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Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Military Overview of Asia-Pacific

FPC Briefing
Admiral Robert Willard
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Remarks to...
Washington, DC
March 25, 2010

Date: 03/25/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Admiral Robert Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, gives a military overview of the Asia-Pacific region at the Washington Foreign Press Center on March 25, 2010. - State Dept Image 
3:30 P.M. EDT


ADMIRAL WILLARD: Well, thank you very much, Andy, and a great pleasure to be at the Foreign Press Center. This is my first opportunity to visit with you since taking command of the United States Pacific Command. I thought that I would just provide a brief overview of this region of the world and Pacific Command’s responsibilities to you before I take your questions, and I look forward to them.

The Pacific Command area of responsibility is – covers about half the globe. This is from the West Coast of the United States to a dividing line between the nation of India and Pakistan – about a hundred million square miles, I guess. More than 300,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians make up the United States Pacific Command. It covers an expanse of the world that includes 36 nations. And we have responsibility for the military-to-military engagement that goes on and our military activities, obviously, over that half of the world. It’s a very exciting command, a very vibrant command. As you know well in this room, the Asia Pacific Theater is vital to our nation’s interest and certainly to the interests of the rest of the world.

I’ve had the opportunity to serve extensively during my career in the Asia Pacific. I was formerly the Seventh Fleet commander, most recently the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, and now the U.S. Pacific Command commander. I’ve had an opportunity to serve twice in Japan, and my wife and I are both extensively traveled throughout the Asia Pacific, as you would expect. And we continue to enjoy the opportunities to engage with our many partners in the region. Most recently traveled to India, Thailand and Indonesia.

I would offer that currently at U.S. Pacific Command, there are five management areas that have my focus. And I thought I would share those five with you today and perhaps it will help prompt our discussion and the questions that you might have. They include U.S. alliances and partners in the region, and the responsibility that Pacific Command bears to continue to advance those relationships into the future.

We have five treaty allies in the region. They include Japan, a very important ally and a cornerstone of our responsibilities for the security of Northeast Asia; the Republic of Korea, where we’ve been laid down for the last 57 years and working with the Republic of Korea through the armistice process and throughout the region; also, the Philippines and Thailand, two longstanding U.S. allies; and of course, Australia. Strategic partners include Indonesia, India and many other partners in the region that we can talk about during your questions.

Another large management area for us is extent of transnational threats that we deal with throughout the region. These don’t come as a surprise to any of you. This includes terrorism, where we’re engaged in the southern Philippines. We’re assisting in Indonesia. And I’m now focused in and around India, specifically with regard to Lashkar e-Tayyiba, the terrorist group that attacked into Mumbai some months ago.

But other transnational threats as well. So this is narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, piracy, proliferation, and the many transnational challenges that not just the Pacific Command, but all of the combatant commands deal with throughout the world and many of our partners deal with as well.

Other large management areas – our relationship with China should come as no surprise to anyone; our relationship with India, a strategic partner and like-minded democracy, of great importance in South Asia; and then lastly, our – the issues that we’re challenged with with North Korea. And this ranges from our alliance with the Republic of Korea to deter North Korea, but also the provocations, the proliferation concerns, the weapons of mass destruction, developments that you’re all, again, very familiar with on the Korean Peninsula.

So we have some large management challenges in Pacific Command and some wonderful opportunities and some great partners throughout the Asia Pacific region. Again, I’m very privileged to be the new commander in Pacific Command. I very much look forward to the months and years that I’ll have the opportunity to work in this region. I am very respectful of the region and all of its challenges and complexities and opportunities, and I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: Okay, everyone. I’d ask, when you go to ask a question, please state your name and publication and wait for the microphone whenever you speak, which can be coming from either your left or right.

So please go ahead with your questions. I’ll start right down here in the front row.

