Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave an important speech in Singapore at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on June 4, 2005. His message to the 19 other defense ministers from around the Pacific Rim and parts of Europe and North America is important from many perspectives. Sec. Rumsfeld expanded on 1) democratic progress, 2) the the War on Terror, 3) future threats to the US from China and 4) the US effort to grow Pacific alliances.
"Much has changed in the world since we met here last year. The past year has been a time of promise as the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, and elsewhere have demanded at ballot boxes the freedom that they deserve. Dictatorships around the world are losing sway, as more and more people recognize the greater opportunities a life of freedom affords -- economic freedom and political freedom as well."
Mr. Rumsfeld affirms the core focus of US foreign policy in promoting democratic reforms. The first two of the five countries he lists were the direct result of US military intervention, the other 3 are a byproduct and response to US efforts in Afganistan and Iraq. The fruits of American military efforts have spread beyond just the countries with US forces deployed by encouraging a democratic movement through the Middle East and beyond.
War on Terror
Sec. Rumsfeld, while giving a speech on the US focus beyond the War on Terror, was quick to point out:
"But that might have suggested that the War on Terror -- the struggle against extremism -- is over. It is not over. Violent extremists continue to pose a danger to civilized nations, and we need to work together to recognize that the threat is a serious one.
The United States is working with many of the nations represented here in this room in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, helping their people build countries that will no longer pose a threat to the international order."
The threat of WMD, unstable regimes such as North Korea, and terrorist organizations may have been reduced, but by no means eliminated.
"Perhaps the greatest impetus for modernization and cooperation is the specter of lethal threats confronting all free nations. Among them is the toxic combination of dangerous weapons, rogue regimes that seek to export those weapons, and violent extremists determined to destabilize civilized societies and kill men, women, and children."
Winning the War on Terror is vital for US and our democratic allies' national security. Losing focus on this war will only make America more vulnerable to future threats.
Freeing the Rising Dragon
China, as a non-democratic nation, is a potential threat to US security interests and the economic and strategic interests of its Asian neighbors. Mr. Rumsfeld expands on the US desire for greater liberty and reform in Asia:
"A nation that expects its people to unleash their productive energies into the economy -- but stifles free expression -- will eventually have to choose between tyranny and progress. A society that supports political reform -- but fails to protect its citizens or provide security for them -- encourages instability and civil strife. And a secure state that permits neither political nor economic freedom is a system that, in the end, may fall to its understandably restive people."
The heart of his speech with respect to China tackles the double-digit growth in Chinese military spending.
"Although the Cold War is over, this region, unfortunately, is still burdened by some old rivalries; and military budgets are escalating in some quarters. These are matters that should be of concern.
China’s emergence is an important new reality in this era.
Indeed, the world would welcome a China committed to peaceful solutions and whose industrious and well-educated people contribute to international peace and mutual prosperity.
A candid discussion of China, however, cannot neglect to mention areas of concern to the region.
The U.S. Congress requires that the U.S. Department of Defense report annually on China’s perceived military strategy and its military modernization. The Department’s 2005 report is scheduled to be released soon.
Among other things, the report concludes that China’s defense expenditures are much higher than Chinese officials have published. It is estimated that China’s is the third largest military budget in the world, and clearly the largest in Asia.
China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region. China also is improving its ability to project power, and developing advanced systems of military technology.
Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder:
- Why this growing investment?
- Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?
- Why these continuing robust deployments?"
The three questions asked and the concerns raised by their potential answers are driving other Asian nations into the US sphere of influence to counter a more aggressive and assertive China. From Japan's strengthening of military ties with the US to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia's agreement to have the US patrol the oil rich Malacca Straits, to major US overtures towards India, China's emergence is not bringing stability to the region. This is leading to the US having a golden opportunity to expand its alliances and partnerships in Asia.
While tragic, the December 2004 tsunami afforded the US military an opportunity to work towards humanitarian goals with its Asian neighbors and build goodwill. It is important to note the countries Mr. Rumsfeld points to in working to solve the crisis outside of the regular NGO and UN organizations:
- "India not only met the needs of its own people; but, to its credit, it also sent troops to help to distribute aid in Sri Lanka;
- Thailand, despite its own casualties and tragedy, quickly consented to the use of its bases to serve as the combined support facilities for the relief efforts;
- Malaysia made its airfields available, facilitating logistical support; and
- Singapore was first on the scene with life-saving aid, offering the use of its airfields and port facilities.
Years of bilateral and multilateral meetings and cooperative operations made possible this swift, team response -- as America’s military joined quickly with Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and many others to provide assistance."
The countries in bold are important for they all are nations that the United States has advanced diplomatic and military ties with in 2005 from Sec. of State Rice's and Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick's 12-nation tours, to US military vists as well. These nations represent old and new allies not only in the War on Terror but in the US efforts to contain China.
"From time to time, some question the priority America places on its Pacific partnerships. Yet the atmosphere in the tsunami’s aftermath -- as well as the recent earthquake in Nias -- demonstrated again that whenever friends and allies in this region confront threats or hardship -- whether caused by man or by nature -- we stand at their side.
These long relationships among nations -- the nations of the Pacific -- led many in this hemisphere to pledge support to the American people after the attacks of 9/11. And we are deeply grateful. I am confident that our long friendships will continue to unite us against the common threats ahead."
While it is easy to pass by this statement, it is important. The US stands by its allies and Mr. Rumsfeld is making clear that the US will continue to work strategically to build a prosperous Asia by backing our allies from future threats.
This year will be a very important year in US foreign policy as we seek to consolidate our successes in the Middle East and promote democracy around the world. The alliances the US strengthens this year, because of the example demonstrated by its steadfastness in supporting its allies, will be pivotal for securing a leadership role in the new century.