The United States is a Pacific Nation
The United States is a
Statement to ASEAN Defense Ministers,
As Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta,
Bali, Indonesia, Sunday, October 23, 2011.
Source : U.S. Department of Defense Office of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).
Good evening and thank you for inviting me to meet with you
here in Bali. It is an honor to be able to meet with ASEAN defense ministers on
my first trip to Asia as Secretary of Defense. I am pleased that we have this
opportunity today to come together as friends and partners for an informal
consultation. I’ll try to be brief, as I’d like to take this opportunity to talk
freely and hear your thoughts and views.
First, I want to reiterate that the United States is a
Pacific nation with enduring interests and commitments to our allies and
partners in the region. I know that you have heard this message before, but it
bears repeating. This has been a consistent priority for the Obama
administration, for my predecessor Secretary Gates, and a commitment that I
personally take very seriously.
In particular, the Obama administration has put a premium on
engaging with regional organizations in Asia because we believe multilateral
discussions provide a path to building trust and transparency, shared “rules of
the road,” and best practices. By working together, we create more security and
more prosperity than we would by working alone.
For decades, ASEAN has been the driving force behind Asia’s
growing regional architecture. I am glad to see increased security and defense
cooperation within ASEAN and I encourage you to continue that good work.
I believe the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus is an
important forum in this respect. Our expert working groups (EWGs) are already
making progress by developing action-oriented workplans. Going forward, I think
it is essential that we, as defense ministers, consult more regularly and
provide clear priorities to help guide the EWGs. I hope that at our next meeting
in Brunei, we will be able to make the ADMM-Plus an annual event.
We are also excited about president Obama’s attendance at the
East Asia Summit meeting next month. The Obama administration supports the EAS
work agenda on important issues such as education, energy, humanitarian
assistance and disaster relief, pandemic preparedness and finance. I know the
importance you’ve also attached to ASEAN connectivity and we will continue to
support this work.
I am also looking forward to the EAS becoming the premier
institution for discussing strategic and security issues in the Asia-Pacific
region. President Obama has three priority security topics for next month’s
discussion: maritime security, nonproliferation, and humanitarian assistance and
disaster relief, where the EAS has already done great work. Each of these issues
represents a critical challenge in the region that is best addressed by working
The earthquake that occurred just last week here in Bali, and
the ongoing flooding in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, are important reminders
of the necessity of disaster preparedness and response capabilities in this
region. This is one reason the United States is encouraging all EAS nations to
develop a rapid disaster response agreement that will facilitate faster
deployment of assistance in the event of large-scale natural disasters. We also
think it should be a priority to share real-time information on disasters as
they occur, especially by coordinating our respective early warning response
Another critical security issue is the proliferation of
nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and materials. President Obama has
made eliminating nuclear weapons one of his top priorities. For this reason, we
are working diligently with all of our ASEAN partners, as well as the P5 states,
to finalize agreement on a revised protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free
Zone Treaty. We also believe it is essential to increase regional counter-proliferation
capabilities. Proliferation continues to be a challenge, and so we encourage
regional partners to build on past successes and work together on a voluntary
and cooperative basis to help combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
In particular, I would encourage all of you who have not
already done so to endorse the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and sign
and adhere to the IAEA additional protocol at next month’s U.S.-ASEAN leaders
And finally, president Obama will address the issue of
maritime security. We believe it is important to provide venues for all nations
to come together to discuss maritime issues in an open and transparent manner.
On this note, I applaud the creation of the ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF). We are
hopeful that over time we will be able to find ways for all EAS states to
informally engage with the AMF.
Beyond discussion, we also want to put a premium on building
maritime capabilities. This is why the United States will be rolling out a new
Southeast Asia maritime partnership at the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Bali. This
partnership will focus on regional maritime security. It will provide a
comprehensive strategic framework for key aspects of U.S. bilateral security
assistance in Southeast Asia. We are very excited about this initiative and look
forward to discussing it with you further.
As we have noted before, the U.S. position on maritime
security remains clear: we have a national interest in freedom of navigation and
overflight, in unimpeded economic development and commerce, and in respect for
international law. I would also add that while we do not take a position on
competing claims, we do hope that in the interest of peaceful resolution, all
parties will clarify their maritime claims in terms consistent with customary
international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.
I applaud the July accord between ASEAN and China on
implementing guidelines to the 2002 declaration on the conduct of parties in the
South China Sea. I would encourage you to maintain this momentum, and continue
working towards a binding code of conduct. I know that president Obama will be
interested in hearing your views at the East Asia summit.
Finally, I would like to address a personal priority – our
future defense posture in Asia. We are continuously re-evaluating our global
defense posture, including efforts to modernize our basing arrangements in
Northeast Asia and enhance our presence in Southeast Asia and into the Indian
Ocean. We are looking at a number of ways to do this, including increased
defense activities and cooperation in Australia and the deployment of a Littoral
Combat Ship to Singapore. This enhanced posture will allow us to undertake new
capacity-building activities, expand opportunities for shared military training,
and better support humanitarian missions in the region.
I know you have probably all been following the budget debate
in the United States with keen interest and are questioning whether we will
follow through on these commitments. Let me assure you that we will not be
reducing our presence in Asia. Through our defense posture, relationships, and
capacity-building activities in the region, we will continue to build stronger
and more effective partnerships in the region. This commitment will not change.
And because of this commitment I am optimistic, even confident, that the future
of the U.S.-ASEAN defense partnership will be dynamic and secure.
Thank you. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.