QUESTION: Admiral, John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. How do you see the current situation in the Taiwan Strait, and including the military balance between the two sides of the strait? Thank you.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you, a very good question. And I think since the election of President Ma, we’ve seen a lessening of tensions across the strait that’s been welcomed not just by the United States, but I think by the entire region of the world. I know that there are a great many discussions going on now between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. And it will be of great interest to Pacific Command, but also of great interest, I think, to all of us in the region, to see how those discussions continue to evolve.

With regard to your second question on imbalance across the straits, there clearly is one, and it has grown significant over the past decade or so. And it’s always concerning that the People’s Republic of China has maintained its military combat power and presence so dramatically across the strait.

MODERATOR: Okay. The gentleman with the pen.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Foster Klug with the Associated Press. On Futenma in Japan, you’ve mentioned that Futenma replacement is crucial to the Marines, who will be left behind doing their job. I was hoping to find out why, when there are so many bases in Japan? Is it so necessary that it’s worth risking damaging the alliance with Japan and weakening the Hatoyama government? And then also, just to follow up on Taiwan, is it in your military judgment that new F-16s are needed to help address the military imbalance in the straits? Thank you.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you for both questions. On Futenma, as everyone here is no doubt aware, we’re in discussions with the new administration in Japan, Prime Minister Hatoyama and his administration, with regard to the replacement of an airfield on the island of Okinawa that is attendant to our Marine presence there.

First, I would offer that, again, our alliance with Japan is as strong as it’s ever been. I mean, I interact with Japanese self-defense forces on a regular basis and my counterparts and I are enjoying a relationship that’s as strong as ever.

I think for the DPJ government that’s currently the administration in power in Japan, the idea that they might reflect on individual aspects of the realignment initiative that was agreed to in 2006 is perhaps a natural process for this administration, and that for Prime Minister Hatoyama, he’s taking a look at concerns that he has and that he has gleaned may be the case locally. And he has promised us an answer back by May, and we anticipate hearing from the Japanese Government on their thoughts on Futenma replacement facility there.

The need for the airfield is – has been communicated to the Japanese Government in great detail. Our Marine Corps operating concept is to conduct Marine air-ground task force operations, which implies that any lay-down of Marine ground forces, infantry, is always accompanied by co-located airlift, the capabilities to take those Marines to their training areas or to the areas of operation, and attendant supply support. And that’s what’s in Okinawa now.

So to your question of how important is it that we have a Futenma replacement facility, it’s vitally important. This is a discussion that we’ve been having with the Government of Japan since about 1993. And it’s important, we think, to the people of Okinawa that we find an option for a replacement facility out of the urban area of Okinawa, and that was what was agreed to in 2006.

I’ve looked at both Futenma in its current location and the location of the Futenma replacement facility. We remain convinced that the Futenma replacement as it’s currently planned is the best option for the people of Okinawa and for the Government of Japan. And again, we’ll look forward to what Prime Minister Hatoyama reports out in coming months.

On your discussion of – or your question regarding F-16s in Taiwan, I would offer that the process is a whole-of-government process in the United States as we evaluate the need, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, for defense articles and services in support of Taiwan. Pacific Command’s responsibility in that is to make recommendations to Secretary Gates with regard to their defense needs broadly – not as relates to any particular unit-level request – but broadly what is required for Taiwan to have a self defense capability. And then it becomes an intergovernmental process, ultimately to be decided on by the President and by our Congress. So we have an input, but we’re not at all the decider.

MODERATOR: Okay. Down front to Mainichi.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yoso Furumoto, Mainichi newspaper. Follow-up on Futenma: The Japanese Government is discussing to ask U.S. Government to do the exercise of helicopters of Futenma outside of Okinawa. If proposed, is that acceptable?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Once again, the focus – the U.S. focus on the need for a Futenma replacement facility that is collocated with our Marines is that in our Marine Corps concept of operations, the Marines have the rotary wing support that they require in order to transport Marine infantry into their exercise areas, training areas and so on. When you look beyond Okinawa, outside of Okinawa, the time-distance factors and the location factors and the difficulty in bringing that air support into a Marine air-ground task force is unattainable.

