U.S. Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

Tom Kelly
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies
Fort DeRussy, Waikiki
April 17, 2014

Aloha! I work in the Foreign Ministry of the United States, the U.S. State Department. I’ve been a diplomat my entire life, and so I’m usually dressed a lot more formally than I am today. If it were up to me, I’d always dress like this. For the past few years, I’ve overseen the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs. This bureau is the connective tissue between the Department of State and the Department of Defense. We work closely with the Department of Defense to make sure that the work that we do is complimentary and consistent with U.S. foreign policy goals.

I know that many of you are leaders in your own nations on issues affecting defense, security, and foreign policy. So I thought that I would spend some time this morning giving you an overview of how, in our own government, we have tried to bring two distinct parts of our government – diplomats and soldiers – together so that we better serve the foreign policy and security interests of the United States. As someone who grew up on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, I’d also like to put the recent U.S. “rebalance to Asia” in proper context, and discuss with you our current security priorities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Now I realize that it may strike some of you as odd that you have a diplomat rather than a soldier standing before you today to talk about U.S. security policy. But from the way we handle national security policy in the United States, it actually makes sense. For us, defense and foreign policy are two sides of the same coin. When the United States enters a military partnership with a foreign country, our bilateral relationship becomes more intimate and enduring. And we diplomats can help our military colleagues to handle the many challenges that confront them in foreign theaters of operation. As all of you know, it’s a complicated world out there.

At the forefront of the United States’ foreign policy is the notion that America helps itself by helping others. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said that, “Global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. It amplifies our voice and extends our reach….and it really matters to the daily lives of Americans.”

And in a world dominated by sovereign nation states, the United States can’t lead without looking at the question of security, which is the fundamental preoccupation of any nation. Security cooperation plays a central role in American foreign policy. As we in the US Government take on the challenges that this world presents, we look first and foremost to building the right kind of security partnerships to meet them.

The challenges we face today typically can’t be solved by just our military, or our economic engagement, and – while it pains me to say this as a State Department official – we can’t resolve everything just with our diplomatic efforts, either. No, addressing today’s challenges demands we utilize all of these elements of national power. Addressing the world’s toughest problems really does take a whole-of-government effort. So at our President’s behest, the Secretaries of State and Defense are working harder than ever before to improve our cooperation and coordination with the Defense Department and other agencies.

Building security partnerships starts at home. It requires our diplomacy and defense to be on the same page and it requires the Departments of State and Defense to coordinate and work more closely than ever before. And today I can tell you that the current level of cooperation between State and Defense is truly unprecedented. We are seeing more interaction, more coordinated engagements, more personnel exchanges than ever before.

One way we work with the Department of Defense is through personnel exchanges. We have more than 100 Foreign Service Officers working as Political Advisors, or Polads, in various areas within the Department of Defense. They work at, among other places, the Pentagon, Europe and, of course, in PACOM, the Pacific Command. In return, the Department of Defense has a large number of military personnel serving in various capacities at the Department of State. The guy who sits next to me at the State Department is a two-star Navy Admiral. The reason we trade personnel like this is that we understand the need to better understand each other so that we can work together more effectively, now and in the future. To achieve our objectives in today’s globalized world, we want diplomats to be able to think like soldiers, and soldiers to be able to think like diplomats.

When the United States – through our security cooperation efforts – enhances the military capabilities of our allies and partners, we inherently strengthen their ability to handle their own security. All countries benefit from a global environment that is stable and prosperous, and many could do more to take an active role in supporting it.

Building the capacity of our partners and allies reflects more than strategic reality, though. We are also acutely aware that because of the budgetary pressures that our government faces, the U.S. Government is looking for cost-effective ways to achieve its strategic objectives at home and abroad. In short, building partner capacity is a prudent investment which deepens our strategic ties and helps defend our interests in an era of diminishing resources.

One vital tool that I would like to talk a bit more about is our ability to deliver security assistance to allies and partners. These programs can be a critical tool to support states trying to build their security capacity. Security is often the foundation for economic growth, democratic governance, and the preservation of human rights. Therefore, by helping our partners to take on greater security responsibilities, our assistance helps empowers others to advance peace and stability, while at the same time reducing the likelihood of putting our military forces in harm’s way.

To our great fortune and benefit, countries want to partner with the United States. One indication of that is the tremendous growth of U.S. defense trade in recent years. In 2013, we saw $27.80 billion in for foreign military sales by American defense companies. A significant number of these potential sales in the region were with allies such as South Korea, Australia and Japan, but a large proportion was also with partners such as India. These sales strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the region—a top goal of the “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific as well as the Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs’ Joint Regional Strategy—but also bolster the U.S. economy.

