Asahi Shimbun interview with former U.S. Pacific Command commander

ADM Keating

ADM Timothy J. Keating, USN (Ret.)

The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, today ran a long and long-ranging interview with retired Admiral Timothy J. Keating, U.S. Navy, the former commander of the United States Pacific Command.

Keating’s remarks ran the gamut of topics this blog likes to deal with, from China – U.S. relation, U.S – Japan relations, the U.S. military buildup on Guam, Taiwan Strait security, the situation on Okinawa related to the relocation of the Futenma Marine air station, and more.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, reproduced for you here in whole after the jump.  But first, a few highlights:

  • On China’s naval modernization:  “They’ll never get better than we are. We’re going to work hard to ensure that that’s the case.”
  • Why it is preferable to have U.S. Marines forward-deployed in Okinawa: “Because they’re there now. And neither one of our countries can afford to, in my opinion, undertake the cost attendant to moving those 18,000 Marines from Okinawa to some other location in Japan.”
  • On a “rising China” as a strategic threat to the U.S. and American allies in the Asia-Pacific: “I’d be careful focusing entirely on China. There have been a couple of opportunities, in similar engagements today, where folks tried to concentrate the conversation on the growing Chinese threat and the likelihood of fighting China. I don’t see it that way.  We have to remain strong, the alliance, the forces of our two countries, and those of our two allies and partners in the region. It is not exclusively to counter Chinese military growth.  If China is less forthcoming than we want them to be, if they develop tactics, techniques, procedures or capabilities that could threaten access or deny area access, then we would have to be prepared to respond. But I do not see a situation in the near term that would require specific focus on China.

Marines’ presence in Okinawa ‘preferable but not essential’

By Yoichi Kato Asahi Shimbun Senior Staff Writer


Okinawa Prefecture is a preferred but not essential location for the U.S. Marines if appropriate accommodations can be made elsewhere in Japan, according to retired Adm. Timothy Keating, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

But Keating said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the current placement of the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa is of essential value to both the United States and Japan.

He also said he hopes the stalemate over the Futenma issue will not be seen by others as a “signal of the deterioration of the alliance.”

The following are the excerpts of the interview conducted in Tokyo on April 14:

* * *

Question: What went wrong with the Futenma Relocation Facility (FRF) issue?

Answer: I don’t know. When I got Pacific Command over three years ago, I was briefed by Richard Lawless, who was deputy undersecretary of defense. He explained, in some detail, the agreement. So I developed a general understanding very early, and that was reinforced during my entire time in the Pacific Command. And I saw two of our administrations, the Bush and then the Obama administration, commit to the Defense Policy Review Initiative, AIP (Agreed Implementation Plan) and the Roadmap (United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation, May 1, 2006).

And as the Democratic Party of Japan was replacing the Liberal Democratic Party, I assumed that the agreement would stand. It had been signed by officials in both countries.

And I was surprised as the situation developed. And I would express some disappointment as well because this had been a very thoroughly analyzed, carefully researched and intensely worked agreement.

I understand that the political landscape changed in Japan at large and in Okinawa in particular. And I’m not so naive as to not get the fact that politics can have a dramatic influence on strategic issues.

But we are where we are, and the Hatoyama administration made their announcement. And we wait for what it’s worth, wait with some anxiety for the decision that he will render as to options, coming into May.

I don’t know. I have zero idea what those will be. I’m cautiously . . . well, the best I can sum it is kind of a neutral hope.

I’d be surprised if the decision that he makes would be entirely satisfactory to our government unless it is to sustain the Roadmap. And I’d be surprised if that’s what he announces. So I think that the chance of disappointment remains not insignificant.

Q: What are the important operational requirements for FRF?

A: Logistics, training, movement of troops and supplies, readiness in time of events leading up to potential conflict, and throughput in the event of conflict, at an unclassified level.

Q: And the currently agreed facility fulfills all those requirements?

