By Dr Andrew Parasiliti, Executive Director, IISS-US; Corresponding Director, IISS-Middle East
In his fifth and final opening plenary address to the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the “stark realities” of the US economy and budget, and “two protracted and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” will not affect US commitments in Asia.
In response to a question about how the US could reassure its regional allies given these stark realities, Gates said he was willing to bet $100 that “US influence in the region will be as strong or stronger” in the coming decade.
Gates spoke of “an equally compelling set of facts” that leads to a “record demonstrating that, irrespective of the tough times the US faces today, or the tough budget choices we confront in the coming years, that America’s core interests as a Pacific nation – as a country that conducts much of its trade in the region – will endure.” The US and Asia, Gates said, “will only become more inextricably linked over the course of this Century.” Gates cited a consensus “shared by US leaders and policy makers across the political spectrum” which argues “strongly for sustaining our commitments to allies while maintaining a robust military engagement and deterrent posture across the Pacific Rim.’
Gates noted that he has “made it a priority to build military-to-military ties with China.” On 3 June he said after meeting with his Chinese counterpart General Liang Guanglie on the sides of the Dialogue that there is a ‘more positive trajectory’ of the Chinese-American military relationship, although this cooperation remains ‘underdeveloped’.
His remarks in plenary downplayed notions of a “threat” from China, and referred to four “enduring principles” of regional engagement including free and open commerce; adherence to the rule of law; “open access by all to the global commons of sea, air, space, and now, cyberspace;” and peaceful conflict resolution.
In response to a question Gates said he took the “cyber threat very seriously,” but explained that the cyber threat does not just emanate from China. He said the US was at the beginning of a process to understand the role of cyber, and the need to “establish the rules of the road with respect to cyber” as soon as possible to prevent the potential for conflict and escalation.