Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today heralded Indonesia as a leader in its region and pledged U.S. support to help the country continue its military reforms and build airlift and maritime capabilities.
The secretary landed here this morning to meet with Indonesia's president and its defense and foreign ministers.
He held a short news conference alongside Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and later spoke to the Indonesian Council on World Affairs. In both events, the secretary reaffirmed the two countries' friendship and said he considers Indonesia "an important regional leader with global reach."
"Our relationship with Indonesia has made great strides in the past few years, and I have every expectation that it will continue to do so in the near and far future," Gates said.
Gates' first visit to Indonesia comes at a time when the government here is reforming its military and national security programs. The country is pulling its military out of domestic policing functions and is backfilling those roles with a police force. It also is revamping its budgeting process and removing much of the military's private business influence, and it is putting more separation between its officers and politics, a senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on background before the visit.
The secretary's visit shows the Defense Department is accepting Indonesia's place as a pivotal country in the region, the official said. The country is key to regional security because of its strategic location astride a number of key international maritime straits, particularly the Malacca Strait.
Discussions here today centered on ways the United States can work more closely with the Indonesian military, Gates said, specifically helping the country's military continue its reformation and develop capabilities in the airlift and maritime domains.
Indonesia's armed forces total about 350,000, members, according to U.S. State Department figures. The army is the largest branch, with about 280,000 active-duty personnel.
The 250,000-member Indonesian National Police was a branch of the armed forces for several years, but was separated from the military in April 1999.
Indonesia, rebounding after a crippling financial crisis in the late 1990s, has seen a commodity boom, and there is growing self-confidence within in the country. But much of its military equipment is old and in need of repair or replacement. Gates said U.S. help could come in the form of providing training or equipment.
Indonesia has emerged as the third-largest democracy in the world after decades of military-dominated rule. In November 2005, the United States normalized military-to-military relations with the country. Gates said the Indonesian military has become more capable and more professional. He lauded its peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon, Congo, Liberia, Georgia, Nepal and Sudan.
Speaking to the Indonesian Council on World Affairs at the end of the day, Gates called Indonesia's shift "remarkable," considering it took place against the backdrop of a devastating tsunami, one of the world's most severe financial crises, a rise in terrorist activity and a transformation of both the government and military.
These internal changes have played out against the backdrop of overall shifts in the region as a whole, Gates said. Since the end of the Cold War, Asia's security environment has undergone remarkable change, and in recent years, the nations of Asia have, for the most part, achieved unprecedented wealth and stature as they have forged more mature political, economic and military institutions, he said.
As a result, new centers of power have risen alongside new sources of instability. Piracy, ethnic strife and poverty, as well as emerging terrorism, pose the region's threats, Gates said. To combat these challenges, countries must work together, the secretary said.
"What these challenges have in common is that they simply cannot be overcome by one, or even two countries, no matter how wealthy or powerful. They require multiple nations acting with uncommon unity developing areas where each partner can bring its unique capabilities to bear," Gates said.
Gates went on to say that there has been a shift, as well, in the U.S. defense strategy in Asia to one that moves away from a permanent presence and direct action by U.S. forces toward building the capacity of partner nations to better defend themselves. He referenced a mix of military, diplomatic, cultural and humanitarian efforts.
"In this vein, the United States military -- even with ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is engaged with more Asian governments doing more things in more constructive ways than at any time in our history," Gates said.
During the speech to the council, Gates called for an end to the Cold War model of Asian security that put the United States at the center with a series of bilateral alliances with other countries. He cited the need for multilateral alliances instead, in which all countries cooperate.
"This does not mean any weakening of our bilateral ties, but rather enhancing security by adding multilateral cooperation," Gates said.
This multilateral approach, Gates said, will be needed to take on the spread of terrorism and other security threats.
"We live in a world today where the most pressing problems confronting us, ... for the most part, cannot be solved by any single nation," Gates said. "And, therefore, recognition that there are a number of powerful nations and groups of nations that must play a part in solving these problems ... is the first step to begin solving them."
This is the approach the United States has taken in recent years, Gates said.
"I believe that an underlying theme of American history is that we are compelled to defend our security and our interests in ways that, in the long run, lead to the spread of democratic values and institutions," the secretary said. "That is to say, the spread of freedom and security in places like Indonesia both manifests our ideals and protects our interests."
This is Gates' third stop on a nine-day, around-the-world trip to this region that also will include visits to India and Turkey.
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
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