So again, our discussions with the Japanese have been to describe what this operating concept requires. And again, this is a longstanding discussion with the Japanese Government. This has taken place for over a decade and ultimately with very much the Japanese in the forefront of the decision making, the Futenma replacement facility that’s currently being questioned was the best answer for both sides.

MODERATOR: You, sir.

QUESTION: Admiral, thank you for this opportunity. My name is Yushin Sugita from Kyodo News. My question is about the timeline of the Futenma relocation and the Guam relocation. Are you concerned that the agreed timeline of 2014 will be expanded? What is your – facing the review process of the Japanese Government, and also the voices from Guam, from their concerns?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. Another good question. The discussions that have been ongoing regarding Futenma, a small tactical issue inside a larger realignment initiative that has many moving parts, has taken several months. But at the same time, I think the Government of Japan has committed to moving promptly on having that discussion with the United States because of the urgency that we continue to move forward with regard to Futenma – with regard to DPRI, the realignment initiative, writ large.

Remember that this initiative has many moving parts. As a consequence, for both governments, the Government of the United States and the Government of Japan, this is a cross-ministerial commitment by the Japanese and a cross-department commitment by the United States.

That commitment by both governments and the ability to work across ministries and across departments is what is needed in order to meet the timeline demands of this particular initiative. We believe it’s achievable with the firm commitment of both governments. Lacking that commitment, then I think we’re challenged.

MODERATOR: Okay. Down front here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral. Betty Lin of the World Journal. Some members – some congressional members this morning were interested in the anti-ship ballistic missile threat. Could you talk about how significant the threat is and how PACOM is preparing to address the threat? And in your past dealings with the Chinese, have you talked about this? And what was their response for that?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. What is being referred to as a technology development, a capability development by the People’s Republic of China to develop a ballistic missile with anti-ship capabilities – inside a broader collection of capabilities that represent anti-access, a term used to describe kind of a forward power projection capability from mainland China. Each of those capabilities are concerning without a knowledge of how they’re intended to be applied in the future.

So trying to understand what the ballistic – anti-ship ballistic missile system is designed for and against, and its relation with other anti-access capabilities – what that strategy entails is very much an issue that we would like to discuss mil-to-mil with the Chinese. I think this raises the importance of a continuous military-to-military dialogue, which, as you know, is currently suspended as a consequence of our announcement of the former Taiwan arms sale.

The issues with the PRC that we would like to discuss military- to-military include areas that we have opportunities to engage, areas of common interest, and then very frankly, these areas of broader uncertainty or concern. I think both governments and both militaries would benefit from that continuous dialogue.

MODERATOR: Okay, right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Donghui Yu with China Press. Actually, I have a follow-up question about China-U.S. military relations. Did you contact with your counterparts of PLA in the past several weeks to try to resume the China-U.S. military exchange? And do you have any arrangement for visiting China in the near future? Thank you.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. The last person-to-person contact that I had with the People’s Liberation Army was with General Xu Caihou, who was a very high- ranking officer within the Central Military Commission, who also visited with Secretary Gates and other counterparts in Washington, D.C.

On his way back to Beijing, he and I had a day or so together to discuss these areas of common interest. And we had a very good dialogue, I might add, covering areas where we felt, and he had agreed with Secretary Gates, were of common interest between the United States military and the People’s Liberation Army – to include areas that you would expect, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster response, counterpiracy, counterproliferation, and so on. So, very, very good discussions.

I have not had an opportunity to visit with a PLA counterpart since. General Xu did invite me to China. I would offer that in the demarche that was the suspension of military-to-military relations, that invitation was placed in suspension as well. So again, we look forward to resuming the dialogue, and I look forward to the next opportunity perhaps to meet with General Xu.