A: It does. That’s an important point. The replacement of the Futenma airstrip with FRF satisfies operational requirements for the United States Pacific Command.

Q: Why do we need Marines in Okinawa?

A: It’s, at once, simple and complex. The presence of United States forces, forward deployed, has for decades been an unmistakable signal of the strength of our alliance. The Marines are included very much in that.

By being forward deployed, they can respond more quickly, they can participate in all manner of operational exercises, they are close to potential operations that would be humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We have ample examples of that just in the past three years.

They can train with the folks with whom they may have to fight someday, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. A not-insignificant factor is the ability to develop a cultural awareness.

So from war-fighting readiness to partnership to forward presence, to something as subtle but as important as strong bonds of friendship, the placement of Marines in Okinawa is of essential value to the United States and to Japan, I believe.

Q: Why do they have to be in Okinawa instead of another part of Japan?

A: Well, from the position of the United States Pacific Command, it doesn’t have to be Okinawa. Okinawa, because of training opportunities, because of current–because of “sunk cost”–is advantageous, but I would not say it’s essential if there were accommodations made elsewhere, on the Kanto Plain, or I don’t know where else you can go, but it’s either in the big part of Japan or Okinawa.

As long as Marines are forward, that’s OK with the United States Pacific Command.

It would have been OK with me, as commander. I don’t know what Adm. (Robert F.) Willard (the current commander of Pacific Command) had to say about it. I want to emphasize (that) I’m not speaking for him. But in my former position, Okinawa is preferable but not essential.

Q: Preferable in terms of what?

A: Because they’re there now. And neither one of our countries can afford to, in my opinion, undertake the cost attendant to moving those 18,000 Marines from Okinawa to some other location in Japan.

Q: Could you explain more in detail about the actual roles and missions of the Marines? What would they actually do in times of a Korean contingency, for example, or a Taiwan Strait contingency?

A: The Marines represent a unique capability, in my view, in the world. The Marine Air to Ground Task Force, (is) a self-contained, quick, rapidly responsive, very powerful, instrument of national policy. And they live together, they train together, they’re very highly motivated, and they have state of the art equipment.

And by being forward deployed, they’re that much closer to (the areas you mentioned). I wouldn’t restrict them to just those areas that you described, but they are ready to respond on very, very short notice–7/24/365–and their being forward deployed is of great importance to us in the United States, to United States Pacific Command, and also to the countries in the region, I would submit.

I believe (during) the Marines’ presence in Okinawa for 50 years of the latest version of the alliance, peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region is due, in no small part, to the forward presence of U.S. forces and the interoperability of those forces with other friends and allies in the region, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces amongst them.

Q: It’s been reported that Marine units in Okinawa, III MEF or 31st MEU, may go into North Korea during an implosion or some sort of contingency to secure nuclear warheads stored on North Korean soil. Is that a correct explanation of one of the missions of III MEF/31st MEU?

A: I can’t help you there.

Q: The other question being asked is why they can’t pull out to Guam.

A: I’ve been to Guam many times. You know the current plan calls for 8,000 Marines and 5,000 dependents. So, 13,000 to 15,000 people would descend upon Guam. Guam’s population is 175,000 now.

Guam isn’t as robust, their infrastructure isn’t as robust . . . as Okinawa, for example. And so the cost attendant to moving the less than half of the Marines out of Okinawa is very, very high. The estimate range starts at $10 billion. And that’s just for “inside the wire.”

There would be requirements for upgrading roads, the electric power grid, water supply, wastewater, hospitals, schools, and stores, all of them to ensure the appropriate quality of life for the Marines that we would send there.

So is it possible to move more Marines off Okinawa to Guam? I suppose it’s possible. The analysis hasn’t been done, to the best of my knowledge.

And that’s why I come back to where we started our conversation. When I was at Pacific Command, the analysis had been done by both countries, and it indicated that we could support 8,000 Marines and dependents to Guam with mutual financial help, significant financial help.

To move more Marines down there would obviously be more expensive. Is it doable? I suppose. The analysis hasn’t been done. And it would take a lot of time and a lot of money to do the analysis, not to mention the amount of time and money it would take should those extra Marines be moved.

Q: Is it right to understand that the decision to relocate 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam was agreed upon to reduce the burden on Okinawa? It was not because the United States wanted to restructure the forward deployment, was it?

A: There could be tactical advantages to dispersing our force a little bit, the Pacific Command force. And that was viewed as an advantage in the development of the Defense Policy Review Initiative.

It is sovereign territory, of course. There are some training opportunities available down there that may not be available in Okinawa or in the Fuji Operating Area. But all of those would take time to develop.

So, a long answer, there are some operational advantages. There are some tactical advantages. It was a decision made by our governments and we were going to execute, and we would have found a way to make it work.

Q: There is a view in Japan that the United States will eventually pull back its forward deployed forces to the line of Alaska-Hawaii-Guam.

A: I think that plan’s rubbish, if there is a plan. It’s very important for us and for Japan to maintain a healthy footprint of American forces in and around Japan. Naval, Air, Army and Marine Corps. So I am unaware of any planning, and I would say that it is pure speculation, wild speculation. I don’t think it has any basis in fact.

Q: Back to the specifics of FRF, could you give me your views on the Japanese government’s “thinking” to review the current agreement? They are talking about a dispersed redeployment of the current Marines in Okinawa.

Under the “Camp Schwab Hilly option,” a new helipad would be built in the hilly part of Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, and some of the Futenma helicopters would be moved to Tokunoshima island, which is about 200 kilometers north of Okinawa island.

They eventually want to make a huge landfill base off the coast of White Beach in Okinawa to put everything back together.

A: I just don’t know. I heard that just this morning for the first time. And that would be up to our current military planners. I could offer an opinion after I studied it more, but I just don’t know nearly enough about it to give you an informed opinion, and I would be doing you an injustice if I were to try to render that.

Q: Are you frustrated or angry about what’s happening between the two governments?

A: Oh, no, no, I’m not angry. I am, by nature, an optimist. I’m a passionate believer in the value and the strength of the alliance. I think it essential that we, the United States and Japan, sustain this alliance.

We don’t want others watching us to think that the discussions that we’re having now, that they misinterpret these discussions as a signal of the deterioration of the alliance or a signal of weakness.

So I think it is of grave importance that we resolve this issue in a manner that is certain to do no harm to the alliance.

Q: Has any harm been done already?

A: I don’t think so. The alliance has served us as a very powerful tool, in ways big and small, first-, second-, third-, fourth-order effects, for decades now. And it is essential that we preserve that alliance and that it remain strong and vibrant. And I’m optimistic about the long-term strength of the alliance.

Q: Japan and the United States are going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Security Treaty this year. What do you think should be done in terms of updating our alliance?

A: I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it. And I think you know this: We in the United States just published a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and your government is going to publish the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) this summer or fall. So these are extensive reviews by our two countries.

We should not be satisfied with the status quo of the alliance, and we should allow it to be a dynamic, vibrant, flexible entity, and that calls for candor and careful review. And vehicles such as the QDR and NDPG can inform and improve the alliance.

And it may be in fairly small, subtle ways, but, for example, in our QDR we have taken a little bit different look at how we would employ our forces in a fight rather than the two major conflicts, a broader spectrum of warfare. So, too, should the alliance be able to accommodate different kinds of warfare, asymmetric, cyber and the like.

Q: The QDR talked about “anti-access, area denial” being one of the biggest challenges facing the United States. Some people say Japan should increase its submarines to deal with the growing Chinese submarine fleet. Some also say we should enhance our anti-submarine warfare capability to deal with China’s submarine activities.

What do you think Japan can do to help the United States deal with this kind of challenge in the Asia-Pacific region?

A: I’d be careful focusing entirely on China. There have been a couple of opportunities, in similar engagements today, where folks tried to concentrate the conversation on the growing Chinese threat and the likelihood of fighting China. I don’t see it that way.

We have to remain strong, the alliance, the forces of our two countries, and those of our two allies and partners in the region. It is not exclusively to counter Chinese military growth.

If China is less forthcoming than we want them to be, if they develop tactics, techniques, procedures or capabilities that could threaten access or deny area access, then we would have to be prepared to respond. But I do not see a situation in the near term that would require specific focus on China.

Q: What can we read into China’s intentions or plan to construct those aircraft carriers? Some people say it’s just a manifestation of their national pride.

A: Yeah, I suspect that’s part of it. But when I had conversations with Chinese military leaders, I told them that the business of building and training and employing aircraft carriers is very, very difficult. My quote was, “It ain’t as easy as it looks.”

And I invited them to come and ride on an aircraft carrier to see. And they have. And I think they came away suitably impressed with the degree of difficulty.

Q: I think you were once quoted as saying that you’re going to help China build aircraft carriers.

A: The quote was, “You’re welcome to come on board so as to help you develop an understanding of what it takes,” when I was in Beijing. And that’s why I say we followed through on the offer. Not just on aircraft carriers; we put them on our submarines, we let them see, we flew them in a C-17, we let them watch a parachute drop. So, it’s not just carriers that I wanted them to see.

As in command of a joint command, when I was at Pacific Command, I wanted them to understand the breadth and the depth of our capabilities. And it wasn’t to intimidate; it was to inform.

Q: To what extent should Japanese feel threatened by this construction of aircraft carriers by the Chinese?

A: I wouldn’t feel threatened. I would watch it carefully, as we do in the United States. I’d be very clear-eyed about it. But I would not view it as a matter, as a threat to Japan.

Q: I want to ask about your meeting with a Chinese admiral, who talked about dividing the Pacific into two between the United States and China. How serious do you think he was?

A: He wasn’t serious. It was “tongue in cheek.” Yeah, more has been made of that than I think deserves the attention that it’s gotten.

Q: What do you think China’s real strategic intention is?

A: Let me tell you what they told me when I asked them that question. They would say, very simply, “We only want to protect those things that are ours.” And I’d say, “Fair enough.”

Q: But that depends on what is “theirs,” right?

A: Yeah, I mean, there’s room for interpretation there. But as an island nation, Japan, as a nation bordered on both sides, east and west, by large bodies of water, we understand, too, the desire, the requirement, to protect those things that are ours.

Free and unfettered access to the waters, international waters, of the world, free and unfettered access to international air ways, the economic engine that churns, out here in the Asia-Pacific region, is utterly and entirely dependent on maritime access.

So China, understandably, wants to be able to assure that access.

And I think, at the end of the day, that’s what they want. I would prefer, I think many of us would prefer, that they were more open in stating their intentions, that they were more transparent in expressing their mid- to long-term goals. They have chosen, thus far, not to be. And they do so at some risk to peace and stability in the region, in my opinion.

Q: What if their intention was to deny access of other countries to the area beyond Taiwan, which they regard as “theirs”?

A: Well, see, we can’t let them do that. We can’t let them deny us access. We won’t let them deny us access.

Q: So Japan doesn’t have to worry about China gaining military capabilities to deny access to the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific?

A: I’d put it a different way. I would say that as we continue to refine and improve . . . the strength of our alliance, that is something we would keep in mind, and we’ll make sure that it doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. It just can’t happen.

And I’m not being naive; . . . if there is a “clear and present danger,” we will take steps to overcome that danger. We have to. We’d be there for Japan, just as Japan would be there for us.

Q: The nature of deterrence is changing as the nature of the challenges change. How should we transform our deterrence to effectively deal with new kinds of the security challenges, like cyber-attacks and outer space challenges? Do we have to do something totally different from what we have done in the past in terms of alliance capabilities?

A: I don’t think so. I don’t see a requirement for any watershed change or abandoning everything or major parts of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in favor of something else. It is a dynamic world in which we live, and it is a broader spectrum, as the QDR has pointed out, of issues that we have to be prepared to address.

But I think it is a matter of refinement and not a total revamp.

Q: The U.S. strategy toward Asia-Pacific is, as the East Asia Strategy Report (EASR) describes, to prevent the emergence of a hegemon or a group of hegemonic countries that challenge the primacy of the United States in this region. In this regard, isn’t China going to be the hegemonic challenger to the United States?

A: I have seen no indications that would prove that beyond the shadow of a doubt. There are things. China is undertaking certain endeavors that are “of interest” at least, maybe even “of concern.” So we have to pay close attention.

Our transparency would be very important to China. . . . By that I mean all of us in the Asia-Pacific region. They have to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what we’re up to. They have to know that we remain resolute and strong, and that it is not in their interest to confront us. So I just don’t see a short-term hegemonic threat from China.

Q: Japan’s Defense Ministry disclosed on April 13 that China sent 10 ships of the surface action group (SAG) to the sea near Okinawa and explained the activity was “exceptional and unprecedented.” What should we read into these activities?

A: I don’t know. I wouldn’t read too much into it. The reasons are several. For example, Kaijo Jietai (Maritime Self-Defense Force) is out there right now, in some number. The U.S. Navy is out there right now, in some number. Ships of the Indian Navy, ships of the French Navy, the U.K. It’s what navies do. They sail the world’s oceans.

I don’t think it’s insignificant, but I also don’t think it’s . . . a matter of grave concern. It goes back to protecting that which is theirs. As long as it’s done with appropriate intentions, I don’t think it’s a matter about which we should be terribly worried.

We’ll watch them, all of us. We’ll pay attention. We’ll see what they do. We’ll see where they go. But they’re in international water. They’re allowed to be out there.

But the way I kind of balance these eight to 10 ships, we’re out there doing the same thing, in numbers far greater sometimes, and nobody pays much attention.

Q: The Chinese do, don’t they?

A: We want them to. We need them to. They need to. And this goes back to maintaining a position of dealing with China and all other countries of the world from a position of strength. We want to emphasize partnership, we need to be out there, present, all throughout the Asia-Pacific region. We have to be out there, all of us have to be out there, reassuring our friends and allies. And we need to be ready.

And those are all difficult challenges, but they are attainable, they are fulfillable, and I believe they’re essential.

Q: But China is stepping up the operational tempo and actually the magnitude of its operations.

A: Clearly. Clearly.

Q: How much further will they go?

A: Well, they may be building an aircraft carrier. They’ll never get better than we are. We’re going to work hard to ensure that that’s the case.

Q: Finally, the strategic role of Japan. There is an argument emerging in Washington that Japan should go back to basics, meaning the defense of Japan instead of allocating our assets to out-of-area operations, such as the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean or operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And that argument is mainly because the security challenges in this region are getting more serious than in the 1990s or even decade ago.

A: I disagree with your argument. I saw firsthand the many advantages to having a Japanese oiler in the north Indian Ocean when I was in command of the naval forces in the Central Command. It was a terrific capability, and it was a signal, a clear signal, of Japan’s commitment to the struggle against violent extremism.

I very much appreciated the contributions of Kaijo Jietai and the country of Japan. We’re watching firsthand the contributions of Japan in the war on piracy off the coast of Somalia. We’ve seen the benefits of Japanese Air Self-Defense Force C-130s and medical technicians who have deployed to Haiti and brought Americans back to our country.

So those who would advocate for, I would say, a shrinkage–that’s not the most elegant term– but a reduction in global commitments by Japan, I would disagree with the necessity for so doing. And I, in fact, would advocate for continued utilization of Japan’s military capabilities for peaceful purposes around the world.

Q: Thank you very much.


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