U.S. Defense, Commerce Secretaries on the U.S. Commitment to Asia

This opinion editorial by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker was published in the February 19 Wall Street Journal. There are no republication restrictions.

America is Committed to Asia
By Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

For decades, security and prosperity have flourished throughout the Asia-Pacific region, each reinforcing the other. The astounding growth of trade and industry across the Pacific Rim has transformed nations and lifted millions of people out of poverty, surpassing all expectations while strengthening many crucial relationships.

This progress was no accident. America’s security presence in the region and our strong alliances, economic ties and people-to-people contact with nations like Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines have provided the necessary stability for Pacific nations to focus on giving their people a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future.

Today, as more and more of America’s trade and defense activities shift toward the Asia-Pacific, and as the region undergoes dynamic changes with the rise of China, Indonesia and India, the United States Departments of Defense and Commerce are working side by side to help keep trends moving in the right direction and promote greater security and prosperity.

These efforts are particularly important because the Asia-Pacific region is confronting historical animosities and disputes that fuel tensions, increase uncertainty and risk wider conflict. These disagreements may begin with sovereignty concerns, but they create risk for nations across the globe. For example, commercial and military vessels from around the world need to know where and how to operate safely throughout the region. Doubts can cause a ripple effect of negative consequences that range from wasted resources and delayed private investments to miscalculation and conflict—meaning that all Pacific nations would stand to lose far more than what any one country stands to gain.

Instead of letting these comparatively modest disagreements derail our significant progress, we need to get back to the business of doing business. Right now, there are three important areas where all nations of the region have the opportunity to benefit by working together—and where the Commerce and Defense Departments have important roles to play.

First, we should work to promote shared principles and fair rules of the road, both in the security and economic realms. In the commercial and economic realms, this means concluding negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a high-standard trade agreement that would support greater trade, investment and growth throughout the region.

In recent meetings in Singapore, the 12 TPP nations identified what we call “landing zones” on most of the outstanding issues, and we continue to make progress on market access issues with various countries. Our task now is to conclude negotiations on an agreement that reflects our common values and shared commitment to raising the standards for doing business across the Pacific.

In the security realm, it means creating a space where our militaries can better communicate intentions, work through difficult problems, and collaborate on common interests. The United States has already begun working with nations in the region, including China, to foster transparency and develop clear rules of the road in critical areas such as sea and air travel, space, cybersecurity and a code of conduct for the South China Sea. These efforts build habits of cooperation that can be expanded to other areas.

Second, Pacific nations must continue to cooperate with one another when disaster strikes. Natural disasters are among the most significant threats to security and prosperity in the region, putting countless lives and resources at risk every year.

One tragic example is the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people and could cost nearly $13 billion in economic damage and lost production. The Department of Defense has prioritized humanitarian assistance and disaster relief cooperation in the region, which enabled the U.S. military to airlift nearly 20,000 survivors and deliver more than four million pounds of relief supplies and equipment to the Philippines. Many other Asian nations also contributed much-needed manpower, assets, supplies and funds to these efforts.

At the same time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Commerce Department, continues to invest in warning systems that help prevent loss of life and property throughout the Pacific Rim. For example, NOAA has increased the number of buoys that help predict tsunamis to 29 from six over the past 10 years, while also helping countries like Australia and Indonesia install their own systems.

Third, we should continue to build international partnerships that simultaneously strengthen industry and defense relationships. This will not only help improve security, but also help create new economic opportunities. The Department of Defense has supported this by co-developing a new missile interceptor with Japan, which will be able to defeat the next generation of advanced ballistic missile threats and shows how leveraging collective technological expertise can help meet 21st century security challenges in a cost-effective way.

Meanwhile, the Departments of Defense, State and Commerce are rolling out reforms of the controls on the export of military items to our close partners and allies such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. These changes will strengthen U.S. and regional security by increasing military interoperability with these allies while also enhancing our collective economic interests. Although we do not permit exports of military or military-related items to China, the United States will continue to encourage exports of high-tech commercial items to China for civilian purposes.

As part of the Obama administration’s comprehensive strategy for rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific, the Departments of Defense and Commerce will intensify our dialogue with regional leaders and pursue innovative ways to collaborate. For example, in April, the Defense Department will host a meeting of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers in Hawaii, where the ministers will visit the Commerce Department’s Inouye Regional Center, home to the bulk of NOAA’s assets in Hawaii, and discuss ways to enhance humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, among other issues.

The Asia-Pacific’s dynamic growth cannot be taken for granted. Security, stability and prosperity require constant attention, a commitment to shared principles, and the combined efforts of the United States and all Asia-Pacific nations. When nations work together for the benefit of all their people, everything is possible.