MODERATOR: The gentleman in the middle.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Shaun Tandon. I’m with AFP. You mentioned in your testimony to Congress this morning a little bit about the difficulties faced by Guam in – as part of the deal – as part of the realignment deal. In your view, are those concerns that might change the overall plan? Would the U.S. still be committed to sending the 8,000 troops, the 8,000 Marines, to Guam, even if those concerns persist?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: The short – I think the short answer is yes. I mean, we are very hopeful that all aspects of the realignment initiative are fulfilled. This is an area in which we were in dialogue with the Government of Japan for, as you know, some years in order to determine a set of adjustments that could be made to strengthen the alliance. And the 8,000 relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam was one aspect of that agreement, so we’d like to execute it.

You mentioned the challenges to infrastructure in Guam – again, many moving parts to this. So while we are endeavoring to scope the inside-the-fenceline demand – requirements for 8,000 Marines and their families to lay down in Guam, the Guam Government, and, as you know as a consequence of the environmental impact study, our Environmental Protection Agency have both raised concerns about the infrastructure in Guam. And Guam’s infrastructure dates back to World War II and the 1970s and has, certainly, challenges associated with it. And we’re now in discussions with not just EPA, but the Administration and Congress with regard to answering to those challenges.

MODERATOR: Okay, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Satoshi Ogawa (ph) with Yomiuri Shimbun. And with regard to NPR, we heard Obama Administration is going to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. So my question is: Could you explain the role of the tactical nuclear weapons like TLAM-N in terms of the nuclear deterrent – extended nuclear deterrence?

And with regard to that, Japanese Foreign Ministry issued a investigation report on secret agreement which allow – which have – which has allow U.S. ships in – to introduce nuclear weapons to Japanese boat. And the Hatoyama government announced that they want – they don’t want to continue that secret agreement. So are you concerned – that?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. With regard to the Nuclear Posture Review, this is a draft that’s still inside our government. And as opposed to answering any very specific questions regarding elements of the strategic capability of the United States or others, I’m not in a position to do that certainly now. And I would offer that when the NPR is published would be the time to ask those specific questions and certainly review the content of what is releasable yourselves.

In terms of the agreement issues that the Hatoyama government has undertaken to review, it’s very much a Japanese Government issue to resolve, I think. The United States, when it publicized its records from many years ago, those records have been in the public domain again now for some time and accessible for review. So I would encourage that if you’re inclined to review them yourselves, it’s public knowledge.

But I think the new administration in Japan saw a need to go back and review the public record in the United States and have the discussion, inside Japan, regarding what that constitutes, what that means to them. And I think that’s very much the Hatoyama administration’s business to attend to that agreement review.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll come down front here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral. Wei Jing from Global Times in China. I have two questions. One is: You mentioned in your testimony that – China’s ongoing sovereignty campaigns. Does that imply that you’re interested – you as in PACOM or U.S. government – interested in taking a position in some of these bilateral or multilateral disputes?

Second question is: Also you mentioned you’re interested in talking with India about global commons, including space, cyber and all the others. Are you interested in talking about all these issues with the Chinese Government?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: To answer your last question first, which is are we interested in having formative discussions with the Japanese (sic) Government regarding these broader strategic areas and commons issues, the answer is absolutely yes. In fact, yes, we have ongoing forums where some of these issues can be raised. And we again look forward to the resumption of military-to-military dialogue so that we can actually take action on that. But we’re very interested in having broad discussions with the Chinese on a multitude of issues, including those you’ve raised.

With regard to issues of sovereignty in the South China Sea and East China Sea and elsewhere around the periphery of China, the United States has a longstanding presence in these waters and in this airspace within the international waters, for example, in the South China Sea.

And as everyone here is no doubt aware, there is an immense amount of commerce that moves on sea lines of communication and air lines of communication throughout this part of the world – more than a trillion dollars a year – very much in U.S. interest to secure those sea lines of communication for everyone’s use and very much in the interests of our allies and partners in the region.

