Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks on “The Future of the Rebalance: Enabling Security in the Vital & Dynamic Asia-Pacific”


Good morning, gang. Good morning, every one. 

Let me start by saying how great it is to be in San Diego.  And I appreciate that this beautiful city here has been a community that’s welcomed our military for many years.  We don’t take it for granted.  And we’re grateful to you.  Thank you.

Where’d Mike go?  Here we are…on no, no, please sit down.  Thank you, Mike.  One of the many ways Mike has given me help over the long time we’ve known each other.  You all are lucky to have Mike in command out here.  Secretary of Defense isn’t a bad title but “Air Boss” is a great title.  And he does a very good job of it.

Also, Doug Verissimo, Doug, V8, your Captain.  But I’m here to talk to you, all of you, the sailors of the Carl Vinson.  First to thank you for everything you do every day. And then to say something about the strategic meaning of what you’re accomplishing for our nation and our world here.

For over three decades, the men and women of the Gold Eagle have done what is the noblest thing a person – each and every one of you – can do with your lives, which is defend our great country and make a better world for our children.  And today, you – and the rest of what is the finest fighting force the world has ever known, America’s – are addressing squarely the five major, immediate, evolving challenges we face as a nation in our security.

First, we’re countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion, especially in Europe.  We’re managing historic change in the Asia-Pacific…more on that in a moment, where China is rising, which is fine, but sometimes behaving aggressively, which is not.  Indeed, we’re also strengthening our deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile provocations.  We’re checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf, and protecting our friends and allies in the Middle East.  And every day, and as we sit here right now, we’re accelerating the certain defeat of ISIL, destroying the fact and the idea that there can be a state based upon this evil ideology, first in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and everywhere it metastasizes around the world, even as we continue to help protect our people here in at home. 

Now, today, I want to speak with you about our strategy with respect to what is the single most consequential region for America’s future: which is the Asia-Pacific.  And I want to echo what the Air Boss said a moment ago, which is what we all believe: your mission here is critically important to our country, to our security and that of our friends and allies.

I spent the past couple of days with some of the thousands of men and women, military and civilian, who contribute to our nuclear deterrence mission.  And I’ll tell you the same thing I told them: even if your mission – whether it’s at a missile silo in North Dakota or on an aircraft carrier in what is today the relatively peaceful Asia-Pacific – isn’t in the headlines everyday –as I see it, we’re in real trouble when what you do gets in the headlines – your mission here is one of fundamental strategic importance to our country, and that it’s not in the headlines is a tribute to your success – we need you to keep it that way.  Remember: this region, with half of humanity, half of the world’s economy, is the single most consequential region for America’s future – and indeed for the world’s.

Indeed, the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, which President Obama announced five years ago, is a critical national commitment.  It includes diplomatic, economic, and military components all to ensure – at a time of dramatic political, economic, and security change in the region – that the Asia-Pacific remains a place where every nation can rise and prosper. 

To do that, as all of you know, nations are going to need security.  People can’t have all the other things that make life meaningful if they’re not safe.  That’s essential for the Asia-Pacific’s continued progress.  And that’s our charge – and your charge.  DoD’s component of the rebalance – the work you and your fellow American servicemembers carry out with strength, commitment, and principle  – will help this dynamic region realize its potential in that principled future. 

The good news is, we don’t have to do this alone.  We’re strong, but we also have many friends, partners, and allies in the region – part of a burgeoning principled and inclusive security network in the Asia-Pacific.  This afternoon, I’m flying on to Hawaii to meet with ten of those partners, my counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to discuss how we’re partnering together in new ways to ensure security and stability in that vital corner of the cast Asia-Pacific.

So before I depart, I want to remind you – who are at the center of everything out here, and at the center of all our minds back in Washington – about all that DoD is doing to operationalize the rebalance – to ensure we have the people, payloads, platforms, the war plans, and the partners to continue bolstering security in the region for decades to come.  And I also want to share with you the first steps we’ll be taking – that you’ll be taking – in the next phase, the next phase, of the rebalance, our third, to catalyze the Asia-Pacific’s principled and inclusive security network and ensure the Asia-Pacific remains a region where every nation can rise and prosper.

That’s been America’s objective and America’s practice since World War II.  In fact, tomorrow I’ll host the Southeast Asian defense ministers aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.  The “Mighty Mo,” as it’s called, is most famous for being the site 71 years ago this month of the signing ceremony that ended World War II.  At the end of the session, General Douglas MacArthur, who presided over the ceremony, said, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.” 

