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Policy: "Commitment to the Future"

Thank you for the warm welcome. It's indeed a pleasure to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on U.S. policy -- particularly U.S. naval policy -- in the Asia-Pacific region.

Singapore and the United States enjoy a mutually-beneficial relationship -- one that's growing stronger by the day. That should come as little surprise since our two countries share common values and beliefs - and a common strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific region.

I'd like to talk for the next few minutes about that vision - and about U.S. regional policy and military strategy. But I must caveat my remarks. As secretary of the Navy, I am charged with manning, training, equipping and funding the Navy Department -- which includes the United States Navy and Marine Corps. I don't control the operations of U.S. forces -- not even our ships and Sailors and Marines -- nor do I determine U.S. foreign policy. But I do confer daily with those who do. Therefore, I feel qualified to share with you some thoughts on the U.S. government's regional policy -- so long as you promise to return to Navy issues during the question and answer session.

History, geography, and demography make the United States an integral part of the Asia-Pacific region. The United States has been the preeminent Pacific power since World War II, but our interests in the region date back more than two centuries. From these beginnings, through the Second World War and the Cold War that followed, the United States has served as a key stabilizing force in the region - a role based on strong political, military and economic ties.

U.S. trade with the Asia-Pacific region in 1993 totaled over $374 billion. It accounted for 2.8 million U.S. jobs. But most significant is the trend: from 1992-2000, Asian GNP is expected to increase from 25 percent to 33 percent of the gross world product; and the number of U.S. jobs tied to the region is projected to more than double to about 6.5 million jobs. Moreover, the Asia-Pacific economies are estimated to climb to 50 percent of world GNP by the middle of the next century.

For the security and prosperity we enjoy today to be maintained well into the next century, the United States must remain engaged in this extremely important region - committed to peace, and dedicated to strengthening our alliances and friendships.

Dr. Joe Nye -- Harvard Professor and most recently Assistant Secretary of Defense -- likes to say, "Security is like oxygen: you do not tend to notice it until you begin to lose it." The American security presence has helped provide this "oxygen" for Asia-Pacific development.

The United States is uniquely positioned to be a constructive and enduring force for stability in the region. As the only Asia-Pacific power with truly global capabilities, the United States is able to bring together multilateral coalitions, as it did during the war in the Arabian Gulf five years ago. As a powerful state with no territorial ambitions, the United States presence is reassuring rather than threatening.

Washington shares a common interest with Singapore -- as well as with our other allies -- in the peaceful resolution of territorial and other disputes in the region. As a global power, the U.S. certainly has important commitments all around the world: in Bosnia, in Haiti, in Liberia - as well as in the Taiwan Straits and the Arabian Gulf. But, with the trend in economic influence toward Asia-Pacific, our interest - and our influence - in the region will surely follow suit. As I will discuss in a moment, the gradual shift toward this region requires a corresponding increase in multilateral military cooperation. On the Navy side, maritime alliances mean that we -- together -- can protect the vital sea lanes in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in so doing, enhance regional stability and prosperity.

So far in this decade, military cooperation -- but particularly cooperation between U.S. and regional navies and marine forces -- has increased significantly. The U.S. Navy is participating in numerous exercises -- such as RIMPAC and CARAT -- and combined operations with the ASEAN, RAN, Korean and Japanese navies. 1995 saw the highest level of combined operations and training in 50 years. And we expect the number to grow into the next century. The bottom line is that whether our navies are conducting training or operations, it's all part of our common vision of "preventive defense."

In this region, preventive defense is built on four pillars: alliances, regional confidence building, constructive engagement with China, and a framework agreement with North Korea. I'll briefly describe each of these because they are the pillars on which U.S. security strategy in the Pacific is built.