Also in the interest of China: Well before the PLA began a military buildup, as we’ve witnessed in the past couple of decades, the United States and its partners were on those waters securing this region so that we could all enjoy the economic prosperity that I think the Asia Pacific has enjoyed and China has enjoyed over the past several decades.

So the common areas, to include areas such as the South China Sea and East China Sea, are of great interest to me as the Pacific Command commander. The freedom of action that all nations enjoy in those waters and in that airspace is of great interest to the entire region, I would offer.

There are contested areas, as you note – the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and Senkakus in the East China Sea, even areas along the borders of India and China. I think it’s in all of our interests that these issues be resolved peacefully through the use of multilateral forums like ASEAN and other discussion forums where the contested area issues that – and there are many, frankly, in the Asia Pacific region – not just associated with China, but associated with many nations – that these things be discussion items government-to-government and ultimately resolved in a peaceful way.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll go right there.

QUESTION: Fumiko Hattori, the Sekai Nippo. Going back to Futenma, what is PACOM’s plan B or default plan should the U.S. and Japan fail to reach an agreement on a relocation plan in time for a 2014 relocation?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Well, I think it’s very important to both governments that we find a resolution. Again, I would be speculating to presume options that might be presented by the Japanese Government when we’re still awaiting their response, and again, we’re looking forward to it.

So I’m confident that as the Japanese understand the needs of the ground force, the Marines that are located in Okinawa, with regard to their aviation support and their supply support, that we’ll be able to have fruitful and successful discussions with the Government of Japan and find a solution that meets all of our timeline needs inside this very aggressive schedule to execute this realignment.

MODERATOR: Okay, and right there.

QUESTION: I’m Seungil Koh, of Yonhap News Agency, South Korea. I’d like to know about North Korean issues. And North Korea has shown any sign of returning to Six-Party process lately? And in – I think it raises unpredictability of North Korea behavior. So in line with that, do you see any symptoms or possibility of North Korean provocation, as they did last year, to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula or in the region? And how much are you ready for that? Thank you.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, thank you. I would offer we’re ready – I mean, our longstanding Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance. Sixty years together nearly in deterring North Korea and in ensuring the stability and security of Northeast Asia is a foundation for ensuring that instability or unpredictable actions don’t occur emanating out of North Korea.

We’re all hopeful, I know, that the Six-Party Talks will resume. I think all six – or the five parties are endeavoring to convince North Korea that it’s in their best interest to resume these talks. In the meantime, we watch closely for provocations emanating out of North Korea. We have watched a naval – a small naval buildup and issues that are occurring in the West Sea area over the past several weeks.

We have been interested to watch the consequence of currency devaluation in North Korea and the effects of that. And obviously, we watch over Kim Jong-il’s health and the succession issues that we’ve no doubt discussed before.

So we’re very interested in the state of play in North Korea. Our ROK counterparts assist in this. And many of our deterrence capabilities, to include our Japan-U.S. alliance and my ability to respond to provocations – as we did last year during missile tests and as we’ve done in the past with proliferation activities – is very much a part of the U.S. answer and our allies’ answer to this challenge.

MODERATOR: Okay, in the middle.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Jung Noh from Radio Free Asia. A follow-up question for the North Korea: North Korea offered to resume the operation of U.S. remains in North Korea in the beginning of this year. But I believe that nothing decided yet, nothing progress yet. So do you have any precondition to resume about that?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: The issue is not a Pacific Command issue, other than to support. So Joint Personnel Accounting Command is a direct reporting command to U.S. Pacific Command located in Hawaii. And we stand ready to conduct recovery operations anywhere in the world that we’re able to.

We do have an – a timeline in the past where personnel accounting has conducted operations in North Korea. If, in our government-to-government discussions, that opportunity ever presents itself again, JPAC – that’s Joint Personnel Accounting Command – is prepared to do what’s necessary to recover those remains, which is very much a humanitarian issue, I think, as opposed to a military-to-military issue.

