pacific nation –
with appropriate forces, posture, and presence.
Now, I acknowledge that are still some myopic souls who will
argue that we cannot sustain our role in Asia-Pacific. That there are some
voices of gloom and doom who would also argue that the best days of the United
States are behind it. No doubt the challenges America faces as a nation are
daunting. But as I end my career in government, I remain completely optimistic
about the prospects of the United States because I have seen first-hand the
staying power and adaptability of America over the course of my life. Indeed,
history’s dustbin is littered with dictators and aggressors who underestimated
America’s resilience, will, and underlying power.
It was forty-five years ago this summer that I first went to
Washington to begin my career at the height of the U.S. buildup in Vietnam. What
lay ahead during my first decade in government were:
- Two assassinations at home of historic consequence, with violent domestic
- The resignation of a president in disgrace;
- A costly and hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam; and
- An economy battered by high inflation and high interest rates.
As I ended my first decade in government in the mid 1970s,
the United States faced even more pointed questions about its place in the
world, its place in Asia, and its ultimate prospects for success than it does
today. But it was during that discouraging period that the groundwork was being
laid – through policies pursued by administrations of both American political
parties – for the remarkable turn of events of the following decades: victory in
the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the liberation of hundreds
of millions of people behind the iron curtain and around the world, and a period
of renewed global prosperity – with Asia leading the way. And despite
predictions to the contrary, America’s setback in Vietnam did not spell the end
of our engagement in Asia – in fact, as I mentioned earlier, we pursued a new
relationship in China and have been expanding our defense partnerships in the
region, including Vietnam, ever since.
There is no way we can predict the future, nor can we predict
the effect that decisions made today will have a decade or two from now. But I
believe our work in Asia is laying the groundwork for continued prosperity and
security for the United States and for all in the region. It has been enormously
gratifying through the course of my career to see the profound good that has
come about from American engagement in Asia. And as I leave the United States
government, I have no doubt that future generations will have a similar story to
tell about the benefits of American power, presence and commitment in this
For when America is willing to lead the way; when we meet our
commitments and stand with our allies, even in troubling times; when we prepare
for threats that are on the ground and on the horizon, and even beyond the
horizon; and when we make the necessary sacrifices and take the necessary risks
to defend our values and our interests – then great things are possible, and
even probable for our country, this region, and the world.