With that prayer, and in the decades since, millions of American men and women serving in uniform across the Asia-Pacific have helped restore the region and preserve its stability.  Every port call and every flight hour, every exercise and operation, and every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine has made important contributions to the Asia-Pacific’s security.  Those Americans – including all of you – have also helped uphold and defend important principles, like resolving disputes peacefully; ensuring countries can make choices free from external coercion and intimidation; and preserving the freedom of overflight and navigation guaranteed by international law.

And we’ve seen how U.S.-enabled security and these principles have helped countries throughout the region make incredible progress.  Think about it… first Japan, then Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, rose and prospered, and today, China and India do the same.  That progress has produced incredible changes in the region: populations are growing, education has improved, freedom and self-determination have taken hold, economies are becoming more interconnected, and military spending is increasing. 

Amid all this remarkable change and progress, America’s objectives in the Asia-Pacific have endured since that day on the Missouri: we still want peace, stability, and progress in the Asia-Pacific.  But as the region has changed, our approach has had to change along with it.  That’s why five years ago President Obama announced in Australia that the United States was going to launch the rebalance, to quote him, “play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.” 

That last word – future – is important.  The rebalance is about the future.  With it, we’re not trying to stop or rewind the clock in the Asia-Pacific, for we know that in the decades after World War II, amid the region’s ruins and unhealed wounds dating back to that war and even to the decades before, not every nation got the opportunity to fully realize its potential.  That legacy – along with the region’s many internal rifts and historical tensions of which you’re very familiar – must be overcome.  And the great nations and peoples of the Asia-Pacific must each be able to realize their full potential.

The rebalance is an investment in the region’s future – it will help the Asia-Pacific unlock its tremendous promise and to build a brighter future.  And that’s good for the United States.  For example, the United States wants to reinforce the open and inclusive economic approach that we all know can continue to benefit the region.  That’s why one of the most important non-military initiatives of the rebalance is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, which will bind the United States more closely together with 11 other economies, guarantee a high-quality, high-standard trade system, and support more U.S. exports and higher-paying American jobs.  For those reasons, and its strategic value, TPP is an opportunity the region and the United States cannot afford to miss.

Unfortunately, challenges always accompany opportunities in times of change.  Today in the Asia-Pacific, there are a number of security challenges, including North Korea, which, with its nuclear saber-rattling, continues to threaten our allies and heighten tensions in the region.  There are also challenges to the shared principles we’ve long helped uphold.  For example, maritime concerns in the East and South China Seas, the Indian Ocean, and elsewhere pose a risk to the region’s prosperous future.  Terrorism and other transnational threats spare no region of the globe. 

As we support these principles, the United States will continue to stand with our allies and partners, and we will – as we have demonstrated and as we will continue to demonstrate – fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

With the military component of the rebalance, the United States will help the region to meet these challenges and to remain the primary mainstay of security in the Asia-Pacific.  The men and women of the Defense Department, including all of you, have pursued each phase of the rebalance with strength, commitment, and inclusion.

In the first phase beginning five years ago, DoD quantitatively and geographically enhanced the U.S. military’s force posture in this vast region.  After years of emphasis on counterterrorism and wars in the Middle East, which we needed to pay attention to, and in light of the regional changes since the end of the Cold War, we made a choice to strengthen our posture in the Asia-Pacific to make it more robust, as well as more geographically distributed, more operationally resilient, and politically sustainable in the region. 

That’s why DoD sent tens of thousands of additional American personnel to the region.  That’s why we committed to homeporting 60 percent of our naval and overseas air assets in the Asia-Pacific by 2020.  That’s why we began to modernize our footprint in Japan and the Republic of Korea.  And that’s why we began to realign our Marines from a highly-centralized presence in Okinawa, Japan, to additional locations in Australia, Hawaii, and Guam – the latter serving as a strategic hub.

In the second phase of DoD’s rebalance, which we launched last year, we’ve made qualitative improvements to our force posture – upgrading our own military capabilities – while at the same time also modernizing and advancing our defense relationships to reflect regional change and new opportunities.

The second phase’s force posture improvements included sending our best people – sailors like you – and assigning our most advanced capabilities to the Asia-Pacific, including F-22 and F-35 stealth fighter jets, P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, continuous deployments of strategic bombers, and our newest surface warfare vessels, including all of our newest stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000.  We also continued making strategic and substantial investments in new capabilities critical to the rebalance, like not only growing the overall number of surface ships but also making each of them much more lethal, and investing more in Virginia-class submarines and in areas like cyber.  And we developed new and innovative strategies and operational concepts, which we put to use in more complex and expansive training exercises – both on our own and with our allies and partners – none larger than this summer’s RIMPAC.

Also in the second phase, we sought to modernize America’s relationships with militaries across the region.  These are ties that have been nurtured over decades, tested in crisis, and built on shared interests, values, and sacrifice.  But they also need to evolve to reflect growing capabilities, new national aspirations, and changing security needs. 

You can see the breadth and depth of this modernization…starting with our allies.

The U.S.-Japan alliance, to begin with, remains the cornerstone of Asia-Pacific security.  And with our new Defense Guidelines, the U.S.-Japan alliance has never been stronger, or more capable of contributing to security in the region and beyond. 

Our alliance with the Republic of Korea also continues to evolve, to assure deterrence on the Korean peninsula…including through the joint decision earlier this year to deploy the THAAD ballistic missile defense system to the Republic of Korea to help defend against North Korean threats there. 

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Australia alliance is, more and more, a global one.  As our two nations partner together across the Asia-Pacific, we’re also together accelerating the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. 

Our long-standing alliance with Thailand goes back to the 19th century and continues to benefit both countries and contribute to regional security. 

And as it has been for decades, our alliance with the Philippines is ironclad.  And through the landmark Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, the United States is supporting the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces. 

Next, America’s regional partnerships are growing in number and strength.

The U.S.-India military relationship is the closest it’s ever been.  Great nation, large, democracy.  Through our strategic handshake – with America reaching west in the rebalance, and India reaching east in what Prime Minister Modi calls  his Act East policy – our two nations are exercising together by air, land, and sea – never did that before.  And there’s also a technological handshake – the U.S.-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or DTTI, grasps hands with Prime Minister Modi’s Make in India campaign – helping our countries move toward more diverse defense co-development and co-production of weapons systems.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Singapore relationship continues to grow, with Singapore’s hosting of American littoral combat ships and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.

The U.S.-Vietnam partnership has also been dramatically strengthened.  The United States lifted the ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam recently to provide Vietnam greater access to the military equipment it needs and wants.  In fact, today, right as we speak, right here the U.S.S. John McCain – named after the father of Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee – is visiting Vietnam as we speak.  I spoke with Senator McCain just yesterday about the historical significance of this visit.

And notably, the American and New Zealand militaries have taken an important step forward, as later this fall a U.S. Navy destroyer will make the first American port call in New Zealand in 30 years.

And, in the second phase, we’ve also started to connect – and network – these allies and partners together.  A good example is our Maritime Security Initiative, which we launched last year.  It represents an initial $425-million-dollar, five-year, American commitment to enable a regional maritime security network in Southeast Asia.  More than simply providing hardware, this initiative helps the United States enable the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to connect and work with each other – and us – so they can all see more, share more, and do more to ensure maritime security throughout the vital waters of Southeast Asia. 

Now, given our inclusive approach, DoD is also taking steps to modernize our military-to-military relationship with China.  In recent years, we’ve strengthened communications between our two militaries and reduced the risk of miscalculations that could lead to crises.  We’ve recently concluded two confidence-building measures, one on maritime rules of behavior and another on crisis communications.  We also regularly participate together in multilateral exercises, such as RIMPAC, that demonstrate the value of working together to address security issues.  And our two militaries also hold regular dialogues and high-level consultations that seek to minimize misunderstanding.  

Now, the United States still has serious concerns with some of China’s recent actions on the seas, in cyberspace, and elsewhere.  Beijing sometimes appears to want to pick and choose which principles it wants to benefit from and which it prefers to try to undercut.  For example, the universal right to freedom of navigation that allows China’s ships and aircraft to transit safely and peacefully is the same right that Beijing criticizes other countries for exercising in the region.  But principles are not like that.  They apply to everyone, and to every nation, equally.

As President Obama has said, the U.S.-China relationship will have elements of cooperation but also competition.  We hope that China chooses to join the rest of the region in strengthening and upholding the shared principles that have helped so many nations around the region, including China, to rise and to prosper. 

In the third phase of the rebalance, we’ll cement the progress we’ve made in the first and second phases, and build upon it…first, by continuing to qualitatively upgrade and invest in our regional force posture with sustained and strategic investments, which I’ll describe in a moment and second, by catalyzing the Asia-Pacific’s principled and inclusive security network even more.

In this next phase, the United States will continue to sharpen our military edge so we remain the most powerful military in the region and the security partner of choice.  We’re already sending our best people and platforms into the region, and in the rebalance’s third phase, we’ll increase and target investments to ensure they – and all of you – stay the best. 

Here are some of the path-breaking, and high-tech improvements we’re making beginning in this budget this year:

  • We’re going to make more of our Virginia-class submarines more lethal and more capable by tripling their Tomahawk cruise missile strike capacity with the Virginia Payload Module. 
  • We’re increasing funding for undersea drones – in multiple sizes and diverse payloads – that can operate more effectively in shallow waters where manned subs cannot.  These are part of more than $40 billion we’re investing over the next five years to ensure we continue to have the most lethal undersea and anti-submarine force in the world.
  • We’re ensuring our continued air superiority and global reach, including with over $12 billion over the next five years for the new B-21 Raider Long-Range Strike Bomber. 
  • We’re investing more than $56 billion over the next five years to buy during this period alone more than [400] of the stealthy, fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters – including more for the Navy and Marine Corps – while also improving avionics, radar, and electronic warfare systems in legacy bomber and fighter aircraft. 
  • We’re upgrading our aerial tanker fleet, investing almost $16 billion over the next five years in KC-46A Pegasus tanker to help shrink the Asia-Pacific’s vast distances. 
  • We’re re-purposing the SM-6 missile so that it can also strike enemy ships at sea at very long ranges. 
  • We’re investing in other advanced munitions to improve range and accuracy for land attack and anti-ship missiles – some  new torpedoes – as well as some very creative – and we’re sure unexpected by potential foes – ways to use such missiles across the varied domains of the Asia-Pacific. 
  • And we’re also making large new investments in cyber, and electronic warfare, and space capabilities, a total of $34 billion just next year.

We’re going to have a few more surprises as well.  These “leap-ahead” investments will keep us ahead in the Asia-Pacific, and elsewhere.  I can’t share all the details on these for obvious reasons, but what our friends and our potential adversaries – and all of you – should know is that these new capabilities will help us keep our decades-old commitment to undergirding security in the Asia-Pacific, strong and unchallengeable  These advancements may change how we operate, they will, but they’ll never change why we do so: for the security for our people, for our friends and allies, and they principles that have benefited so many in the region for so long.

As we make these investments in our military edge, we’ll also catalyze the Asia-Pacific’s growing principled and inclusive security network.  Unlike elsewhere in the world, think about this, peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific has never been managed by a region-wide, formal structure like NATO has in Europe.  That’s because the Asia-Pacific is so different, with its unique history, geography, and politics, and accordingly bilateral relationships, one country to another, have instead been  the mainstay of military cooperation in the region.

And yet, as the Asia-Pacific continues to change, as it faces opportunities and challenges, as it becomes more interconnected politically and economically, the region’s militaries are increasingly coming together in new ways, and thereby creating, gradually, a security network  that’s principled and inclusive. 

We’re finding more and more every day– we in the United States are finding more every day —that nations in the Asia-Pacific see future opportunities to improve their militaries and their security, and they’re increasingly coming to us to partner.  And we also find more and more that they have concerns about the future – aggression and coercion, terrorism, and transnational threats, even natural disasters – and once again we experience a growing demand for American posture and American partnership.  Meeting this demand and fueling this vision is the other big part of the third phase of the rebalance. 

The result is the steady growth of a principled and inclusive security network.  It’s grounded in the principles – like freedom of navigation and overflight – that our countries have collectively promoted and upheld for decades.  And it’s inclusive since any nation and any military – no matter its capability, budget, or experience – can contribute.  Everyone gets a voice, and no one is excluded…and by the way, that includes China, and its military, and we hope China doesn’t exclude itself.

The principled and inclusive security network is not a formal alliance, nor is it an effort to contain or isolate any one.  Rather, it’s a way for the United States, all of our allies, partners, and friends, and others in the region to connect, cooperate, and contribute to regional security and to uphold shared principles.

This network’s been developing in several ways. 

First, trilateral mechanisms are bringing together trios of allies and partners that previously worked together only bilaterally.  This might seem like a small thing, but if you know the history out here, it’s not.  For example, the U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea, two great allies of ours with which we’ve worked for many decades with each individually, now willing to work together with us.  That partnership helps us coordinate responses, very importantly, to North Korean nuclear and missile provocations.  And for the very first time, our three nations conducted a trilateral ballistic missile warning exercise earlier this summer.

Second, beyond their relationships involving the United States, many countries within the Asia-Pacific are coming together on their own by establishing bilateral and trilateral mechanisms.  For example, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines recently agreed to coordinated trilateral maritime patrols to counter piracy, organized crime, and terrorist activity in the Sulu Sea.  This is a good thing on its own, but it’s also an important step for this developing network and the region.

And third, even more broadly, regional nations are developing a networked, multilateral regional security architecture – from one end of the region to the other – with, as a central example, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus.  Tomorrow, as I mentioned, my ASEAN defense counterparts and I will gather in Hawaii to discuss regional challenges.  This is the second such informal dialogue the United States has hosted, and we’re going to reflect on our shared interests and principles and identify new ways to partner together to further realize them.

And of course, every security network needs networkers – nations, people, and militaries to enable it.  So even as we respond to these five challenges I talked about earlier all around the world, which only the United States has the strength to do, the U.S. Defense Department is also enabling the Asia-Pacific principled and inclusive security network to help networked militaries to do more with us, together, and on their own. 

So we’ll play our part, including in some specific ways.  American personnel postured throughout the region – in Australia, on Guam, and elsewhere – will deploy more often to operate with both their American colleagues and their regional counterparts.  That’ll help us solidify military-to-military relationships, strengthen security cooperation, and enhance deterrence.  These deployments and our investments will also improve interoperability so that our militaries can work with and off of the same platforms.  And, the exercises we’ve held for years, and intensified in phase two of the rebalance, will also grow more frequent and complex.  And we’re going to supply the resources to make it so.

DoD also appreciates that many of our U.S. government partners have their own rebalance initiatives, and each offers new opportunities to work together in this vital region.  So for example, we’ll increase the U.S. Coast Guard’s engagement with our ASEAN partners.  And along with the State Department, we’ll weave together our security assistance programs in the Asia-Pacific so we can boost the capabilities of our allies and partners and the security network, while making them more interoperable. 

All of these efforts demonstrate how DoD will continue to pursue – on our own and with our partners at home and in the region – new ways ensure security in the Asia-Pacific.  One possibility is in cyber.  Because the network is so rich with nations with cyber expertise, including Japan, Korea, India, Singapore, as each of our countries develop their cyber capabilities, we can learn from each other and cooperate together in this important domain.

In total, the third phase of the rebalance and the principled and inclusive security network will improve how we – and all of you – ensure regional security and uphold principles in the years ahead.  For example, after a future typhoon, we may see an Australian P-8 with Singaporean personnel aboard coordinate with an American destroyer in search and rescue operations.  And freedom of navigation may also be upheld, in part, by joint – and networked – patrols, as networked navies and air forces fly, sail, and operate together everywhere that international law allows…to ensure the region’s waterways remain safe and open.

And of course – and this is what I want to conclude with – the key to all of this…to the third phase of the rebalance, is all of you.  You, and your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines will solidify the rebalance, you will make this network work, and you will help the Asia-Pacific – once again, the single most consequential region for America’s future and the world – realize a principled and peaceful and prosperous future.  And play the role only America can play.

You’ll do so with strength.  After all, you’re part of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  There’s no one stronger, no one more capable, no one more innovative…because our military edge is second-to-none.  And it will be, it will be so, as far into the future as I can see.  Because through our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, we’re making investments to ensure you stay the best and the United States remains the region’s strongest military. 

You’ll do so with commitment and the commitment of the entire Defense Department and entire nation at your backs.  Each part – economic, political, and military – and each phase of the rebalance has been a commitment to realizing the Asia-Pacific’s principled future.  As you carry out the rebalance’s third phase, you’re not only answering your nation’s call and ensuring the United States meets this commitment; you’re also meeting the call of our regional allies and partners.

And most important, you’ll do so with principle.  That’s who we are as a country, and it’s who you are as a military.  You’re our best networkers.  You’re why we have so many friends and partner.  It’s not an accident.  Because you are not only immensely skilled and capable, but you embody the principles that have helped so many in the Asia-Pacific already to rise and prosper – inspiring, cooperating, including, representing the principles that others value, other people want, and working with our allies and partners to ensure a better world.  That reputation of yours makes me proud. 

With your strength, commitment, and inclusion, and your contributions to the rebalance’s third phase, you’re carrying on a pretty rich heritage: one passed from those who served on the Missouri seven decades ago, to those who serve on the Vinson here today.  From those who served in the Asia-Pacific in World War II and the Cold War, to those of the post 9/11 era.  And from those who’ve worked on the rebalance’s first and second phases to those who will execute its third phase and its future phases.  In this, you will help realize the prayer MacArthur spoke 71 years ago this month – you will help preserve peace, stability, and progress.  And in so doing, you will keep our country safe, and ensure the Asia-Pacific remains a region where everyone can rise and prosper. 

Thank you.  Keep it up.  Your country is behind you.  I’m 100 percent behind you.

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