September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Adm. Dennis C. Blair Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command - Asia-Pacific Security After September 11th Remarks at 2002 Pacific Symposium; February 21, 2002

United States Pacific Command Transcript
Adm. Dennis C. Blair Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command
Asia-Pacific Security After September 11th Remarks at 2002 Pacific Symposium
National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington D.C. February 21, 2002

Adm. Blair: Greetings from Hawaii. It's a real pleasure to be here at this Institute for another National Strategic Studies symposium. I've worked with many of you in INSS for years, including Steve Flanagan, the current director. You've also gathered a very fine group of students and practitioners of campaigns against transnational threats, brainpower turned loose on the problem.

Most importantly, you've examined the issues not just from the U.S. point of view, but with ideas from our formal treaty allies -- Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and the UK; from our extremely close partner Singapore; from the world's largest democracy, India; and from the world's largest Muslim nation, Indonesia. I've learned that none of us has developed an ideal way to deal with these threats, and that even if one country did, it wouldn't be safe within its own borders, and its citizens wouldn't be safe when they lived and traveled abroad, without an effective international effort.

It's useful to trace some of the history of the development of strategies against transnational threats.

The term currently includes a "big three":

And the "other four":

These illegal activities have been of concern to many countries in the Asia-Pacific region for several years:

International terrorism had been episodic in the region from the North Korean attack on the South Korean cabinet ministers in Burma in 1983, through the aborted attacks on international aircraft planed by Ramsey Yousef in Manila in 1995, through the Aum Shinrikyo attacks in the Tokyo subway, also in 1995, and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Afghanistan by Pakistan-based terrorists in 1999. And like other regions in the world, the Asia-Pacific region has had its share of internal insurgencies using terrorist tactics against governments -- the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the New People's Army in the Philippines, and various groups in India.

Most actions against terrorism have been by individual countries, with some help from other sympathetic governments. For example, the United States, with assistance from Pakistan, was able to bring to trial the man who gunned down CIA employees outside the gate in McLean.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has also been a concern, especially Chinese assistance to Pakistan in developing nuclear weapons. There are international conventions to cover proliferation, but enforcement varies.

The Golden Triangle has been the source of a major portion of the world's heroin and more recently of the region's methamphetamines. Thailand's government awoke to the threat of meth, and organized all its security forces, including the armed forces, and social agencies to deal with the threat.

American identification of these activities as national security threats and efforts to deal with them gained early focus during the 1990s under the Clinton administration. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin focused on them explicitly, and formed new organizations in the OSD Staff to deal with them. On the intelligence side, Director of Central Intelligence Jim Woolsey organized three intelligence centers to pull together the various intelligence disciplines concerning terrorism, drugs, and proliferation.

However it wasn't until September 11th, 2001 that transnational threats achieved the international security urgency of more traditional military concerns. Certainly in the United States this was so. The new organizations that were established in the Pentagon in the early months of the Clinton administration withered, and more traditional organizations reasserted their relevance. The three transnational centers established by the DCI did good work, but were not given high priority.

Dealing with failed states and ethnic nationalists occupied the main efforts of American and European national security teams during the 1990s.

During its first 8 months in office, President Bush's national security team didn't include these threats high on its agenda.

Then came September 11th. Transnational foes crossed a threshold. They killed thousands of Americans in a sudden and brutal manner.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were carried out by a unique organization. The American response has been strong and effective. The al-Qaida of February 21st, 2002 is a shadow of al-Qaida of September 10th, 2001, and it will be less of a shadow in the future.

However, the question for this conference, and for the international community, goes beyond al-Qaida, a single threat.

Did the United States, and the entire world community, wait too long to deal with the witches' brew of drug trafficking, terrorism, and hatred that was festering in Afghanistan -- sheltered and encouraged by the Taliban government?

Should the world community, of which the United States is the most powerful and influential member, have acted earlier?

The answer is clearly "Yes."

If this is so, how then can the world community sustain the campaign against terrorism to ensure not only that al-Qaida is eliminated, but that other groups that pose the same threat are identified and eliminated?

And how can we act earlier and more effectively against other threats to our citizens -- drugs which kill and destroy many lives; weapons of mass destruction, which in the wrong hands can destroy many more.

How can we redouble our efforts against piracy, illegal immigration, international crime, and other activities that may not pose the large-scale and violent threat of the big three, but which are warning indicators of trouble, and show weak areas in the international system which can be exploited?

For us in the Pacific Command, these are not questions of theoretical interest; these are the practical problems we wrestle with every day.

We are therefore very much looking forward to the results of this conference, and the similar one at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, for some ideas on how we can proceed more effectively in the future.

Let me describe how we were working in the Pacific Command to deal with transnational threats, what we have done since September 11th, and then we can use the question-and-answer period to pursue ideas on the way ahead.

For the past three years, we in the Pacific Command have been persistently promoting regional multilateral approaches by armed forces in the region. The greatest success in the region has not been against a transnational threat, it has rather been a peacekeeping operation in East Timor.

But beyond this operation, the armed forces in Asia and the Pacific have been active in pursuing regional approaches in new ways. Many participate in a wide variety of conferences, seminars, table-top exercises, command post exercises, and field training exercises, which bring them together from the highest levels of command to tactical units.

This multilateral approach is not confined to military forces. In recent years, the Coast Guards of the Northern Pacific -- including Russia, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the U.S. have embarked on an ambitious series of initiatives to coordinate their efforts against maritime lawlessness in that part of the world -- poaching, drug running, and illegal immigration.

The effect of these regional initiatives is interesting. They haven't resulted in the formation of formal regional security structures. Rather, they've provided both an atmosphere of military cooperation, and in many cases new relationships to pursue ad hoc bilateral or multilateral cooperative activities.

