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2010 News Archive

Marine General Stalder Speaks at Tokyo American Center

Feb. 17, 2010

Lieutenant General Keith J. Stalder
Commanding General, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific
Tokyo American Center

(As Prepared)

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me to be here today in front of such a prestigious and knowledgeable audience. As someone who grew up in a very small town in Alaska, population 25, it seems improbable to me to be in such sophisticated company. So I am very humbled by your presence and grateful for your time. Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you today.

I eagerly accepted the opportunity to visit Tokyo this week because it gives me the chance to thank the people of Japan for their friendship and for our Alliance. Our Alliance is absolutely the cornerstone of East Asian security, and I am here first and foremost to express my appreciation.

I also want to acknowledge with gratitude that our Alliance and our partnership are about more than just East Asian security. I have seen first-hand Japan's development and assistance efforts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I have witnessed your contributions at work. They have made an enormous difference. My country, and more specifically the Marine Corps that I represent, have benefitted from Japan's leadership. Thank you for all that you have done and are doing for so many.

The 50th anniversary of our Security Treaty, for me, is the best example of our two countries' partnership and friendship. For 50 years Japan has fulfilled part of its Alliance responsibilities by hosting U.S. bases and personnel and defraying many of the costs associated with having us here. Japan's basing of U.S. military personnel means that millions of Americans have passed through your country and fallen in love with Japan's culture and people. I am one of the service members whose abiding respect for Japan began early in my career during deployments here. I appreciated this extraordinary partnership then, and I appreciate it even more now.

Today, many years after my first deployment to Iwakuni, I am in Tokyo to have a conversation with you about an Alliance that changed the course of history. Put simply, Japan's and the United States' commitment to maintaining peace and security in Asia has led to 50 years of miraculous economic, social, and political growth.

According to a recent United Nations report, in 1960, of the 63 poorest nations in the world, twenty-nine percent were in Asia. By 2001, nearly all the economies of Asia had climbed out of the poorest group, and three - Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore - were among the richest in the world.

And what made the Asian economic miracle possible?

I submit that the single most important contributor to the Asian transformation of the last 50 years was peace. With the exception of the Vietnam conflict and isolated - though truly tragic - outbreaks of localized violence, the last 50 years have seen unprecedented levels of peace and security in East Asia.

The knowledge that the United States was present in Asia, and that the U.S., through its security Alliance with Japan, was committed to maintaining stability in the region, allowed East Asian countries, including Japan, to focus their national wealth and human capital on development, rather than on defense.

Make no mistake. The prosperity that Asia knows today would not have been possible without the calm security environment encouraged by our Alliance. As I said, I am in Tokyo this week first and foremost to thank Japan. But I am also here, as I am every few months, to have sobering conversations with your country's military and civilian leaders.

While the threats to the peace and security of East Asia today are in some ways different from those of 1960, they are still profound. Let us start with North Korea. I need not explain to a Japanese audience why and how North Korea is a threat. That so many of your citizens have been imperiled or harmed by North Korea's predatory practices over several decades is evidence enough of the dangerous behavior of that country. North Korea maintains one of the world's largest armies, it is actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and its missile program is a real danger to Japan.

When you put North Korea's provocative behavior together with its missiles, and then realize Pyongyang says it is capable of producing nuclear devices, the sobering reality of the present day security situation is quite clear. As you know, the United States bases about 28,500 military personnel in the Republic of Korea as a deterrent to cross border attacks and to train with the Korean military.

Were there ever a security emergency in the area, or an outbreak of full scale hostilities, the U.S. and other countries would augment those forces to provide support and specialized capabilities.

I should point out here that one of Third Marine Expeditionary Force's roles would be to help ensure the security of civilians in the Republic of Korea, including the large number of Japanese citizens there.

Some recent press stories in the U.S. claim that the Marines are on Okinawa primarily to prepare to fight in Korea. That assertion is of course untrue. Okinawa Marines train to respond to dozens of different emergencies and contingencies.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the presence of quickly deployable, superbly trained and equipped, highly mobile Marines on Okinawa is a strong deterrent to the North Korean regime. That deterrence benefits two countries more than any other - the Republic of Korea, and Japan. Now if North Korea is a clear and present threat, China is more ambiguous. Let me be clear, as a military man, I do not consider the present Chinese government or military a threat. They have said they do not have aggressive intentions, and I take them at their word. A country that has contributed so much to the world's culture and knowledge has much more to contribute in the future.

President Obama has stated that the United States and China have a relationship that includes elements of both cooperation and competition. He has stressed that the United States wants a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship with China.

My goal at Marine Forces Pacific is for a military-to-military relationship with China that reflects President Obama's aspirations.

Having said all this, I am a military officer, and I am obligated to look ahead. I am paid to study capabilities, and to try to anticipate future intentions. The United States and the international community remain uncertain about China's future. As China's material wealth and military capabilities improve, will China seek to pursue its interests in ways that are problematic to other nations?

Alternatively, if China's growth slows, could it precipitate social instability that would affect the security and prosperity of the entire region? The United States needs to take into account both possibilities.

By Beijing's own admission, China's defense budget grew by 14.9 percent in 2009, continuing two decades of double-digit annual percentage increases. China's defense budget is now the second largest in the world. Beijing announced a $70.6 billion budget in 2009, but the U.S. Department of Defense estimates actual Chinese military-related spending may have been $150 billion, or more.

To give you an idea of the kind of high-end military capabilities China is developing, in January 2007 China tested an anti-satellite weapon. The United States, Japan, and many other countries requested an explanation of that test, but we have not received one we consider satisfactory. Incidents such as that weapons test, the lack of transparency about China's military development and budget decisions, and difficulties we have encountered sustaining a military-military relationship, cause me concern.

In forums such as this one, there is always a great deal of talk about North Korea and China, but I also want to spend a minute highlighting the threats we do not yet recognize. When I joined the Marine Corps in 1972, Poland's and Estonia's eventual membership in NATO was unimaginable. A three star general - me - having a friendly relationship with Vietnam's military leaders was unthinkable. And a peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt was still a long way away.

In 1972, Afghanistan, the Taliban, Slobodan Milosevic, and Radavan Karadzic were still nowhere on anyone's radar screen.

If there is one thing history has taught me, it's how un-proficient we are at predicting what the "next big threat" will be. Since we are proven to be so bad at predicting future threats, we must strive to be adaptive and ready for a wide variety of scenarios.

How do we maintain security in an unpredictable world? We make it clear that we will protect our and our allies' interests. Our capabilities and readiness must be absolutely unmistakable. If potential troublemakers are convinced the price to pay for misbehavior will be high, perhaps the threats will never develop in the first place.

How do we know how many antagonists in this region decided not to get too far out of line because they were worried about how the U.S., based nearby in Japan, would respond? The number, I suspect, is significant. Threats exist, and our Alliance exists to deter and defeat the threats. How do we do that? Well, the U.S. military does it by being present, capable, and well intentioned.

Present means we are in the neighborhood, day-in and day-out. We know our way around, we know the local customs, we have friends in the local militaries, and we train for local conditions. That's being present.

As far as capable, that means that we can do what we need to do. We have the right people, equipment, and transportation to do our jobs, and everyone, especially the bad guys, knows it.

And well intentioned means that we will be fair. The United States military is an impartial presence in the area, forming relationships with dozens of countries, promising to be there when we're needed, bringing some old enemies and competitors closer together. The United States military has no interest in Asia beyond encouraging security. That makes us powerful, because our multitude of bilateral relationships forms an equilibrium that allows the region to move forward.

But what happens if you disturb that equilibrium? What happens if people think you are less present than you once were, or less capable, or less willing? The equilibrium could lose balance, countries could look for other ways to feel secure, and the loser, first and foremost, would be Japan, the richest country in Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the United States is blessed with five Treaty allies in the region: Australia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Japan.

All of our Alliances are important, but the linchpin is Japan, because our bases in Japan balance the entire region.

It is our presence here that creates the equilibrium that has served Asia so well. It is our presence here that balances influences from competitors and potential adversaries. And it is our presence here that has allowed Japan to focus its resources on diplomatic and economic power - what we sometimes call soft power - and to dedicate over 99% of its Gross Domestic Product to non-defense expenditures.

Which brings us to the foundation of our Alliance, the core of the agreement between our two countries. When we strip all the other, very important cooperative efforts away, the bedrock of our Alliance is quite basic: Our Treaty commitment to Japan means that whenever a soldier, marine, sailor, or airman swears an oath to support and defend our Constitution of the United States, that person takes on the obligation to defend Japan if it is ever attacked. Our service members are prepared to risk their lives in defense of Japan. Unlike in NATO, Japan does not have a reciprocal obligation to defend the United States.

The United States fully understands and accepts this asymmetry, but it is important to remind ourselves that it exists. In return for U.S. defense guarantees, Japan provides bases, opportunities to train, and, in more recent times, financial support.

I want to make this clear. All of these Marines standing in this room, all of my Marines on Okinawa, are willing to die if it is necessary for the security of Japan. That is our role in this Alliance. Japan does not have a reciprocal obligation to defend the United States, but it absolutely must provide the bases and training that U.S. forces need.

Fifty years of Marines and other service members being willing to give their lives for Japan has brought Japan and the entire region unprecedented wealth and social advancement.

We are proud to be associated with that, and we are very conscious of the benefits to our own country thanks to the Asian economic miracle. But I must, in all candor, say that, at least in the press reporting I have read, an acknowledgement of what the U.S. has promised and provided in return for basing and training agreements seems to have been underreported. Japan derives great benefit from our Alliance.

