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31 March 2005

Counterterrorism, Military Readiness Among Top U.S. Priorities

Pacific Commander Fallon discusses regional security issues in interview

Admiral William Fallon, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), says the top priorities of his command include fighting terrorism; ensuring military readiness; and strengthening regional engagement between U.S. and Asian leaders, the military, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In a March 29 interview with the Associated Press Television News (APTN), Fallon -- who assumed his duties in late February -- said he wants to assess the relationships PACOM currently has with organizations throughout the region, "and then we’ll build on them."

PACOM is the oldest and largest of the U.S. unified commands. Its area of responsibility stretches from the West Coast of the United States mainland to the east coast of Africa, and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, including the state of Hawaii and forces in Alaska.

Fallon said he wants to have in place a network of nations and organizations "who are used to working with one another, and who trust one another" so that when events such as the December 2004 tsunami occur "we can deal with them in a manner that is efficient and effective."

One growing concern is the increased linkage among terrorist organizations in the region, according to the admiral.  Fallon said the United States has been working with the governments in the region to deal with this threat.

"I see this [cooperation between governments] continuing to grow because people realize now that this is not a local phenomenon; that there are connections here, and the destabilizing effect that this activity has is not very helpful to them or to their partners."

In response to a question on North Korea, Fallon said that cooperation between South Korean and U.S. forces is critical for dealing with tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"The North Korean government has demonstrated a track record of ... less than predictable decision-making -- in their statements, and in their actions," he said.  " But, this is something we have to deal with."

Fallon noted that the Korean peninsula is still under an armistice, not a peace treaty.

"The U.N. is a key part of this" situation, he continued.  "They're still in place and they have procedures to help keep this armistice going. And so we have to have a capability in place to deal with the tension of their [North Korea's] military."

The admiral also cited the Six-Party Talks among North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States as an example of a multilateral approach to deal with concerns about North Korea's ballistic-missile program and the potential for weapons proliferation to other nations.

"It seems to me that the approach here needs to be a cooperative one with other nations in the region that have interests here," Fallon said.

In response to a question about relations between China and Taiwan, Fallon reiterated the U.S. position that "no overt steps be taken to upset the status quo." 

"It seems to me that there are a lot of reasons why China and the people on the island of Taiwan ought to have lots of cooperation," he said.  "We see tremendous growth in economic interests both ways.  We see things like this recent opening of scheduled airline travel between the countries."

"I see no reason, or certainly, no value whatsoever in having any kind of a military interaction between Taiwan and China.  It makes no sense," he said.  "I want to figure out how we can be helping to defuse the tension and to move forward."

When asked about U.S. cooperation with Indonesia's military, Fallon discussed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent lifting of a prohibition for International Military Funding (IMET) for Indonesia, calling it "very significant."

"I see some very positive trends and we will be working hard.  I’m anxious to have the opportunity, if I am invited, to visit down there and to see first-hand for myself what I’m hearing of this really encouraging atmosphere," he said.

Following is the State Department transcript of the interview:

(begin transcript)

Transcript of APTN [Associated Press Television News] Interview with
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral William Fallon
Manila, March 29, 2005

APTN:  So, you're taking over the Command at a time of natural disasters in the region.  We had a tsunami in December, and last night there was another earthquake. Also, there are tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Straits, as well as the war on terrorism. Do you think that the Navy is up to the job? And what exactly will be your first order of the day once you take over?