This is very much about accounting for our missing in all the world wars and conflicts that the U.S. has been involved in in the past. And we get great support from most nations to allow that accounting to occur.

MODERATOR: Okay, the gentleman in back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Again on Futenma. I’m sorry – Devin Symons, Nippon TV. The Japanese Government is now indicating in the media, in Japan at least, that when it releases its review in the coming week, it will propose moving Futenma facilities to the Camp Schwab area and White Beach with a separate training ground moved outside of Okinawa. Does that sound like an acceptable proposal? If you can comment on that at all.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, very difficult to comment on a proposal that I haven’t seen. Again, I would offer that in our deliberations with the Japanese Government over many years regarding the most acceptable replacement options for Futenma, we settled on the current FRF location.

And we believe, and certainly the Japanese Government believed at the time, and the people of Okinawa believed that was the best option. Any option has to meet the needs of the Marine Corps forces laid down there, so essentially has to replicate the capabilities of Futenma and the FRF as currently proposed. And we would enjoin that that is the best option – remains the best option. I’ll look forward to that discussion with the Japanese.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ve got time for a few more questions, perhaps from someone who hasn’t asked one. (Laughter.) Let’s come down here.

QUESTION: Shin Shoji from NHK. Given the unexpected, surprising reaction by China regarding the Taiwan arms sale, do you feel you’re reluctant to make any more recommendations for future arms sales because of this?

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Did you say unpredictable reaction?

QUESTION: Surprising reactions.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Well, I would offer that this has been a fairly consistent response that we’ve seen in the past, subsequent to Taiwan arms sale announcements by the U.S. What we endeavor to convince the Chinese Government of and particularly the People’s Liberation Army of is the importance of not having every disagreement that might occur over time between our two governments elicit a response like a cessation or a suspension of military-to-military dialogue, which we believe for both the People’s Republic of China and the U.S. is very, very valuable.

So once again, the response was not necessarily unpredictable. We look forward to re-engaging in dialogue with the Chinese when they’re ready.

MODERATOR: Okay. Well, we’ll come down front.

QUESTION: Thank you. [John Zang, CTI TV] Admiral, this is actually a follow-up question to a previous question. We understand on Taiwan arms sales it is – you are not the decision maker; you have your own input. But given the growing military imbalance across the Taiwan Strait, which you mentioned a moment ago, would you recommend to the President and the Secretary to sell F-16C/Ds to Taiwan? Thank you.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah. Thanks. Again, as we formulate our input to the Secretary of Defense at some periodicity regarding defense articles and services that we believe are necessary for Taiwan, it is a broad contextual input that covers many more dimensions than a single fighter aircraft request. So it’s – this is, broadly, what does Taiwan require for its self defense over time?

Unquestionably, one of the – some day, the fighter aircraft in Taiwan will have to be recapitalized, and I think that’s what Taiwan has been interested in with regard to their request for a replacement fighter.

So the input from PACOM, which is a very broad input covering many dimensions of defense, is what then goes under consideration by the – by Secretary Gates and ultimately the Administration and the interagency with regard to the specific articles and specific services that would be contained in an actual sale.

MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.

ADMIRAL WILLARD: Yeah, if I – before you depart, if I may, just let me close with this: First of all, I very much enjoyed being with you today. This has been a rare privilege. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do this again one day and we can continue the questions and answers. Your questions have all been very good and insightful.

The U.S. Pacific Command – a wonderful command in a wonderful part of the world – is overseeing an area of the world that I believe is pivotal to the globe and its future. This is an area that is vital economically. This is an area that’s robust economically. We’re seeing some of the great economies, I think, emerge and team in this area. And the U.S., as a resident of Asia, longstanding and with great interest there, looks forward to continuing to work with our allies, partners and friends to see this area prosper.

So we look forward to making our contribution as U.S. Pacific Command, in a military dimension, to accomplishing that. The security of this region is my foremost responsibility.

Thank you very much.

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