I respectfully ask you to cosponsor the Asia-Pacific Defense Commission Act, which would authorize the President to establish a commission of defense and security officials from the United States and their counterparts from willing partner nations in the Asia-Pacific region. The purpose of the commission would be to deepen cooperation between the United States and its regional allies to improve our ability to address joint threats.
Many top military leaders have described the Asia-Pacific region as the most consequential region to America’s future. The region is home to over 60 percent of the world’s population, encompassing roughly 40 countries with diverse social, economic, and security profiles. Sixty-five percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, with Indonesia home to more Muslims than any other country in the world. Eight of the world’s 10 busiest container ports are located in the region, and almost 30 percent of the world’s maritime trade transits the South China Sea annually, including approximately $1.2 trillion in ship-borne trade bound for the United States.
While the region offers the United States opportunities, it also presents challenges and threats.
North Korea—with its unpredictable leadership, nuclear weapons program, ballistic missile programs, and large conventional military—constitutes an immediate threat to allies like South Korea and Japan and to U.S. troops stationed in the region, while posing a growing threat to the U.S. homeland. An increasingly assertive China presents a complex array of challenges, including through its provocative conduct in the South and East China Seas. As individuals from Southeast Asia and South Asia who traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIL return home to their native countries, the threat of violent extremism in the region is of rising concern.
Given the size and importance of the Asia-Pacific, promoting security and stability in the region is a core U.S. national security interest. Historically, under presidents of both parties, the U.S. has maintained a strong military and diplomatic presence in the region to reassure allies, deter adversaries, and respond swiftly to crises. The heart of U.S. strategy has been close cooperation and coordination with our regional partners.
These partnerships are an essential component of our effort to confront aggression by North Korea, judiciously manage the rise of China, dismantle terrorist networks, ensure freedom of navigation in international waters, guarantee the free flow of commerce, respond to humanitarian emergencies, and promote respect for the rule of law and adherence to international norms and values.
These security partnerships, which are built on mutual trust, are not self-sustaining. To the contrary, they require U.S. leadership, time, energy, and resources. If we give our allies or adversaries any reason to question our commitment or credibility, we do so at our own peril.
To strengthen these partnerships, the Asia-Pacific Defense Commission Act would authorize the creation of a commission of U.S. defense and security officials and their counterparts from willing regional partner nations. The commission would seek to:
enhance military readiness, including through joint training exercises;
strengthen regional counterterrorism operations;
improve regional maritime security and interdiction capabilities;
bolster regional cybersecurity initiatives;
facilitate defense-related transfers (subject to the Arms Export Control Act); and
strengthen intelligence coordination.
The commission would send a clear signal to allies and adversaries alike that the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region is intensive and enduring.