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National Security Advisor Donilon's Remarks on President Obama’s Asia Policy and Trip to Asia, November 2012

Speaker: Thomas E. Donilon, Distinguished Fellow
Published November 15, 2012

Remarks by Thomas E. Donilon delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2012.

Good morning everyone, and thank you Dr. Hamre—for your introduction, your friendship and your contributions to our nation, both in government and here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It is wonderful to be at CSIS. For half a century, your research, scholarship and analysis has in many ways been the intellectual capital that has informed so many of our national security policies, including during the Obama Administration.

We've shared ideas and we've shared staff. That includes the topic that brings me here today—our strategy with regard to the Asia Pacific. And it includes individuals who have served in both government and CSIS—including Matt Goodman. As a member of our National Security Staff, Matt was essential to much of the President's international economic diplomacy. To Matt, and all of you—especially the ambassadors I see from many ASEAN nations—thank you for being here.

In less than 48 hours, President Obama will embark on his first foreign trip since his reelection. He'll travel to Thailand, make an historic visit to Burma, and conclude his trip in Cambodia for the East Asia Summit. His decision to travel to Asia so soon after his reelection speaks to the importance that he places on the region and its centrality to so many of our national security interests and priorities.

What I'd like to do today is step back and put this trip in context: how it fits into the President's broader approach to national security; how the President's rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific advances our national security interests; and how this trip furthers each pillar or our multidimensional strategy toward the region. And given the decades of experience in the region represented in this room, I look forward to taking your questions and engaging in a discussion.

I'd start by noting that in every Administration, one of the great challenges in the implementation and execution of foreign policy is to prevent daily challenges and cascading crises from crowding out the development of broader strategies in pursuit of long-term interests. That's why, from the outset of the Administration—in the very first days—the President directed those of us on his national security team to engage in a strategic assessment, a truly global examination of our presence and priorities.

We asked what America's footprint and face to the world was and what it ought to be. We set out to identify the key national security interests that we needed to pursue. We looked around the world and asked, where are we over-weighted? Where are we underweighted?

That assessment resulted in a set of key determinations. It was clear that there was an imbalance in the projection and focus of American power. It was the President's judgment that we were over-weighted in some areas and regions, such as our military commitments in the Middle East. At the same time, we were underweighted in other regions, such as the Asia Pacific.

Guided by these determinations, we set out to rebalance our posture in the world. And so you saw, first and foremost, a preeminent focus on recovering from the Great Recession and restoring American economic strength, which is the bedrock of American power. We set out to revitalize key alliances—our deep network of treaty allies from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which are a uniquely American asset. We decided to engage more deeply in international and regional organizations, which advance our interests.

The President ended the war in Iraq, re-focused and reenergized our counterterrorism efforts, and has since charted a path for transition in Afghanistan. In doing so, the President dramatically improved America's strategic freedom of maneuver so that our posture aligns with our interests in a changing world and a dynamic region.

But renewing our leadership also meant rebalancing our foreign policy to ensure that our focus and our resources matched our priorities. And it meant a laser-like focus on enduring national interests whose significance cannot be measured by banner headlines and cable news sound bites—interests that will dominate the 21st Century.

The President therefore made a critical decision as part of this global look—again, at the very outset of the administration—to increase our focus on the Asia Pacific, in terms of resources; diplomatic activity and engagement, both with nations and with regional institutions; and in terms of policy. As many of you know, Secretary Clinton became the first Secretary of State since Dean Rusk, in 1961, to go to Asia on an inaugural trip. The first foreign leader the President met with in the Oval Office was from Asia—the prime minister of Japan. These were early and powerful signals from the President that this region would be a priority.

Our approach is grounded in a simple proposition: the United States is a Pacific power whose interests are inextricably linked with Asia's economic, security and political order. America's success in the 21st century is tied to the success of Asia.

Economically, it's impossible to overstate Asia's importance to the global economy and to our own. Asia accounts for about a quarter of global GDP at market exchange rates, and is expected to grow to nearly 30 percent by 2015. The region is estimated to account for nearly 50 percent of all global growth outside the United States through 2017. The region accounts for 25 percent of U.S. goods and services exports, and 30 percent of our goods and services imports. An estimated 2.4 million Americans now have jobs supported by exports to Asia, and this number is growing. In short, robust U.S. trade and investment in Asia will continue to be critical for our economic recovery and our long-term economic strength.

In terms of security, it is widely recognized that regional security—which is the foundation for the region's phenomenal economic growth in recent decades—requires a stabilizing American presence. The U.S. has security obligations to our allies and partners in the region, which is home to several of the world's biggest militaries and flashpoints such as the Korean Peninsula. Events like the Fukushima nuclear incident and the Indonesia tsunami made clear that the U.S. remains uniquely capable of delivering non-traditional security like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well.

Our renewed commitment to the Asia Pacific also flows from the demand for U.S. leadership from nations across the region. In addition to traditional security challenges and new demands for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, there is a demand for American economic engagement and trade integration as well a strengthening of regional institutions, codes of conduct and the rule of law to resolve disputes, and the protection of individual human rights.
We also have a mutual interest in deepening and enhancing engagement on sustainable energy.

Guided by these interests, the President has been clear about the future we seek. He laid out our vision in Canberra last year. In short, our overarching objective is to sustain a stable security environment and a regional order rooted in economic openness, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic governance, and political freedom.

This objective stems from our long-term vision of Asia. We aspire to see a region where the rise of new powers occurs peacefully; where the freedom to access the sea, air, space, and cyberspace empowers vibrant commerce; where multinational forums help promote shared interests; and where citizens increasingly have the ability to influence their governments and universal human rights are upheld. This is the future we seek, in partnership with allies and friends.

How are we pursuing these objectives? What are the elements of this approach? We are pursuing a sustained and multi-dimensional strategy. I know that the security elements of our strategy often attract the most attention. But I want to be very clear about what this rebalancing effort is and what it is not. It is not simply about a shifting of military resources, although we are indeed ensuring that our resources follow our priorities. Nor is our rebalancing effort an attempt to contain any other nation.

The rebalancing of our posture toward the Asia Pacific harnesses every element of our national power. It is a long-term effort to better position ourselves for the opportunities and challenges we're most likely to face in this century. And our effort continues along several distinct lines of effort.
First, we have strengthened and modernized our security alliances across the region.

• We have succeeded in upgrading and modernizing our alliance with Japan, including improved interoperability and coordination on roles, missions, and capabilities.
• With the Republic of Korea, we have implemented a joint vision for enhanced security cooperation, we're implementing the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, and we've supported the emergence of a "Global Korea" that contributes to global security, including as a partner in Afghanistan and in anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia.

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