Admiral Fallon:  Well, I'm in the job now for about a month, and I find it fascinating.  It's a huge area of responsibility.  It stretches for half the world and that's probably one of the most immediate challenges: to figure how I'm going to get to all these places quickly so that I can come up with my own assessment of what's going on, and how we might be of assistance.  It's a vast area -- they tell me about a hundred million square miles.  It stretches from the West Coast in the United States all through the Pacific and then across the Indian Ocean almost to the African Coast.  A lot of those areas are in warm climates so I understand that they've given me some responsibility for Antarctica as well.   I think that was to balance the warm and the cold.  So, the biggest challenge I find immediately is to better understand what's going on.  I'm off really on my first trip away from Honolulu.  I've been up to Korea, to Japan, to Okinawa, and now, to the Philippines.  My goal on these initial trips is to meet with the leaders -- both in the government and military -- to better understand the challenges in the areas so that I can try to give good advice back to my boss, who is the Secretary of Defense in Washington, and to decide what course of action we should take with my staff and those commands that do the work.  I'm finding it extremely interesting and very challenging because there are lots of activities and many things going on.

You mentioned the tsunamis and the natural disasters.   I think that's probably episodic. These will occur from time to time, because it's just a huge region.  And, of course, we know that there are fault-lines, and some areas are prone to earthquakes, and tsunamis.  So, we'll have to do our best to deal with those. 

So, how do I approach those things?  I'd like to have in place a network of nations and organizations -- military and non-military -- who are used to working with one another, and who trust one another so that if these events occur, we can deal with them in a manner that is efficient and effective.  We have to have a foundation in place. We have, of course, relationships between these nations.  We have relationships between my Command and military and governmental organizations throughout the region.  I want to assess those to see what kind of shape they're in, and then we'll build on them.  But as for things to do, in the first couple of days on the job, I have had meetings with my commanders from around the area -- the military people -- because that is my first responsibility: to provide for the defense of our nation.  But I brought in these people from all around the area, and we sat down and spent a couple of days reviewing the mission statement -- the mission of my Command -- in view of events that are recent to see if it was appropriate.  We made a few changes to that, and I've also given a written version of my vision for the Command, which was also a little bit different from the one that was used previously.  But the major work was to determine in which areas we're going to spend we are going to spend the majority of our time and effort.  So, I distilled this down into five -- I call them "Major Focus Areas."  Four are my staffcom; I won't bore you with all the details of those. I'll just give you an outline because it's primarily direction for my own staff.  But underpinning those is a philosophy of mine, and that is, I like to operate from series of principles, rather than just making decisions based on preference, which might be influenced by events at the time of whatever the issue is that we're trying to deal with.   And so, I've laid down some principles -- a long list of them, which I expect would be helpful to my staff.  One of them that I would highlight, because I think it's appropriate for our dealings with people throughout this vast area, and that is to make decisions consistent in a manner that will engender trust and confidence between people with which we deal.   At the end of the day, if the things that we're doing are not helpful in this area, then I don't believe that we are going to be doing much to advance our priorities.

Back to the priorities: I have a challenge here.  We have a global war on terror that is already underway, and that's a huge responsibility.  I was in the Pentagon on 9-11-01 when the aircraft was flown into the building.  I had the chance to feel, first-hand, the explosion.  It was right near my office.  I lost -- we lost -- from my Navy staff at that time forty-two people who were killed that morning.  So, I have a very personal understanding of what this business means. We're engaged in this effort worldwide, and I want to make sure that our Command in the Pacific is doing everything we can to help in this effort.  Another key area of interest is to ensure that we are -- I have responsibility for a number of contingency plans, and I want to make sure that these can be credibly performed, if required.  This is a lot of internal staff work, but it is a prerequisite to being able to execute our duties.  I also want to make sure that our military forces are ready and prepared for missions that they may have to undertake, and this involves work with me and the individual service components: Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps with whom we work. 

Another area that is probably of interest to people out here would be our regional engagement plans.  Those activities with which we engage people throughout the regions, specifically in Asia, to advance items of mutual interest, and to actually work with people in individual countries -- with the military, with other government and non-governmental agencies and organizations -- to advance the priorities that we'd like to do.   So, these are the top four.

