Monday, November 12, 2012

Panetta’s Asia-Pacific Trip Seeks to Broaden Rebalance

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Nov. 12, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has begun a weeklong visit to three nations in the Asia-Pacific region, his fourth official trip to area that is the focus of a rebalance of time, attention and resources for the Defense Department.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Cruchfield, chief of staff of U.S. Pacific Command, right, salutes as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta steps off the plane in Honolulu, Nov. 11, 2012. Panetta participated in Veterans Day ceremonies in Hawaii, the first stop on a six-day trip en route to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The trip includes visits to Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, but for the secretary it began here yesterday on Veterans Day at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also called the Punchbowl.
The cemetery rises above Honolulu on land that 75,000 years ago was a crater formed when hot lava gushed through cracks in ancient coral reefs.

Today it is the final resting place of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from the Boxer Rebellion, the Korean War, World War II and Vietnam, as well as two astronauts and World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, a Navy Reserve seaman third class killed by a Japanese sniper near Okinawa in 1945.

At the cemetery, veterans and their families formed a long line, waiting to shake hands and chat with the secretary of defense. Panetta laid a wreath at a monument, and then greeted the veterans and members of the color guard one by one and took a photograph with the crew of cemetery caretakers, all of them veterans.

When Panetta leaves Honolulu today, he will head to Perth, Australia, to attend the annual bilateral consultations between Australia and the United States.

There, he will join with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, in meetings with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and sessions of the conference.
Panetta also will meet with Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett.

During this first official trip to Australia, Panetta will express to the Australians his gratitude for their contribution to U.S. and coalition efforts in Afghanistan, officials said.

Earlier yesterday, aboard a military aircraft en route to Hawaii, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with the secretary that the United States “very much appreciates the Australians’ commitment to Afghanistan, … and we look forward to bringing that spirit of cooperation and interoperability to the Pacific as well in a greater capacity.”

A key accomplishment this year for the U.S.-Australia partnership has been the start of Marine Corps and Air Force rotational deployments to northern Australia, the official said.
At the ministerial consultations, he said, “I think our primary objective is to make more progress on the Marine Corps and Air Force [deployments].”

Senior-level meetings will help to “move the ball forward and deepen the implementation,” he added, “so we’re going to try to keep this on track, as well as broaden our cooperation with the Australians.”

Later this week in Bangkok, Panetta will meet with his Thai counterpart, Defense Minister Sukampol Suwannathat, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

This is the first visit of a secretary of defense to Thailand since 2008, the senior defense official said. “We enjoy great operational cooperation and access with the Thais, [and] we’re trying to do is bring back this important strategic piece of the defense relationship,” the official added. “That’s our primary objective in Thailand.”

After his meetings in Thailand, the secretary will travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where he will meet with Cambodian Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh and with defense ministers from member countries of ASEAN, the Association for Southeast Asian Defense.

“It’s a change to talk about how we would like to work with these countries on key nontraditional security threats, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster response, nonproliferation, counterpiracy and others, … and how we can cooperatively tackle some of these transnational threats,” the defense official said.

Panetta also could discuss regional cooperation, ASEAN unity, his recent trips to China and India, and U.S. fiscal pressures on the Defense Department, the official added.

The U.S. rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region is building on relationships that have been going on for decades, the official said. “We’ve been in the Asia-Pacific for 60 or 70 years, and we have worked with friends, partners and allies to promote and maintain a system that has brought economic prosperity, security and in parts democracy to this region,” he added.

The United States is inextricably tied to the region, he said, “and the whole point of the rebalance is to keep doing what we have been doing.”

The rebalance is part of a process, the official noted. “We are playing the long game here,” he said. “This is something that’s going to take years to do, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that … we’re off to a fast start.

“The resources are moving,” he added, “the engagement of senior-level officials is there, and the bureaucratic weight and the time, attention and resources of the United States government are moving toward the Pacific theater.”

Dempsey: U.S. Will Make ‘Measured Response’ to Iranian Threats

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Nov. 12, 2012 – The attempted shootdown of an unmanned U.S. Predator aircraft is the latest example of a pattern of disturbing behavior by Iran, and the United States will take “a measured response,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

In an interview during a travel leg of an overseas trip, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the Nov. 1 attack on the unarmed Predator intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft over the Arabian Gulf was “clearly a hostile act.”

An Iranian Frogfoot aircraft fired on the Predator at least twice, but the American craft escaped unharmed and returned to its base.

Iranian officials charge that the Predator was in Iranian airspace. “We’re absolutely certain that we were within international airspace, so their attack on the unmanned Predator – despite their assertions otherwise – was clearly a hostile act against our assets,” Dempsey said.

The U.S. government has informed the Iranian government that this behavior is unacceptable. The U.S. military will continue to fly these missions and will protect the aircraft, Dempsey said.

Iran is one of a few nations in the world that calculates its water boundaries using the “straight baseline assertion.” Libya used this assertion in the mid-1980s to say it controlled the Gulf of Sidra in the Mediterranean Sea. The rest of the international community follows the 12-nautical-mile territorial water limit that follows the contours of the coastline.

“We’ve made it clear for decades, actually, that we don’t accept Iran’s straight baseline assertion,” Dempsey said. “Were we to do so, it would make the space inside the Arabian Gulf so constricted that it would be unnavigable.”

This latest incident in a long-line of disturbing activities by Iran is disturbing to U.S. officials, Dempsey said. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, he noted, supplying arms to Hezbollah. And Iranian officials “are sponsoring the Syrian regime, they traffic in arms and weapons, they are very active in cyber, and they are on a path – despite international pressure – to develop nuclear energy that could be weaponized,” he said.

