Hagel says joint exercise expansion key to Asia Pacific pivot
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed the need to build trust between the U.S. and its ASEAN partners by expanding collaboration and capabilities to meet rising security needs. Hagel spoke Aug. 25 in Malaysia during a week-long tour of joint operations.
"This is a region that is very important to global security and prosperity," he said during a joint press conference with his Malaysian counterpart. "This U.S. rebalance to the Asia Pacific is about our diplomatic partnerships, relationships, our economic and trade, commercial partnerships, about security, and, yes, about our military-to-military relationships."
This year, the U.S. will conduct more than 75 activities, exchanges and visits with the Malaysian military to boost joint capabilities and flexibility. "These [exercises] build trust, let us exchange best practices, and better prepare our militaries to work together in response to crisis," Hagel said. The military alliance will also be strengthened by the expansion of defense trade, technology collaboration and information-sharing in response to new transnational threats.
In July, the U.S. participated in the 19th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise with Malaysia and eight other Asia Pacific countries. The exercise incorporated the USS Freedom, a new Littoral Combat Ship deployed in Singapore. The U.S. is also making an effort to include more regional countries in joint exercises, such as Cobra Gold, which most recently brought together 13,000 personnel from the U.S., Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. In 2014, Brunei and China will participate for the first time in the U.S. Navy's largest multilateral exercise, RIMPAC.
At Malaysia's Institute of Defence and Security, Hagel said within the Asia Pacific, alliances with Japan and South Korea will remain cornerstones of security. He added that the U.S. is committed to pursuing a constructive relationship with China and will continue to build on a close partnership with India.
When asked if sequestration would slow down U.S. rebalance efforts, Hagel responded that the Defense Department is prepared to exercise a variety of military options as needed.
"Despite these fiscal challenges, we will continue to strengthen these exercises and engagements... Our most recent budget includes $90 million for Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs in Southeast Asia, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to four years ago."
Nicole Grim is an editorial fellow at Defense Systems. Connect with her on Twitter: @nicole_grim.