Another area that I'm very interested in is how we are organized in terms of people and capabilities -- in what locations -- to perform tomorrow's missions -- whatever they may be.  I would like to have ourselves postured -- and this is primarily speaking of U.S. forces -- to have ourselves in a position that we can respond quickly with whatever capability we might need for the future.  And this means going back and looking at all the assumptions that went into our force disposition -- wherever it may be.   Whether it's in Hawaii, in Japan, Korea -- those places where we actually have forces -- and to see if it's appropriate for the region.  Obviously, this involves discussion with the host nations, and to see if we're in position to deal with today and tomorrow's challenges, as opposed to yesterday's challenges.  So, that's a very long answer but it probably encapsulates what I see as the major challenges and what I intend to do about them.

APTN:  Thanks.  If we can come back to terrorism: there has been growing cooperation in the region in cracking down on different terrorist cells.  But also, terrorists are themselves joining hands.  There are reports of JI joining hands with the Abu Sayyaf Group.  How concerned are you about these latest reports? Is there anything more that the U.S. military can do to further this cooperation?           

Admiral Fallon:  Well, in the business of terrorism worldwide, I believe that one of the motivations for the cooperation that you highlight is that people in many countries are beginning to recognize that the terror groups, although they may have different objectives -- they may be based in various places with different backgrounds -- have many common traits.  The one that stands out in my mind is the seemingly mindless drive to have people put in fear of their lives.  In other words, it seems that the end-state that they are pushing for is just chaos, unease, uncertainty, and anxiety among people throughout the world.  This is, of course, not good; it's not helpful to solving the world's problems or helping people to advance.  These organizations seem to cooperate when it suits them.  Because they are working outside the law in almost every country, they cooperate with other lawless activities -- criminal elements and others -- in manners that suit them to get their agendas done.  This enables them to have a worldwide network.  Some appear to be very well organized, with a very hard-wired connection between them -- the al-Qaeda network; it is pretty well documented that this is a phenomenon of this organization.  There isn't any question at all that this is well connected, well funded, and so forth.  So, I think the example that you offer right here in the Philippines is a probably a good one, where there are several groups who are at odds with the government for one reason or another, and they find consolation and support in helping one another.  To the extent that we in the U.S. can help the Philippine Government and the Armed Forces, or other entities in other countries, in combating this, we are quite willing and ready to put whatever assets and whatever capabilities we may have into this effort, so that we might be able to help.  There is extensive cooperation already ongoing, which you have already noted, between the U.S. Government and the U.S. military and the Philippine Government and other countries here.  I see this continuing to grow because people realize now that this is not a local phenomenon; that there are connections here, and the destabilizing effect that this activity has is not very helpful to them or to their partners.

APTN:   Do you see any shift to more permanent U.S. bases anywhere in the region here right now?

Admiral Fallon:  No, I don't see that at all, but what I see is effort and that's one of reasons I am out here on this visit is to meet with the leadership here to better understand their needs and their concerns; to see if the capabilities that I happen to have some influence over, might be able to help.  I am not really shopping for bases or anything like that, but we're looking to see where we might apply our capabilities that might be helpful.  We have been blessed with a lot of resources in the country.  We do have a very large, complex and capable military, and I think there are aspects that we can help others with, and that's what we're here for.

APTN:  The Taiwan tension: are you more concerned now than perhaps you might have been yesterday that China might assert its force over the island? How do you see developments going in that direction?