The first pillar of preventive defense rests on our regional alliances, in particular, Japan and Korea. By working together, the United States and its allies have made real progress toward our shared goal of seeing prosperity and freedom flourish around the globe. Our cooperative efforts have kept a lid on regional conflict, guaranteed freedom of the seas, and they have reduced the risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And finally, they have promoted democracy, respect for human rights and free markets. The security and the stability of this entire region absolutely depend on our continued alliance.

In addition to our bilateral relationships with Japan and Korea, we have security interests that are shared by countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region. That is why the second pillar of our preventive defense strategy includes the promotion of multilateral initiatives -- initiatives that can serve to reduce tension and promote peace throughout the region. These initiatives include joint military training and joint peacekeeping operations. They also include institutions such as ASEAN and the ASEAN regional forum, where we can air and address mutual interests and concerns.

To advance these very multilateral security institutions, Secretary of Defense Bill Perry invited defense delegations from 34 Asia-Pacific nations to meet in Hawaii last fall for the commemoration of the ending of World War II. That same weekend, the defense leaders cut the ribbon on the Asia-Pacific Security Center in Honolulu, where civilian and military personnel from all across the region will meet and learn together. The center will help to build a web of security relations criss-crossing the Pacific.

The third pillar of our preventive defense strategy, and the one which is most controversial today, is constructive engagement with China. This constructive engagement has been a consistent policy of the United States for more than 20 years under six presidents of both parties. It will remain our policy because China is playing an increasingly important role in the security of the region, indeed, in the security of the world.

It is a fundamental fact that U.S. and Chinese interests will be sometimes in harmony and sometimes in conflict. Our policy has been to take both of these into account, both the times when we're in harmony and the times when we're in conflict. We believe that through a healthy, honest dialogue we can work together when our mutual benefit is served, and we can work to reduce tensions when our interests conflict.

We do not choose engagement as a favor to China. We choose engagement as a favor to ourselves to promote our own national security interests. Engagement provides an avenue to influence China, to help curb rather than exacerbate the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Engagement provides an avenue to influence China to play a stabilizing role in unstable countries in the world where we have a profound security interest, such as the Korean Peninsula. Engagement opens lines of communication for the Peoples Liberation Army and Navy. This will not only help promote confidence among China's neighbors, it will lessen the chance of misunderstandings or incidents when our forces operate in areas where Chinese military forces are also deployed.

Engagement also does not preclude us from pursuing our interests with all appropriate instruments of our national power. Indeed, while we are committed to engagement, we are not committed to engagement at any price.

So, I believe that engagement is in our self interest. But I also believe that it's in China's self interest. For engagement to work, China's leadership must also see it that way. It takes two to tango. It takes two to engage.

The fourth pillar of our preventive defense strategy is to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Asia-Pacific region. In the spring of 1994, North Korea was prepared to process plutonium from its resource reactor at Yongbyon. This would have allowed it to extract enough plutonium to make five or six nuclear bombs, and it threatened to do so, all the time making menacing public remarks aimed at South Korea and Japan. One of these famous remarks was a statement that they would turn Seoul into a "sea of flames."

That was two years ago. I will tell you that the relative stability that we enjoy today is because of the firm resolve in the U.S. and our allies -- resolve that convinced North Korea to reverse course and sign the Agreed Framework. Since then, our relations with North Korea have remained rocky, but the North Koreans have abided by the Agreed Framework and have sustained a freeze on their nuclear weapons program.

Taken together, these four pillars of our preventive defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific have created the conditions that minimize the threat of war. But preventive defense cannot by itself assure our security. We are still faced with dangers and potential threats that require us to maintain military forces powerful enough to be a persuasive deterrent, or if deterrent fails, powerful enough to fight and win.

John Milton once wrote "Peace hath its victories no less renowned than war." Today, the Pacific is at peace. The victory of this peace has provided a renowned opportunity to ensure freedom, security and prosperity for the new century. The duty to seize this opportunity lies in each of our nations: in the words of our leaders, in the work of our diplomats, in the halls of our universities, and in the hearts of each of us.

Thank you all. God bless you - and God bless our great nations.