“It is certainly in the minds of all our friends, partners and colleagues that the U.S. (should) maintain military superiority in the theater,” Adm. Timothy J. Keating told a lunchtime meeting of the Center’s annual Senior Policy Seminar on July 8.
“It’s a limitless theme,” Keating said: “Don’t go anywhere. Stick around.”
Public attitudes toward the American military presence differ from country to country, Keating admitted. Some treaty partners are openly enthusiastic, while other nations are more subdued and perhaps not always in perfect alignment with U.S. interests.
But in just about every case, he said, “they like the fact that we are nearby.”
At times, this is because the massive air and sea capabilities of U.S. forces are invaluable in times of natural disaster or other emergencies, Keating said. This is true even in the face of reluctance on the part of authorities in Burma to accept offered U.S. military aid.
But it is also true because the American presence creates a level of security that allows Asian governments to focus their efforts and energy on the remarkable economic and social transformations that have occurred in the region.
In a quick tour of the horizon for the Senior Policy Seminar, Keating made these points about the vast and diverse Asia Pacific region:
• The sailors, airman, Marines and other military personnel who were standing by to assist after the cyclone that swept through Burma were deeply disappointed they were unable to help. Satellite pictures indicated “incomprehensible agony and tragedy,” Keating said, but the eager relief forces were stopped cold while ships loaded with supplies waited just offshore. “Nobody was able to go ‘feet dry,’” he said.
• The situation between North and South Korea has taken a small but measurable turn for the better, but American troops remain on high alert. There is a good chance that the situation could go from an armistice to a peace treaty situation within the next ten years or so, Keating said. “That’s more likely now that it was even a year ago,” he added.
• Relations with India are improving rapidly, Keating said, noting he received a far warmer reception there during a recent trip than the greeting he witnessed during his first visit in 1985 as an aide to the then-Pacific commander. A key policy challenge will be developing an Indian Ocean strategy, which does not exist today in any substantial form. “We’re working on it,” he said.
• Military-to-military relationships with China are improving rapidly, with increasing numbers of high-level visits between the two countries. China’s openness in accepting assistance following the disastrous earthquake was another positive step in relationships between the two countries. “We’re making great progress with the People’s Army and Air Force, but we still have a ways to go,” Keating said. “We’d like a little more transparency on their long-range intentions.”
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