Admiral Fallon:  Well, this is an area that's of great concern to many places.  Certainly, in Washington, because as I went through the process of my confirmation hearings in front of the U.S. Congress, I had many questions from the leadership back there about this issue, and there was a lot of concern.  I was asked for my opinions and what I might plan to do about it.  I would take note of the fact that China is a very rapidly growing force.  Certainly, it is becoming a significant power in the region.  I don't know what the desired end-state is; I am not sure that they do either.  They are very vibrant, with, as you know, an immense population.  They have huge resources and they've got a lot of needs.  They are growing in their economic clout.  Their interactions with other nations are becoming much more robust and complex, and this, in and of itself, is not something for undue concern.  I believe that they are beginning to recognize that… They are looking outwards.  They had not done this to a great extent until recent decades, but that is clearly the case now, and they can acknowledge that now.  They are working their way into the world.  They are becoming a power, and we recognize that.  That's a reality of life.  The issue would be of how they plan to position themselves in the world; what are the objectives?  What is the motivation behind this pretty obvious growth in military power?  Is it purely defensive, is it some anxiety, or do they have some other ideas?  I don't know.  I can only take note of the facts I see; a 13 percent increase in the defense budget, on top of a pretty hefty increase last year.  I see them acquiring a lot of high-tech equipment that doesn't particularly appear to be defensive, but again, that's an independent country.  It's got its own timetable for doing things.  We are very sensitive to the issue of Taiwan.  The position of my government is that we ask that no overt steps be taken to upset the status quo.  It seems to me that there are a lot of reasons why China and the people on the island of Taiwan ought to have lots of cooperation.  We see tremendous growth in economic interests both ways.  We see things like this recent opening of scheduled airline travel between the countries.  There are mutual interests and individual interests in other countries: China-Japan and Taiwan-Japan, Taiwan-Korea and Korea-Japan, Korea-Taiwan, and so this complex web of relationships, it seems to me, ought to be stabilizing rather than destabilizing.  That's the kind of atmosphere that I would like to encourage.  I see no reason, or certainly, no value whatsoever in having any kind of a military interaction between Taiwan and China.  It makes no sense.  So, I want to understand this situation to the best of my ability, and figure out how we can be helping to defuse the tension and to move forward.  I think that some steps are certainly more helpful than others, and one step that I saw that was distinctly unhelpful was this proclamation of an anti-secession piece of legislation that was pushed through in China.  Maybe events of the last couple of weeks might cause them to have some pause about some of the actions like this.   As we see, there was a movement, as you are probably aware, of the EU to consider removing the embargo on weapons, but now there are maybe some second thoughts about this occurring with the EU.  This is probably not very surprising in view of the recent step to do this anti-secession law.  So, my observation is that it is a very complex issue.  There are many more reasons to be non-belligerent, and to be cooperative and helpful to one another than there are to be going the other way.   I would certainly like to help be a part of setting the conditions that will move us forward in a positive manner, rather than taking steps in the other direction.

APTN:  And the Korean Peninsula: Do you have any comments right now?

Admiral Fallon:  I just visited Korea. I spent several days. I met with the Minister of Defense of South Korea and most of the military leadership.  With General Laporte, who is our Commander of U.S. Forces there, I had a chance to watch the U.S.-Korean combined forces doing an exercise, which demonstrated to me a very firm level of commitment, mutual understanding, and willingness, a desire to work together between the two forces.  I think that's really a critical part of the whole strategy with Korea.  The North Korean government has demonstrated a track record of, shall we say, less than predictable decision-making -- in their statements, and in their actions. This declaration recently that they have nuclear weapons capability may or may not be true.  We certainly know from many sources that they appear to have been working on this.  Maybe they had nuclear weapons.  It's not particularly helpful, it seems to me, to stability in the region or the world, because of the unpredictability based on their past performance and approach to the outside world.  As the entire world knows, it's a very insular, isolated country that appears to be reclusive.  Certainly, by every external appearance, they are not doing much for their own people.  They spend a ton of resources on armaments and defense.  It doesn't appear there is much else going on that would be helpful to people.  But, this is something we have to deal with.  If you look at the contrast between North and South Korea, it's like day and night; it's just incredible.  I had a chance to see this close up.  I went to the border and had the chance to observe into North Korea.  I have not been on the ground up there, but I certainly traveled throughout South Korea and I couldn't imagine any place in the world which has more activity, or more growth going on than I saw there.  And so, for anyone watching this from the outside, you see these two states, these two nations -- I don't think many people would hesitate very long to decide which they would prefer to be a part of.  That's easy.  So, we have a role to play here.  That role would be, I think, from the Pacific Command, making sure that we are covered against their negative contingency, or if something should happen again as happened in 1940.  As you know, we still do not have a firm peace solution; there is an armistice that's ongoing.  The U.N. is a key part of this.  They're still in place and they have procedures to help keep this armistice going.  And so we have to have a capability in place to deal with the tension of their military.  On the other hand, again, just look at the contrast.  We want to see what we can do that might help to move forward and solve the problems in the region.