Iranian officials plotted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador on U.S. soil and have threatened to mine the Straits of Hormuz, a transit point for the world’s oil.

The international community has imposed tough diplomatic and economic sanctions on Iran, and Dempsey said he believes the sanctions are working. He added that he does not know if the latest incident signifies a regime that is lashing out in frustration.

“It’s very difficult to see inside a nation and see their intent,” he said, “but there is clearly a pattern, and I think it’s one we have to keep an eye on.”

Chairman Looks at Changes to U.S. Global Footprint

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PERTH, Australia, Nov. 12, 2012 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is ready to move on to the next step of determining the footprint of U.S. troops based overseas.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said in an interview today that service members can expect changes in the numbers of troops based overseas, with increases in some cases and decreases in others.

The determination is an outgrowth of the new defense strategy adopted earlier this year, the chairman said, and officials have been working to learn what is necessary to implement the strategy.

“That’s part of the strategic seminars I’ve been holding with the combatant commanders and service chiefs,” he said. “I also said when we implemented the strategy that we wouldn’t get just one at-bat to deliver this strategy. We’ll have several to deliver these over the plate.”

The rebalancing of the force to the Asia-Pacific region has received most of the attention since the strategy was announced.

“That was a horizontal rebalancing globally,” the chairman said. “This year, I want to look at a vertical rebalancing, and what I mean by that … is how we array the forces we have … and how many should be forward stationed and how best to reap the benefits of forward stationing which are close, binding, traditional enduring relationships.”

This includes cultural awareness that leads to deep relationships and deep contacts, he said.

The chairman said he also will look at where and how to rotate troops in and out of areas, “and where we base troops in the homeland, where we build readiness and connect with America.”

As the military compares the horizontal and vertical rebalancing, he said, “I believe I’ll have a pretty good understanding of how to best apply the resources we have as we go through the continuing budget discussions.”

But budget uncertainty makes all this more difficult, Dempsey said. There still is no fiscal 2013 budget, and the cloud of sequestration hangs over discussion of fiscal 2014’s budget. If Congress fails to find an alternative by January, a sequestration mechanism in budget law will trigger about $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade in addition to $487 billion in cuts already scheduled over that period.

Development of a strategy that takes those spending reductions into account proves the Defense Department is adaptable, Dempsey said.

“I’ve often said that the military is seen as being resistant to change,” the general said. “We’re really not. If you look at the force we were 10 years ago and the force we are today, I would compare the way we’ve changed with any other sector of the United States.

“We’re not averse to change, but uncertainty is the thing that is troubling, because you don’t want to put the force in the position where it has to make major change every year,” he continued. “Tell us what you want us to change once and let us get after it, and I think you’ll find we’ll deliver.”

The chairman is here to participate in annual consultations between the United States and Australia.

Dempsey Confers With Crucial Pacific Allies

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PERTH, Australia, Nov. 12, 2012 – After meeting with his Australian counterpart here today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has met with the military leaders of America’s three closest allies in the Asia-Pacific region during his current overseas trip.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey met Gen. David Hurley, chief of Australia’s defense force, upon his arrival for the annual ministerial consultations between the United States and Australia.

Earlier today, the chairman met with Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of staff of the Japanese joint staff. Yesterday, he met with his South Korean counterpart Gen. Jung Seung-jo following a full day of meetings in the South Korean capital of Seoul and a trip to Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.

In an interview, Dempsey said the alliances among the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia are the most enduring in the Asia-Pacific. “What I’m trying to do is rise above the very topical and tactical issues and to gain some clarity and consensus on how we can find our way forward together,” he added.

Reason exists to pursue multilateral architectures in the Asia-Pacific region, “but we have to take into account their preferences,” the general said. He noted that a number of significant exercises have taken place in the region, citing the Thai-hosted Cobra Gold and the U.S.-sponsored Rim of the Pacific exercises as examples of multilateral cooperation among the region’s nations.

Asia-Pacific nations also are working more closely together in the counterpiracy mission from the Straits of Malacca to the Gulf of Aden.

Generally, the allies in the Pacific are comfortable with bilateral relations with the United States as a step toward multilateral relations, the chairman said.

During his trip to South Korea, Dempsey visited U.S. and South Korean troops at the Demilitarized Zone. Though he has been to Korea a number of times, it was his first visit to the frontier between the North and South.

“What I was struck by was 60 years of vigilance and partnership, and what that has meant,” he said. “This generation of young Korean and American service members are following in the footsteps of previous generations. I felt damn glad to have them up there.”

While he and Jung discussed the changes in North Korea, Dempsey said, they didn’t dwell on them. “We took stock of activities over time, whether it’s the obvious ones like the shelling of islands of the sinking of the Cheonan, or GPS jamming or the missile tests,” he said. “Then we looked at not only what we should be doing to better prepare ourselves for whatever the future security situation brings up.”

The alliance is successful, but it is going to change, the chairman said, noting that he and Jung discussed what needs to happen to transition to the strategic alliance of 2015. The United States will remain committed to the defense of South Korea, he explained, but the command relationship will change, and he and Jung discussed the path the two countries are on and what still needs to happen.

In Australia, Dempsey will join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in meetings with their counterparts. “This shows we are paying more attention to the Asia-Pacific,” he said. “How that will manifest itself will be determined.”

Dempsey said he expects the conversations to run the full gamut of issues both nations are concerned with, including force posture and partnering, freedom of navigation, counterpiracy, and all things that affect the maritime domain.

“I will also try to encourage a conversation about how in the Asia-Pacific there is a nexus or convergence of maritime issues with space issues with cyber issues,” he said. “This convergence is worthy of our time to think through together.”