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Home : Media : News : News Display

Dempsey Talks Regional Issues With U.S. Troops in Japan

By Karen Parrish
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan, — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained U.S. objectives in the Asia-Pacific region during an hour he spent today talking with service members and civilian employees here. 

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey left China this morning and landed here on the last leg of his fourth trip to Asia as chairman. The tour also included a stop in South Korea earlier this week.

Dempsey told his town hall audience that while America’s rebalance to the Pacific has gained much interest -– particularly from European allies -– it’s neither a turning away from existing alliances nor an entirely new direction for the United States, which itself is a Pacific nation.

With economic, demographic and security trends all leading increasingly to this part of the world, Dempsey said, focusing more emphasis on the region simply is a case of the United States “skating to where the puck is going” this century.

“It’s going to take years for us to rebalance,” the chairman said. He noted that America has other interests and alliances that require attention as well, and that the rebalance is a whole-of-government effort that is not limited to boosting U.S. military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific.

And the military piece of that rebalance doesn’t mean pulling U.S. troops from other places to flood the Pacific, he added. The military will add “intellectual bandwidth” to its activities here and “pay more attention, do more engagements at every level … and send our best quality -- not only human capital, but also some of our best equipment,” the chairman said.

“Whatever we do, we’ll stay true to our important alliances in the region while trying to build relationships with others,” Dempsey said. “That was my message in China, by the way.”

Though the United States wants a new relationship with China, the chairman said, that new relationship has to “account for and understand the context” of America’s existing, long-term alliances.

When Dempsey invited questions from town hall participants, his American audience in Japan -- much like reporters in China before them -- asked about issues important to the region: Is North Korea likely to launch more provocations? What is on the horizon in the cyber domain? What will China do regarding North Korea? What is the U.S. position on the dispute over what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese refer to as the Diaoyu Islands?

Dempsey’s response on North Korea was that he didn’t discuss possible Chinese measures with his counterparts during his visit to Beijing, but that the U.S. approach is to be prepared for tactical or strategic provocation.

“We are postured, with our Japanese allies by the way, in order to protect our citizens, their citizens, our facilities and their facilities,” he said. “And that will remain the case.”

Dempsey noted that the United States didn’t change the status quo on the Korean Peninsula, or start the cycle of provocation.

“We are in a posture of deterrence -– we’re seeking to deter North Korea from provocation. Assurance -- we’re assuring our allies and ourselves that if we have to defend ourselves that we’re capable of doing so, and we’re in a posture of preparedness,” the chairman said.

Even during an intense budget squeeze, he assured his audience, the answer to whether the United States remains capable of responding on the Korean Peninsula is “absolutely yes.”

“If we put someone at risk, in uniform and their families, we will not spare the expense of making sure they’re prepared,” Dempsey said. “We haven’t degraded any of our activities in Afghanistan, in the Gulf, on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.”

On the cyber question, the chairman noted that the cyber domain, along with special operations forces and command, control, computing, intelligence and surveillance capabilities, all have been protected in recent budget cycles.

America is working with South Korea to extend their alliance into the cyber domain, he said, and the Defense Department also is planning cyber command-and-control elements in each combatant command, beginning with U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.

However, the chairman said, he’s “uncomfortable with our degree of preparedness” in the cyber realm. He noted that many of the challenges that most concern him involve cyber defense at home.

DOD is authorized to protect its own networks in the United States, Dempsey said, but stateside military installations are linked in to critical civilian infrastructure networks. Pentagon officials are coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on domestic cyber issues, he added, and are working to educate Congress on the need for legislation “to make ourselves better prepared in cyber.”

“This is a really complex issue,” Dempsey said, “but I assure you we are seized with it, and we are trying to get our allies seized with it.”

On the Senkaku Islands, the chairman said, U.S. policy is not to take sides in territorial disputes. Noting that he had a “great trip” to China and that both nations desire a new, better relationship, he added that he reminded the Chinese that treaty obligations to Japan call for the United States to help the Japanese defend their sovereign territory if it is attacked.

Dempsey said he told the Chinese the U.S.-China relationship can’t be an either-or proposition to the Japanese alliance.

“We will live up to our treaty obligations,” he said. “Would we trade off our relationship with Japan in order to have a stronger relationship with China? No.”

Dempsey said he told the Chinese that regarding territorial disputes -- not just in Asia but around the world -- the United States expects “mature, rational nation-states to resolve those disputes peacefully, through diplomacy and economic exchange or whatever instruments they choose to use -- except military.”

Dempsey’s visit to Japan will continue in the coming days, and is scheduled to include senior-level meetings and other engagements.