To put that into perspective, 2012 was our largest year in history of foreign military sales to date by American defense companies, amounting to nearly $70 billion in calendar year 2012. The year before that, in 2011 we saw $32.1 billion in Foreign Military Sales, which broke previous record the year before, at $31.6 billion. We also completed the UK and Australia defense trade treaties, which will help our defense industry and make our partnerships with these two nations even closer. In 2013, we also processed more than 78,000 licenses for direct commercial sales with an average processing time of 21 days.

Washington Priorities

Building partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region takes up a lot of time and attention at the top of our government in Washington. For many of us, thinking about Asia and the Pacific is nothing new. The Pacific Ocean has always been a part of my life. For those of you who know the United States, I grew up in Manhattan Beach, a beach town in Southern California that is right next to Los Angeles. And our President was born right here on this island. He still comes back to Hawaii with his family every year. For people like us, and many millions of other Americans, the Pacific isn’t just a strategically important location or a good place to make money. It’s our home.

So it’s no surprise that the Asia-Pacific has been a priority for President Obama since he took office in 2009. The administration based this vision on America's stake in a prosperous and stable region. In this, President Obama’s second term, we continue to build on those commitments to modernize our alliances, strengthen regional institutions and respect for rule of law, and engage more effectively with emerging powers such as China. Our policy is not merely words: we are dedicating more diplomatic, public diplomacy and assistance resources to the region. And we are diversifying to put more of a focus on economic development, on energy, people-to-people exchanges, and education.

The Rebalance Towards Asia: Cooperative Opportunities

The Asia-Pacific is home to many of the world’s most heavily traveled trade and energy routes. $555 billion in U.S. exports to the region last year supported 2.8 million jobs in America. The security and prosperity of the United States are inextricably linked to the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific. Peaceful development means economic partnership opportunities that can tie our societies closer together.

When I look at the history of the Asia-Pacific over the past sixty years, I see a period of extraordinary prosperity. Hundreds of millions of people have lifted themselves out of poverty, providing an example to the rest of the world. In just a few generations, the Asia-Pacific has fostered innovative economies that today are fueling global growth.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in October, Secretary Kerry described how U.S. economic engagement is good for both the region and good for the United States. Within APEC and as part of our ongoing rebalance toward Asia, we worked to strengthen regional economic integration; promote energy cooperation, private sector investments, and education exchange; reduce barriers to trade and investment; improve connectivity; and support sustainable growth.

On the margins of APEC, Secretary Kerry joined Trans Pacific Partnership Leaders in announcing that the negotiations are on track to complete the historic agreement this year. With its high ambition and pioneering standards for new trade disciplines, the TPP will be a model for future trade agreements and a promising pathway to our APEC goal of building a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The Secretary also spoke at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur, also in October, to more than 3,000 entrepreneurs, investors, academics, startup organizers, business people, and government officials from over 100 countries.

In short, the Asia-Pacific is a by-word for opportunity for investment and win-win partnerships.

But reaching the goal of universal prosperity also depends on security – in this case, maritime security. We know that you don’t get trade within Asia, and with Asia and the Americas, without open sea lanes. The way we see it, twenty-first century capitalism cannot function unless the sea lanes throughout Asia-Pacific remain secure. A Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific includes freedom of navigation.

In Asia as in the rest of the world, the key to effective security is effective security partnerships. We’re working to modernize our alliances and ensure that we can cooperate seamlessly with partners to respond to crises and contingencies. The potential problems are not limited to those caused by people. Mother Nature sometimes reminds us that she is in charge. Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a case in point. The U.S. played an important role in supporting the recovery. That crisis demonstrated that a credible U.S. security presence is very important. And that security presence in itself is essential for economic progress to occur.

The most recent example, I think, of our interest in the security of Asia is our joining the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia. This is better known as ReCAAP. We recently signed the accession agreement. I understand that the United States received a warm welcome at the meeting of the ReCAAP Information Sharing Center at the beginning of March. We look forward to a long and close relationship. ReCAAP, of course, is not the only multilateral program in which we participate. We also take part in the ASEAN Regional Forum or the East Asia Summit, Pacific Islands Forum, and APEC, as well as in the bilateral engagements on the margins of those multilateral meetings. When you look at U.S. participation in those meetings, you will see again and again evidence of how much the Obama Administration is committed to the Asia-Pacific as a strategic component of our foreign policy and economic agenda.

This island is also the home port of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The United States Navy obviously has a huge role to play in the safety of the Asia-Pacific’s sea lanes. As the U.S. rebalances toward Asia, we will increase the percentage of our surface ships in the Pacific theater from about 50 to over 60. But it’s not just a quantitative shift; it’s also a qualitative one. The United States is moving its most technologically advanced platforms to the Pacific. For example, all the ships of the Zumwalt Guided Missile Destroyer Class will come to the Pacific. The first P-8s—an incredible improvement in Maritime Patrol Aircraft capabilities—will come to the Pacific first. Our Navy’s newest surface combatant, the Littoral Combat Ship, has already completed one deployment to the South China Sea. We’ll see another rotational deployment this summer. When we do field the Joint Strike Fighter, it will go first to the Pacific theater.

