By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT – The United States’ allies and partner nations in the Asia-Pacific region have an “appetite and eagerness for us to remain a Pacific power,” the senior U.S. military officer said today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left Singapore today after attending the 11th annual Asia security conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which this year drew delegations from 27 Asia-Pacific nations.
“This was an especially important Shangri-La Dialogue … because it comes on the heels of the publication of a strategy that expresses our intent, over time, to rebalance our strategy to the Asia-Pacific region,” the general told American Forces Press Service.
Dempsey said his assessment of broad support for the U.S. strategy placing more prominence on the Asia-Pacific zone is based on several factors he observed during the dialogue.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s keynote conference speech detailing the U.S. strategy, and the strategy itself, were very well-received, the chairman said. Dempsey added he summarizes the key points of the strategy as “three mores”: more interest, more engagement and more quality.
“We are becoming more interested in the Asia-Pacific after a decade of being more interested in other parts of the world; so, more interest,” the general said.
More engagement will mean not only more exercises, but more leader development exchanges – such as more service members from partner nations attending U.S. military schools, Dempsey said.
“The militaries of the region are all aware that the great strength of our military is actually the quality, the intellect, the education of our leaders,” the chairman said. “Of course they’re interested in exercises, of course they’re interested in equipment, but in a very encouraging way they are actually most interested right now in these exchanges, so that we can increase the ability of our leaders to build relationships.”
The third “more,” quality, means the United States will bring its best technology to the Asia-Pacific, he said.
“The manifestation of the rebalancing is, in a handful of cases, a greater number of ships, potentially,” Dempsey said. “But it’s also the best of our equipment. So, the highest-tech ships, the fifth-generation aircraft, the best of our ballistic missile defense technology.”
“I found that they reacted very positively to that,” he added.
Two three-way meetings the secretary and chairman participated in during the dialogue involved a senior Japanese minister.The other parties were Australian and South Korean, respectively. Dempsey said the two meetings highlighted a concern for Japanese defense leaders that he is satisfied the U.S. is addressing.
“We have the Northeast Asia trilateral: that’s the Republic of Korea, Japan and us. Then we have the … Southeast Asia trilateral, which included the Australians. What’s important, I think, is that [Japanese leaders] see, in us, a recognition that the Asia-Pacific isn’t [a one-issue region.]”
Allies want to know the U.S. recognizes each part of the Pacific has its own challenges, Dempsey said.
“That’s the purpose of the trilats: so we can recognize that the issues of Northeast Asia are different from the issues of Southeast Asia, which are different again from the South Pacific,” the general said. “We want to make sure they see, in us, a partner who is alert to and cares about what they see as their challenges, and fit ourselves into that.”
Before the dialogue, Dempsey said, there was a certain amount of suspicion on the part of even allied nations, who were uncertain of U.S. intent.
“I think we were able to add fidelity to our message, clarity to our intent, and paint a much clearer picture of what we hope to accomplish in the Asia-Pacific through 2020,” he said.
The dialogue also resulted in a better understanding of the proposed timescale for the U.S. strategy, he noted.
“I think there was this notion that all of these [changes] would happen immediately, and of course they won’t happen immediately,” he said. “They’ll happen over time, and they’ll happen in consultation with our partners. I think that was very reassuring for them.”
Dempsey said he refers to the Asia-Pacific strategy as a rebalancing because it means not only pursuing long-term U.S. interests, goals and objectives there, but also remaining mindful of near-term challenges such as the accelerating security transition in Afghanistan.
“We’re not trying to establish a false dichotomy [that would say] you can either be engaged in the Mideast or you can be engaged in the Pacific,” he said. “We’re a global nation with global interests that span the entire spectrum of activities from economic to diplomatic to commerce to trade to education, promoting our values, and military.”
The “third leg” of that rebalancing is resources, he said, adding, “The current uncertainty with the budget makes that balancing act all the more difficult.”