For example, each year in November, I've hosted a conference of Asia-Pacific Chiefs of Defense, or CHODs. Although some of the CHODs know each other, many others do not. Several have told me that the initial contact in the CHOD Conference, in which we discuss common issues facing us, have provided both the impetus and the personal familiarity to pursue combined action against transnational threats.

Before September 11th, of all our organizations and procedures, those that deal with international narcotics traffic were probably the best developed.

The Joint Interagency Task Force West, headquartered in Oakland, California, has been in business for many years, with the mission of intercepting drugs being sent by air or water to the Western part of the United States, especially from Latin America.

This JIATF has established very effective cooperation with U.S. domestic law enforcement agencies, and with both military and civilian law enforcement organizations in Mexico. When I attended the change of command ceremony two years ago, there were a substantial number of Mexican officials who had traveled up to Oakland for the ceremony.

When Thailand asked for assistance to the Royal Thai Army in combating drug traffic across the Burma-Thai border, I agreed that JIATF-West should organize training, equipment, and coordination initiatives with them as well, under the Foreign Military Financing program.

The JIATFs have provided a good model for constructing CT organizations -- the enemy is elusive, well-financed, and ruthless. It takes unusual and persistent cooperation to be effective. Intel is a big factor, and we've used the CD organizations as templates for CT.

Let me turn to the war against terrorism.

When President Bush ordered the Department of Defense onto the offensive against terrorism, we were not taking off from a cold start.

We kept our objective simple: to identify and root out terrorists and their support in the Asia-Pacific region, and to be a very unfriendly place for terrorists who may be looking for new homes.

Based on our previous efforts against terrorism, drugs, and other transnational threats, we realized quickly that the key to victory is a sustained, unprecedented, relentless, cooperative effort among all the countries in the region against the common threat.

We created a new Counter-terrorism division, upped our intelligence effort, then set about to build interagency and international links that would lay the foundation for success. We've already deployed personnel to U.S. embassies in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and India to better integrate our operations with interagency country teams. Our Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, JICPAC, has rapidly improved its support to the counter-terrorism mission. Analytical depth and breadth of the threat in the region has significantly improved, with increased collection, analysis, reporting, and sharing of information.

Since September 11th, I've personally visited the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Japan, and Korea, and met with our Ambassador to each country ... and key senior government and military leaders ... to discuss our intentions, and practical ways to link up.

Their responses have been overwhelmingly positive, and there have already been early successes. It was welcome news to hear of the terrorist arrests in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines -- terrorists who had traveled back and forth to Afghanistan, and who were working on plans to attack American ships and embassies, other countries' embassies, and other targets in Asia.

These arrests were due not simply to good intelligence and law enforcement work by the countries involved, but also to exchanges of intelligence, and coordination of actions by the governments concerned. The success lay in the expanded and rapid cooperation among these nations to identify and engage a mutual threat.

The United States is providing military and other assistance to the Philippines against the Abu Sayyaf Group, a criminal terrorist organization in the southern Philippines with links to al-Qaida. This group has taken many hostages, and brutally murdered and mutilated defenseless noncombatants.

U.S. assistance is in the form of exercises, training, equipment, intelligence, maintenance support, and temporary advisors. Security will be closely coupled with an effort to improve the economic situation.

As President Arroyo has emphasized, defeating terrorism in the Philippines requires both a war on terrorism and a war on poverty, and the Philippine plan addresses both fronts. The U.S. military support is just one piece of a more comprehensive effort.

The complexity of the worldwide campaign should not be underestimated. The terrorists hold the advantages of small size, international mobility, unmonitored funding, secrecy, and flexibility. They can take advantage of the freedoms of our governments and citizens, areas of the region where government control is weak, and international boundaries. Again, the key to their defeat is relentless pressure against terrorists and their support, conducted with an unprecedented degree of international cooperation.

Let me conclude with some thoughts on the future -- how we will deal with transnational threats and our other responsibilities. I look forward to your comments and questions and the conference report to expand these ideas.

First, our day jobs have not gone away. We still need to deter aggression across the Korean DMZ, and carry out our self-defense treaties and other commitments.

Second, we have to devote full-time offices within our organizations dealing with transnational threats -- we cannot do it with multiple-tasked small offices giving part-time attention.

Third, in all of them there must be unprecedented interagency and international support.

There are some basic things we don't know, and I hope to gain insights from your discussions:

When we learn some of these connections, we can be even more effective in directing efforts against the critical targets in this illegal order of battle.

I also am not sure of what the relative importance of military efforts and civilian law enforcement efforts will be over time against these threats.

I believe that we will all have to work on our parts of the threat in a coordinated fashion for the next several years, until we can figure out what the most efficient organization and division of labor is.

I do know, however, the general outlines of a successful campaign against all these threats:

The difficulty isn't in stating these attributes; it's achieving them. Considerations of intelligence classification (protection of sources and collection means), heritages of suspicions about other agencies and other countries, and resource constraints and imbalances -- these all work against the common effort and against results. But we must get past every one of these institutional impediments in order to build new structures of cooperation, new situations where our countries and our organizations will share an expectation -- that we will conquer these threats that recognize no international boundaries.

Allow me to close with a quotation from someone I studied back in Cold War days, Marshal of the Soviet Union Tukhachevskiy. In 1924, he stated, "The more energetic and resourceful the enemy, the more difficult it will be to predict the further development of events. Only by ever bolder and faster action can one be confident of putting the enemy to rout ... and ... of going on to further offensive action at high speed. Only in this way, can one trump the enemy's cards, and remain absolute master of the situation."

For all your contributions this week at trumping the transnational enemies' cards, and for your kind attention, I thank you very much.

And now, we should have about 40 minutes for questions and answers.

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