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Inside the Ring
Beginning today, Inside the Ring moves from Friday to Thursday and will appear each week in the National Security section of Plugged In.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates placed new strategic markers outlining U.S. security strategy in Asia during a speech in Singapore on Saturday. His subtle message that the United States will remain a “resident power” in Asia was meant to signal China and bolster the semisecret U.S. policy of “hedging” against the emergence of a threatening Beijing, according to defense officials.
Mr. Gates told the annual International Institute of Strategic Studies meeting, which included numerous defense and military leaders from the region, that by using the term resident power, “I mean there is sovereign American territory in the western Pacific, from the Aleutian Islands all the way down to Guam.”
It was the first time a defense chief emphasized U.S. territory in the Pacific as a basis for U.S. security strategy.
The U.S. military buildup on Guam, where Mr. Gates visited before Singapore, is designed to help U.S. forces “respond quickly to new contingencies,” Mr. Gates said. New submarines and advanced bombers are being sent to the western Pacific island, along with 7,000 Marines redeployed from Okinawa, Japan.
Guam in the future also will be used for international military training and possibly the prepositioning of military assets, Mr. Gates said.
The defense secretary made no mention of the Pentagon’s hedge strategy, which was developed under his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, whose 2005 speech in Singapore sounded a more alarming tone about China’s military buildup. The Chinese military buildup, Mr. Rumsfeld said, was being carried out in secret and with little or no explanation from Beijing about its goal and the nature of the threat it was directed against.
Mr. Gates, in his speech, made only veiled references to concerns about Chinese hegemony in Asia, which U.S. defense officials say is aimed at pressuring the United States to withdraw from the region.
He said U.S. concerns for the region are to maintain “openness of trade, openness of ideas and openness of what I would call the common areas - whether in the maritime, space or cyber domains.” A defense official said later that this remark was “clearly directed at China.”
Mr. Gates stated that the United States will be both a “resident power” and a “straddle power,” reaching across the Pacific, and that while a peaceful and prosperous century is the hope, “nothing is guaranteed.”
The defense secretary warned about the “stirrings of a new regionalism” that should not be a “zero-sum game,” an apparent reference to any security regime that diminishes the U.S. role and increases China’s role.
The Singapore speech was approved by the State Department, which plays the leading role in Asian diplomacy but also dominates security policy, normally the province of the defense secretary.
The State Department supports the hedge strategy against China but insists there be no public references to it, according to defense officials.
The closest Mr. Gates came to reaffirming the hedge strategy was his comment that “we are building partner-nation capacity so friends can better defend themselves.”
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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