On Saturday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled a new policy to shape our relations with Asia and China for the foreseeable future.
The ideas Secretary Panetta outlined as he spoke to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (Asia), a meeting of defense ministers and top military personnel from 27 countries, may have been developed and produced at the Chicago NATO conference.
Pundits had and have hope for sweeping changes in NATO capacity. A stronger, more powerful multi-national agency may be the last hope for a world under stress. Desire for a strengthened NATO is balanced by fears that, by placing ourselves under restraints from a higher authority, America’s vision for a free and united world might lead to unexpected entrapment in a web of our own design. However, if the Panetta disclosures are an early indication, there may be hope for a bright and vital future.
In speaking to the gathered global defense ministers on June 2, Secretary Panetta outlined America’s plan for “rebalancing with Asia.” He said that enhanced military-to-military cooperation with China will come hand in hand with boosting the capabilities of China’s allies in the region. Panetta champions diplomacy, and rules-based order. He cited plans for “open and free commerce, and open access by all to their shared domains of sea and air.” He includes among China’s allies the Philippines and Vietnam. Panetta calls for the resolution of the South China Sea conflicts to be resolved without coercion or the use of force. “We will play an essential role in promoting strong partnerships that strengthen the capabilities of the Pacific nations to defend and secure themselves,” Panetta said. Addressing several issues in one statement, the secretary promised an investment, saying, “We will also invest; invest in cyber, invest in space, invest in unmanned systems, invest in Special Forces operations. We will invest in the newest technologies. And we will invest in new technology to mobilize quickly, if necessary.”
Panetta doesn’t produce any documentation that these new ideas have been communicated to or discussed with Beijing. His role in speaking is simply to present the American view.
When asked if increased regional involvement by the United States might increase tension with China, or give the appearance that the United States is a threat to China, the secretary said, “I reject that view entirely. [This new U.S. policy shift] is fully compatible with the development and growth of China. Indeed, increased U.S. involvement in this region will benefit China.” The United States, Panetta maintains, “will work to improve communication and eliminate mistrust with the nation of China.”
The issue of spats in the South China Sea has grown as the months have passed. China claims ancient rights to the area, which includes massive gas and oil reserves, valuable fishing areas, and perhaps most importantly, shipping lanes strategic to global commerce. An estimated $5.3 trillion of trade passes through the South China Sea each year; of which the United States share amounts to $1.2 trillion.
Secretary Panetta mentioned that the U.S. Navy will redistribute its forces, with about 60 percent of the fleet deploying to the Pacific region, up from the current 50 percent.
An interesting note to the Panetta announcement at this meeting of global defense ministers and high military leaders is that former presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had disparaging comments to make to news reporters there. He told them that U.S. budget cuts will affect the outlined Asia strategy. McCain explained to the gathered media people that, “At some point — and I think we are at that point — we will not be able to carry out the commitments.” He pontificated that money for more ships could be better acquired by cutting waste from Pentagon controlled weapons systems, than from redeployment of Marines out of Okinawa.
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