The Defense Department remains focused on building and strengthening defense initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region to reach the goals outlined in the U.S. defense strategic guidance, senior DOD officials said Aug. 1.
Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, and David F. Helvey, acting deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on U.S. force posture in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility.
“The department continues to pursue a defense posture in the Asia-Pacific region that is geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable,” Scher said.
“More broadly, we are investing in defense activities, presence, posture and capabilities necessary to reassure allies and partners in the region and shape the security environment, while also providing forward capabilities appropriate to deter and defeat aggression,” he said.
Scher noted force posture is only one of many priorities within the rebalancing toward the region.
Other initiatives, he said, include diplomatic efforts to strengthen bilateral alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging with multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, and advancing principles of democracy and human rights.
“Rebalancing to achieve these ends requires enhanced U.S., allied and partner military capabilities throughout the region,” Scher said. “[Also a] U.S. forward presence of forces, and a more resilient military infrastructure to support effective U.S. power projection operations in the face of current and future security threats.”
Scher said the department’s plans include building up Guam as the strategic hub in the Western Pacific, expanding access to locations in Southeast Asia, Oceania and the Indian Ocean region, and investing in capabilities appropriate for deterring and defeating aggression while reassuring allies and partners.
“[We will] expand our exercises, assistance efforts and other engagements with allied partner states in order to build trust capability and interoperability,” he said. “Pursuing these and other capabilities offers the best prospect for protecting U.S. interests, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also elsewhere in the world.”
Helvey pointed to the four key principles Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta outlined during a key Asia security conference known as the Shangri-La dialogue that took place in Singapore in June.
“One, promoting international rules in order to advance peace and security in the region; two, deepening of bilateral and multilateral partnerships. Three, enhancing and adapting the U.S. military’s enduring presence in the region; and four, investing in the capabilities needed to project power and to operate in the Asia-Pacific.”
The Asia-Pacific region, Helvey said, provides an “unprecedented” opportunity for trade and investment since it is “home to some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, the world’s largest populations and the world’s largest militaries.”
Helvey also said the region contains challenges such as maintaining freedom of navigation of the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, as well as seeking transparency in the military activities of key regional players, such as China.
Helvey also discussed the DOD plan regarding the realignment of U.S. Marines in the region aimed at reducing political pressures in Japan.
“The realignment plan sustains a U.S. Marine force presence in the Asia-Pacific region, establishes multiple, fully capable Marine air- ground task forces, and importantly increases our ability over time to train and exercise with allies and partners throughout the region,” he said. “This approach maintains our forward capabilities, reduces our footprint in Okinawa, and in combination with other measures, should reduce the political pressures associated with our presence there, all while sustaining robust government-of-Japan financial support for the Marine Corps move to Guam.”
Helvey noted the Department of Defense continues to work closely with Japan to implement the provisions of the April 27, 2012, two-plus-two joint statement. He then turned to the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
“The U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance continues to be a cornerstone of U.S. defense partnerships and posture in Northeast Asia,” he said. “In accordance with the 2009 joint vision statement, we are realigning our forces on the Korean Peninsula to prepare for transition of wartime operational control to the ROK in December 2015. This transition will allow for the ROK to take the lead role in the combined defense of Korea, supported by an enduring and capable U.S. military force presence on the Korean Peninsula, in the region and beyond.”
Other significant posture changes, he said, include the rotational deployments of the Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force units to Australia, as well as a littoral combat ship deployment to Singapore to strengthen U.S. engagement in the region through port calls and engagement of regional navies.
“They will also support the department’s effort to counter transnational challenges and build partner capacity for maritime security, among other missions,” Helvey said.