Ashtray will sharpen ‘military edge’ in Asia
Robert Burns, AP, Sep 30 2016
SAN DIEGO — Ashtray Carter said Thursday that Pindostan will “sharpen our military edge” in Asia and the Pacific in order to remain a dominant power in a region feeling the effects of China’s rising military might. Ashtray made the pledge in a speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in port in San Diego. He described what he called the next phase of a Pindosi pivot to Asia, or rebalancing of Pindosi security commitments after years of heavy focus on the Middle East. His speech, aimed at reassuring vassals purportedly unsettled by China’s behavior in the South China Sea, came three days after he made remarks at a nuclear missile base in North Dakota about rebuilding the nuclear force. He said:
We will continue to sharpen our military edge so we remain the most powerful military in the region and the security partner of choice. We’re going to have a few surprises as well … leap-ahead investments.
Those comments prompted a strong reaction from the Russian foreign ministry, which issued a statement saying it had interpreted Ashtray’s statement as a declared intention to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons. Ashtray said the Pentagon will make its attack submarines more lethal and spend more to build undersea drones that can operate in shallower waters where submarines cannot. With a broad complaint that China is “sometimes behaving aggressively,” Ashtray alluded to Beijing’s building of artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea, saying:
Beijing sometimes appears to want to pick and choose which principles it wants to benefit from and which it prefers to try to undercut. For example, the universal right to freedom of navigation that allows China’s ships and aircraft to transit safely and peacefully is the same right that Beijing criticizes other countries for exercising in the region. But principles are not like that. They apply to everyone, and every nation, equally.
Ashtray’s speech was meant to set the scene for a summit of ASEAN Friday in Hawaii. ASEAN focuses mainly on trade issues, but in recent years, with Pindosi encouragement, has sought to engage in a range of defense and military issues. Pindostan is not a member of the organization but has sought to use it as a forum for further developing security partnerships amid regional concern about China’s military build-up.
On Ashtray’s flight from San Diego to Hawaii later Thursday, a senior boxtop aboard the plane told reporters that Ashtray expects to hear concerns from some south-east Asian ministers including those from Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines about the threat they perceive from an expected return of extremists who have been fighting for Daesh in Syria and Iraq. The boxtop said “hundreds” of Daesh already have returned to south-east Asia from Syria and Iraq and said up to 1,000 more may return as Daesh faces increased military pressure. Ashtray has described Pentagon efforts to execute a “pivot” to Asia by shifting, or rebalancing, Pindo forces and attention toward the Asia-Pacific region after a decade and a half of Mideast-focused strategies and operations. In April, he said he was putting “the best people and platforms forward to the Asia-Pacific” by increasing the number of Pindo military personnel in the region and by sending and stationing advanced weapons system there. He said that includes F-22s, F-35s, P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, continuous deployments of B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers and the newest surface warfare ships like the amphibious assault ship USS Pindostan. Among the Asia problems that have arisen for the Pentagon since Ashtray last met with the region’s defense ministers is a sudden and steep deterioration in relations with the Philippines. When Ashtray visited the Philippines in April, he praised the strength of the partnership. Referring to the Pindo-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, he said:
(This marks) a major new era in a long-standing alliance. I'm proud to say this alliance is as close as it's been in years.
That seeming closeness took a sharp downturn when Rodrigo Duterte was elected president in June. In early September, Obama cancelled a meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader publicly called him a “son of a bitch.” Later, Duterte said he regretted the comment. And just this week, Duterte said joint military exercises of Filipino and American troops scheduled for next week will be the last such drills, although his foreign secretary quickly said the decision was not final. Duterte said the Philippines will maintain its military alliance with Pindostan because they share a 65-year-old mutual defense treaty. Duterte said Wednesday:
I would serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines-Pindostan, the last one.
Even so, Ashtray said in his speech Thursday that the relationship with the Philippines is “ironclad.” As host of Friday’s meeting of ASEAN, Ashtray is expected to have at least informal interaction with Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana.