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American Forces Press Service

National Security Advisor Explains Asia-Pacific Pivot

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 – The strategic pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region will help to rebalance the projection and focus of U.S. power, President Barack Obama’s national security advisor said yesterday.

In a speech at the Asia Society in New York, Tom Donilon specified challenges the United States faces as its ties to the economic, strategic and political order emerging in the Asia-Pacific solidify.

The need to focus on regions that will shape global order in coming decades led the administration’s national security team to conduct a global, strategic assessment of U.S. priorities and make key determinations, Donilon said.

“It was clear that there was an imbalance in the projection and focus of U.S. power,” he said, adding that the president deemed U.S. military power to be over-weighted in the Middle East, yet under-weighted in regions such as the Asia-Pacific.

Further propelling the rebalance are leader and public interests in U.S. leadership, sustained attention to regional institutions and defense of international rules and norms across the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Donilon said the United States will realize this vision by implementing a comprehensive, multidimensional strategy: strengthening alliances; deepening partnerships with emerging powers; building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China; empowering regional institutions; and helping to build a regional economic architecture that can sustain shared prosperity.

The shift in focus toward the Asia-Pacific region isn’t just a matter of military presence, he said. Rather, he added, it’s an effort to harness all elements of U.S. power: military, political, trade and investment, development and values.

In addition to continued participation in summits, bilateral meetings with leaders in Southeast Asia, and engagement with China at an unprecedented pace, the United States will ensure alliances in the region remain the foundation of the strategy, Donilon said.

“Our alliances are stronger today than ever before,” he said, noting military solidarity with Japan and South Korea, where new leaders are firmly committed to close security cooperation with the United States.

“It is clear that, as we look forward, maintaining security in a dynamic region will demand greater trilateral coordination from Japan, Korea and the United States,” Donilon said. He also cited long-standing alliances with Thailand and the Philippines to address counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Still, Donilon acknowledged the notion that difficult fiscal times have made some question the sustainability of the rebalance.

“After a decade of war, it is only natural that the U.S. defense budget is being reduced,” he said. “But make no mistake: President Obama has clearly stated that we will maintain our security presence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific.”

Specifically, he said, defense spending and programs will continue to support key priorities from the Korean Peninsula to strategic presence in the Western Pacific.

Sixty percent of the U.S. naval fleet will be based in the Pacific by 2020, Donilon said, and U.S. Pacific Command’s modern capabilities focus will shift to submarines, fifth-generation fighter jets such as F-22s and F-35s, and reconnaissance platforms.

“We are working with allies to make rapid progress in expanding radar and missile defense systems to protect against the most immediate threat facing our allies and the entire region: the dangerous, destabilizing behavior of North Korea,” he said.

An ongoing commitment to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula means the United States must protect its allies and deter North Korean aggression.

“It means the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Donilon said. “The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States.”

Donilon noted the international community has made clear there will be consequences for North Korea’s violation of its international obligations, and the U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent provocative nuclear test.

“By now it is clear that the provocations, escalations and poor choices of North Korea’s leaders are not only making their country less secure, they are condemning their people to a level of poverty that stands in stark contrast not only to South Korea, but every other country in East Asia,” Donilon said.

Still, the United States will continue to encourage North Korea to choose a better path, Donilon said, emphasizing that North Korea must change its current course and respect international law.

“The United States is prepared to sit down with North Korea to negotiate and to implement the commitments that they and the United States have made,” he said.

Along with heightening a military presence in the region, U.S. policy will include close and expanded cooperation with Japan and South Korea, Donilon said. “The days when North Korea could exploit any seams between our three governments are over,” he said.

Donilon also underscored the importance of close U.S. coordination with China, whose interest in stability on the Korean Peninsula, he said, argues for a clear path to ending North Korea’s nuclear program. A deeper U.S. and China military-to-military dialogue, Donilon said, can address many sources of insecurity and potential competition.

“We need open and reliable channels to address perceptions and tensions about our respective activities in the short-term and about our long-term presence and posture in the Western Pacific,” he said.

Fostering alliances and continued military presence in the Asia-Pacific region has set the stage for the centerpiece of U.S. economic rebalancing, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The United States, Donilon explained, is crafting a high-standard agreement with Asia-Pacific economies from Chile and Peru to New Zealand and Singapore, and has grown the number of TPP partners to 11 with Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada and Mexico joining the partnership over the last four years.

“Together, these 11 countries represent an annual trading relationship of $1.4 trillion,” Donilon said. “The TPP is … attractive because it is ambitious, but achievable.” Overall, existing free-trade agreements around the world could account for more than 60 percent of world trade, he added.

The full potential impact of the Asia-Pacific pivot will require sustained commitment over the coming years, the national security advisor said. Ultimately, he added, the United States will work to uphold the universal rights of citizens in the Asia-Pacific and to ensure the region becomes a place where the rise of new powers occurs peacefully, with free access to sea, air, space, and cyberspace.

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