I'll mention one other thing that's challenging and a little disturbing about North Korea. They do have some very capable, well-developed technical systems for delivery -- potential delivery -- of weapons of mass destruction.  Their ballistic missile program is a great concern.  It's one of the few in the world in the hands of people that give us reason to pause.  And that's a concern, if in fact they do have nuclear weapons, and if they would marry up those weapons with these delivery systems, and if they were to proliferate those systems to other nations who might use them in the wrong way, then this is a real concern.  And it seems to me that the approach here needs to be a cooperative one with other nations in the region that have interests here.  And they're pretty obvious; the border states: China, Russia, South Korea, Japan nearby, and certainly the U.S.  So, the Six-Party Talks that had been under way, are not making a whole lot of progress of late, but I just recently met, in fact, had dinner with, Ambassador Hill, the current U.S. Ambassador in South Korea, who is moving to Washington to be the regional man in the State Department with responsibility for the Six-Party Talks.  Chris Hill is a very bright guy, very interested, very knowledgeable about the region, and in fact, he's down here traveling in the Philippines to expand his horizons in Asia.  So, we're hopeful that we'll be able to get moving with the Six-Party Talks.  And if this works or something like that, it seems to me that the solution here is likely to be a regional engagement with interested nations to figure out how to offer a combination of incentives to North Korea to get moving, get into the modern world, and join the group of responsible states that we'd like to see.  But its one that is not predictable, from my view, very easily, one in which we have to be cautious but, at the same time, we do whatever we can to move this area of crisis forward so that we can come up with a better solution in the end.

APTN:  You also talked about the cooperation with the Philippine Government here.  What about the cooperation with the Indonesian military?  There had been some movement in this direction before...

Admiral Fallon:  I think that out of many things that are disturbing and sad in this tragedy with the tsunami, some good things have emerged.  One of things that has great potential is that, in the wake of this disaster, there is this almost universal effort of people around the world to come together to provide resources to help the people to recover in this area.  A very, very strong part of that was the U.S. contribution.  We had the ability -- we do have the ability and capability -- to move the food quickly, and we did that to put in place very rapidly a significant infrastructure that would help in recovery efforts.  I don't think that effort has been unnoticed by people in this region.  The reports I've seen first-hand from people who had been involved in this are very, very encouraging, and very positive.  So, I would like to build on that goodwill to move forward.  There have been discussions, negotiations; you're probably aware that Secretary of State Rice recently lifted a prohibition for IMET funding.  It's not a very great of money, but I think it's very significant to re-establish a relationship whereby we can start building ties back to the military in Indonesia.  I would like to take advantage of this, and the climate to encourage the kind of cooperation we need.  If you look at the facts: the nation of Indonesia stretches for thousands of miles.  It's got the largest Muslim population in the world.  Parts of it are susceptible to terrorist organizations, we know that, and yet, it's a country that is struggling with a lot of challenges but vast potential.  So, I'd like to see what we could do to capitalize on that situation.  I see some very positive trends and we will be working hard.  I'm anxious to have the opportunity, if I am invited, to visit down there and to see first-hand for myself what I'm hearing of this really encouraging atmosphere. 

APTN:  Just one more follow-up question: Did you offer any assistance to Indonesia following this latest earthquake?

Admiral Fallon:  For this event that occurred last night?  We've asked our staff -- in consultation with our Embassy in Jakarta -- to see if there are any capabilities needed.  To date, in fact, I just spoke with them on my way over here by car, we have not had any requests for specific assistance yet, but we're standing by and, if there is a need, we will respond quickly.

APTN:  Thank you very much, sir.

Admiral Fallon:  Okay.  Thank you.

(end transcript)