The challenges in the maritime domain remain complex and complicated. Our Chief of Naval Operations has spoken at length about partnerships and our Navy’s ability to contribute to the global challenge of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight. These partnerships will enable all navies to take advantage of each other’s strengths and build a maritime community that enables all of us to sail the seas without intimidation or interference. Working together in partnerships, whether bilaterally or multilaterally, allows us to also respond more quickly to humanitarian and disaster assistance when needed.

The Rebalance as Continuity of U.S. Policy

The story of the rebalance is a story of continuity. The United States has been and will continue to be a Pacific Power. Our strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific recognizes the important role the region will play in the 21st century and the fact that the region is critically important to U.S. security and economics. As a marker of how important we see continuing our support of Asia-Pacific, the Obama administration has begun a process which will increase foreign assistance to the Asia-Pacific region by seven percent.

You may have noticed that in the rebalance much of our effort seems to be aimed at South and Southeast Asia. One of the reasons for that is that we have always had a very strong presence, including the stationing of several thousand American soldiers and sailors, in Northeast Asian countries like the Republic of Korea and Japan. We seek to deepen our engagement with new partners and multilateral institutions in Southeast Asia, to find opportunities to work together to advance our shared interests.

And quickly, I want to address the issue of China. I know that there are some in Beijing who think our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is part of a broader American effort to contain China. Let me be clear: that is not the case. On the contrary, the United States seeks to continue building a cooperative partnership with China. A positive and cooperative relationship with China is a key element of our rebalance strategy. We understand that China will play an important role in critical global challenges like fighting climate change, wildlife trafficking, and countering proliferation. We welcome that role: those problems won’t get fixed without China’s help. And we recognize that our two economies are deeply intertwined. We consistently seek to engage with China on all levels on a wide range of issues. We want to do more with China in many areas, including economic relations. National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently said that the United States welcomes China and any other nation interested in joining and sharing the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership so long as they can commit to the high standards of the agreement.

The United States is committed to building healthy, stable, reliable, and continuous military-to-military relations with China. We maintain a robust schedule of military-to-military exchanges and dialogues in pursuit of that goal and to encourage China to exhibit greater transparency with respect to its military capabilities and intentions. In addition, U.S. military, diplomatic, and defense officials participate in a range of combined civilian-military dialogues with the Chinese in which we work to build mutual trust and understanding. I’ve participated personally in some of them, both in Washington and Beijing.

Farther Into Asia

South Asia, where I’ll travel in a few days, also merits some comment. I’ve travelled several times over the past few years to India. I think it’s fair to say that there is growing interest in both Washington and New Delhi in greater security cooperation. There is a significant degree of coincidence of strategic interests. During the Obama Administration, the United States carried out our first political-military dialogue with India in six years. And it was significant because we were able to help our Indian counterparts work through the challenges of our interagency process on national security issues. Indian officials told us that the dialogue is especially helpful in helping them to coordinate the same issues within their own government, as well as giving them a better idea of how to deal with our own large and admittedly complicated bureaucracy. The Indian military is also increasingly interested in buying equipment from the United States. Our foreign military sales to India have grown from virtually zero in 2008 to more than $9 billion. In comparison, we had only $363 million in military sales with India from 2002-2006.

I’m not going to India on this trip, but I will travel to Bangladesh, another important South Asian partner. I’ll visit the port city of Chittagong, where the Bangladeshi Navy will show me the Somudra Joy, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, which enables the Bangladeshi Navy to promote maritime security. This transfer has achieved real results by contributing to a seventy percent reduction in piracy in the Bay of Bengal.

My conviction and my experience is that our ongoing rebalance strategy that dates back to 2009 is broad, is deep, and encompasses not just regional security, but also economic prosperity, and people-to-people ties. This is the subject of a very intense ongoing interagency collaboration within the U.S. Government, precisely because it is a strategic priority of the President, of the Administration, and of the nation.

This brings me back to the beginning of my speech, and what motivates U.S. leaders to invest significant resources to support U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific and around the globe. Citizens of this country are learning what you already know – that world events are closer to home than we may think, and can change rapidly. That means we need to be on our toes, adapting and evolving to enhance and sustain U.S. global leadership. This can be challenging, but we really need to remember that in this changing world it has been international partnerships that have brought about stability and prosperity, not only to the United States, but across the world.

By tackling the world’s toughest problems together, we can bring new perspectives and expanded capabilities to bear. And we can build partnerships to be proud of – within government, with civil society, and with nations around the world.

Thank you again for your personal contributions to that effort. And with that, I will be happy to take your questions.