In a keynote speech during the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California, Carter explained how Russia and China challenge the United States’ capacity to innovate and change.
“Another kind of innovation for the future … is how we’re responding to Russia, which is one source of today’s turbulence, and [the rise of China], which is driving a transition in the Asia-Pacific,” the secretary said.
One of the pillars of his commitment to the nation as defense secretary, Carter said, is to develop innovative strategies and operational concepts to change how the department deters and responds to geostrategic challenges.
“We must ensure that we and our partners are postured to defeat threats from high-end opponents in a complex set of environments,” he said.
To do so requires innovative strategies and operational plans to defend the United States and strengthen the principled international order that has well served the United States and its friends and allies, including Russia, China and many other countries, for decades, Carter said.
“The principles that serve as that order’s foundation — including peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom from coercion, respect for state sovereignty and freedom of navigation and overflight — are not abstractions,” the secretary said, “nor are they subject to the whims of any one country.”
Some actors, like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Russia, seem intent on eroding these principles and undercutting the international order, Carter said.
China, he added, grows more ambitious in its objectives and capabilities.
“In the face of Russia’s provocations and China’s rise,” Carter said, “we must embrace innovative approaches to protect the United States and strengthen that international order.”
Russia is violating sovereignty in Ukraine and Georgia and is trying to intimidate the Baltic states, and in Syria it is prolonging a civil war, the secretary added.
“At sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace, Russian actors have engaged in challenging activities,” he told the audience, noting that Moscow’s nuclear saber-rattling raises questions about Russian leaders’ commitment to strategic stability.
“We do not seek to make Russia an enemy,”Carter said. “But make no mistake. The United States will defend our interests, and our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords us all.”
Carter said the United States is modernizing its nuclear arsenal to ensure America’s nuclear deterrent, investing in new unmanned systems, a new long-range bomber, and innovation in technologies like the electromagnetic rail gun, lasers and new systems for electronic warfare, space, cyberspace, and others.
“And we’re accordingly transforming our posture in Europe to be more agile and sustainable,” the secretary said.
Approach to China
Turning to the Asia-Pacific, Carter said that for decades the United States has helped create stability in the region, which has enabled its people, economies and countries to prosper.
“The single-most influential factor in shaping the region’s future is how China rises and relates to the principled order that has undergirded regional peace, stability and security,” the secretary said.
As a rising power China will have growing ambitions, Carter said, but how it behaves will be the true test of its commitment to peace and security.
Nations across the region are watching China’s actions in areas like the maritime domain and cyberspace, and the United States is working on its own and with allies to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific as China rises, the secretary said.
On its own, America is using its Asia-Pacific rebalance to sustain this progress and ensure stability in the region, Carter said.
“We’re putting our best and newest assets from all services into the region. Qualitatively, we are making heavy investments in capabilities of importance there — subsurface warfare, electronic warfare, space, cyber, missile defense and more,” he added.
The department is changing its operational plans and approaches to deter aggression, fulfill its statutory obligations to Taiwan, defend allies, and prepare for a wider-than-usual range of contingencies in the region, Carter said.
The United States is building on its political and economic engagement in the Asia-Pacific by finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, among others, the secretary said, and is strengthening the multilateral regional security architecture with allies, friends and partners.
Building Capacity of Allies, Partners
“We’re building the capacity of our allies and partners,” Carter said, along with promoting cooperation, supporting regional multilateral organizations, modernizing alliances and deepening partnerships.
On his latest trip to Asia-Pacific, his third as defense secretary, Carter said he heard from U.S. regional allies and partners in the region.
“We all have a fundamental stake in the security of maritime Asia, including dynamics within the South China Sea,” he said.
The United States is concerned with land reclamation in the South China Sea region, Carter added, and China has reclaimed more land than any other country in the region’s history.
“The United States joins virtually everyone else in the region in being deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarization, [and] the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states,” he said.
On Nov. 5, Carter flew out to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt underway in the South China Sea. Last month, tThe guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen as part of a task force with the USS Roosevelt, conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea in accordance with international law.
“We’ve done them before all over the world,” Carter said of the freedom of navigation operation, “and we’ll do them again. We mean what we say. We will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
U.S.-China relations will be complex as the nations continue to balance their competition and cooperation, Carter said, noting that both nations have agreed to four confidence-building agreements, including one meant to prevent dangerous air-to-air encounters.
Carter said he’s accepted an invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit China in the New Year.
Meanwhile, the defense department works to leverage innovative strategies and operational concepts in response to Russia’s provocations and the impact of China’s rise, Carter said.
“We also know we have much work to do still to ensure our strategies and plans are as innovative as possible, leveraging new technology used by the best talent in America,” he said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)