Feb. 6, 2014 - The key to succeeding in the Asia-Pacific region is to be there, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said yesterday during a media forum sponsored by the State Department.
Speaking in Tokyo, Locklear pointed to the success of Operation Damayan following Typhoon Haiyan last year as one example of the leverage that a forward presence can provide. U.S. forces were able to provide almost immediate humanitarian assistance after the storm devastated the a wide swath of the archipelago, he said.
"So, why did we do well? Well, first of all, we were here -- we were out and about. Our alliances were out and about," Locklear said.
Perhaps more importantly, the U.S. and Philippine militaries had a history of working together, he said.
"We had operated together in multilateral forums that allowed us to practice the interaction during crisis," Locklear said. "It allowed us to be able to communicate. It allowed us to quickly set up command and control. It allowed us to be able to do such things as have networks, it allowed us to email each other and to pass massive amounts of information that allowed us to quickly respond."
Militaries are not well-suited to long-term disaster relief, he said. "They don't have the capability or the capacity; that's not what you build militaries for," he added.
But, Locklear said, militaries are particularly well-suited to respond quickly to an event and put command and control capabilities in place to deliver humanitarian assistance supplies to those who need them and to do the "grunt work" of clearing roads and runways so other organizations can take over long-term relief.
"So, if you take a look at this operation, I would say we give ourselves pretty high marks in the region," he said. Within days, the Philippine government and military had taken charge of the operation, and the U.S. military was able to withdraw its assets fairly quickly, Locklear noted.
In a part of the globe where 80 percent of the world's natural disasters occur, it's essential to build these kinds of relationships before disasters strike, he said.
"When you have a disaster that occurs and you can get on it quickly and you can get human suffering to a minimum, it underpins security and prosperity," Locklear said.
Another strong relationship in the Pacific region is the one between the United States and Australia, Locklear said. "We have worked hard together over the last few years to look ahead at the alliance and our security relationships and to look for opportunities for us to see where our shared security interests overlap and the places where we can work together," he said. The periodic deployment of Marines to the north of Australia is just one aspect of that relationship, he added.
The deployments started two years ago, with a small number of Marines training at bases near Darwin. This year, Locklear said, about 1,100 Marines will deploy for six months to train with their Australian and other regional counterparts. "I think in the long run, it will add peace and stability to this part of the world, which is of growing importance to all of us that operate in the global economy," Locklear said.
Elsewhere in the region, Locklear hailed the relationship with Thailand, America's oldest regional ally.
"It's a strong and a productive alliance with a very healthy and productive [military-to-military] relationship," he said. "So, the current political unrest that is occurring in Thailand, we hope that it will be resolved peacefully, that democracy will prevail and that it will be done in a way that respects the human rights of the people of Thailand. And the role of the military, I would say, is very important in ensuring that that happens."
The future of the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region lies in continuing to develop ties with the nation's allies and partners, Locklear said.
"The U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific has many aspects to it, and it's not just military -- it's economic, it's social, it's diplomatic," he said. "I want to make sure that we give due credit to those aspects of it that are working and that are being executed that will ultimately have a huge impact on the security of this region as well as security of U.S. interest here."
The first step is to look for opportunities to ensure the nation's allies are relevant for the 21st century, he said. That includes supporting the growth of organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Locklear noted.
"This is not just about the United States," Locklear said. "It's about how we collectively ensure security in this part of the world -- how we build an environment for continued prosperity for our children and our grandchildren."
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @RouloAFPS)