If our Alliance is the cornerstone of security in Asia, and if the requirement is that the U.S. military be present, capable, and well intentioned, the next question is, what kinds of military capabilities are required for the U.S. to fulfill its Treaty obligations?

There are some in Japan who say that the Navy that is based here is enough of a deterrent force. As someone who has served deployments on aircraft carriers, let me say that the technology at the disposal of the U.S. Navy is both sophisticated and devastating to adversaries.

Our outstanding sailors and naval aviators are a key component of deterrence in this region, but they are limited by what they can accomplish from the sea and using their aircraft.

And then there is the Air Force. Some of you know, I'm a fighter pilot. I flew F-4s and F-18s for most of my career, and I still take a helicopter up once in a while. The capabilities of our aircraft are stunning. The combat power of the U.S. Air Force, particularly when it combines efforts with the Japan Air Self Defense Force, is breathtaking.

And yet, if we have learned nothing else over the last 50 years, it is that air power and sea power alone are inadequate to fight wars, and are inadequate as deterrents.

In the days immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center, operations in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban were of necessity conducted exclusively with air power. Air power was able to destroy all Taliban and Al Qaeda targets, but it had no effect on the willingness of the enemy to discontinue fighting. U.S. ground forces were required to defeat the Taliban government.

And regardless of what you may think about the Iraq conflict, and I realize there are different opinions in this room, certainly a lesson from Iraq is the limits of air and sea power. Only ground forces were able to defeat Saddam Hussein's forces in Iraq.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the Asia Pacific, U.S. ground forces are Marines. The U.S. army maintains soldiers in the Republic of Korea, but those soldiers are not expeditionary for the purpose of responding to emergencies elsewhere.

They are largely dedicated to remaining on the Korean Peninsula in support of the combined defense. This means the only deployable U.S. ground forces between Hawaii and India are the U.S. Marines on Okinawa. Those are the ground forces assigned to defend Japan and to maintain security in East Asia. The notion that "we like the Alliance but we don't need or want ground forces" won't work.

It is impossible to deter, defend and defeat without the ability to deploy ground forces rapidly in times of crisis. The U.S. cannot meet its Alliance obligation to defend Japan and maintain regional peace and security without ground forces equipped with the appropriate capabilities and training. Without expeditionary ground forces, the deterrent power of our Alliance would be greatly weakened.

One more thing about ground forces. Their mission is not just about conflicts. Look at Haiti today. Think of the response when Mount Pinatubo blew up in the Philippines, or the efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Recall responses to cyclones in Bangladesh and Burma. Central to all these humanitarian relief efforts was the Marine Corps.

May I interject here how proud the Marine Corps is to be operating with the Japan Self Defense Force in Haiti at this very moment. That your government was willing to send your forces half way around the world to help people in urgent need sends a powerful message about the values of the people of Japan.

Every time the Third Marine Expeditionary Force deploys on a humanitarian assistance mission, we are assisted by the citizens of Okinawa. Our bases in Okinawa make these life-saving missions possible, and have resulted in perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives being saved in the last fifty years. Geography matters. Okinawa is in the center of an earthquake and cyclone region. There is probably nowhere better in the world from which to dispatch Marines to natural disasters. Hours matter during such tragedies. Timed saved means lives spared in the aftermath of these terrible events. Humanitarian assistance is also a key means of supporting stability. Disaster relief missions often involve assisting poorer governments lacking the capacity or capability to manage a crisis. By helping those governments meet needs and rebuild lives, we contribute to political stability that sustains economic growth throughout the wider region.

Looking to the next 50 years of our Alliance, Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief is an area where the U.S. and Japan have great potential to unite our capabilities and make a difference in the lives of millions of people, as we strengthen peace and stability. Humanitarian assistance is important because it enhances political stability, reinforces to the world our fundamental values, and provides an answer to our enemies who lie about our intentions. But it also reinforces deterrence. When the impressive power and capability of a United States Marine Air Ground Task Force can land at the site of a disaster within hours or days, our competitors notice.

This leads me to the purpose of the Marine Corps, which is to be expeditionary, amphibious, and naval - the Navy-Marine team is the best in the world at what we do.

Credible combat power, whether for deterrence or warfighting, rests on three cornerstones: the right capabilities, at a high level of readiness, and postured for rapid employment. The Marine Corps' combination of capabilities, readiness, and posture make it ideally suited to be Asia's emergency response force.

The fundamental Marine Corps organizational structure is the Marine Air Ground Task Force, in which war fighting elements of aviation forces, ground combat forces, and logistics forces all operate under a single commander. This unique organizational structure serves the Alliance extremely well. A Marine Air Ground Task Force can be tailored to every mission requirement.

It is inherently maritime in nature, extremely flexible and adaptive, and works well with coalition and other forces.

It provides the greatest combat power for the minimum force footprint and it is battle tested around the world. It is the perfect organizational model for Marines in the Pacific. It is the perfect model to support Alliance objectives of deterring, defending, and defeating potential adversaries.

Of course, in order for the integrated forces of a Marine Air Ground Task Force to be able to deploy on short notice and to be ready for a wide variety of security and natural disaster contingencies, all the elements of the task force must train together continuously.

It is this training requirement that mandates co-location of the constituent parts of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. That is a fancy way of saying that a Marine Air Ground Task Force is a lot like a baseball team. It does not do you any good to have the outfielders practicing in one town, the catcher in another, and the third baseman somewhere else. They need to practice together, as a unit.

It's the same with a Marine Air Ground Task Force.

The ground forces, the helicopters, and the logistics elements need to practice together, week in and week out, if they are going to effectively combine those capabilities when they respond to emergencies.

As I travel around Asia, I get questions about what I mean by training with our helicopters. People ask, "How hard is it to get on and off a helicopter?" Well, to answer that question specifically, it can actually be very difficult to get on and off a helicopter if people are shooting at you, or if there is a food riot in the area, or if you are having to climb down a long rope suspended from a hovering aircraft.

But our helicopters do much more than move people and supplies. Our combat helicopters provide close air support by attacking enemy positions that endanger troops on the ground. Surveillance helicopters provide navigational and targeting support. Heavy lift helicopters carry suspended pallets of life saving supplies, and then lower those pallets to Marines waiting on the ground.

In other words, our helicopters are integral to everything we do when we respond to both humanitarian and security situations. Those responses require skill and precision.

Our ground forces must train consistently with the helicopters that support them. Otherwise, when we respond to a contingency, mistakes will happen, the mission may fail, and people will die.

The helicopter is to the Marine as the horse was to the cavalryman of the old west- the horse did everything for and with him. He lived, slept, ate, fought, trained and died with his horse. Without it, he was not a cavalryman at all and could not perform his mission.

Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps this is a good place for me to say a few things about Okinawa, because our bases there are absolutely vital to this Alliance and to Japan's national security.

Okinawa is very important because, as I said earlier, geography matters. If you want to know why the Marine Corps maintains forces on Okinawa, look at a map. Transit time by sea from Okinawa to mainland Japan is one-to-two days, to Korea, two days, to the South China Sea, three days, and to the Strait of Malacca, five days. From California, transit time to any of those locations is 21 days or more.

When the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is aboard ship near Okinawa, on any given day there is a 100% chance they are about a day's transit time to either a U.S. defense Treaty ally, a threat to regional stability, or a perennial disaster relief location.

That's why, in order to fulfill our Alliance responsibilities to defend Japan, the Marine Corps - the expeditionary, rapidly deployable branch of the U.S. military and the only forward deployed and available U.S. ground force between Hawaii and India - must be based on Okinawa and must have its helicopters near its ground and logistics forces.

Ladies and gentlemen: Other nations are watching. Foreign governments are watching to see whether the United States-Japan Alliance is strong enough to find a solution to the current issues at hand and ensure that the awesome deterrent power of the U.S. Marine Corps remains based on Okinawa for decades to come.

Potential enemies of Japan and the U.S. are watching to see if there are chinks in this Alliance, because if it can be weakened today, maybe it can be weakened further tomorrow.

Our friends, those who share our values of liberty and our respect for human rights, are also watching. They want to remain firmly in our corner, but if they begin to suspect that our Alliance is not as strong as it once was, or that the United States is not as able as it was to ensure security in East Asia, one of two things is going to happen.

Either those countries are going to drastically increase their defense budgets to make up for their lack of faith in the Alliance's ability to defend them, leading to a regional arms race, or those nations will look for another country, and another political philosophy, to partner with. Either of those developments would be very dangerous for Japan and a serious threat to the prosperity and stability of the region.

The world is watching to see how committed the U.S. and Japan are to regional security and to a 50-year old Alliance. This is a national security issue for the Asia-Pacific region, not a local issue. For me, as the Commander of Marine Forces Pacific, it is an operational issue.

For the U.S. and Japan it is a vital regional stability issue - the greater good of many nations. It is an Alliance issue. An economic prosperity issue. It is about our collective futures in the most important region on earth. It is not just about a local basing issue.

People ask me occasionally if I am worried about some of the current discussions in Japan. I am not. I know that two nations who share our core values will find a way to sustain 10,000 U.S. Marines on Okinawa with the capabilities they require, while enabling the residents there more fully to benefit from the peace and prosperity that all of us have worked so hard for.

I know - indeed I am convinced - that one of the greatest and most important Alliances in history will be even stronger in years to come than it is today, and that the U.S.-Japan Alliance will continue to be the cornerstone of our security policy in Asia and beyond.

Thank you.