HONOLULU — One hundred and five fellows from 35 countries graduated Thursday from the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

The military and civilian fellows ranged from general officers to ambassadors, defense ministers to police, among others — and represented the largest class to graduate the 12-week Executive Course since the center opened Sept. 4, 1995.

At a dinner Wednesday night in Waikiki, center officials and fellows stressed that the friendships developed between senior leaders, decision makers and policy makers of these countries is the most important aspect of the course.

“Trust,” said center president H.C. Stackpole, a retired Marine lieutenant general. “They learn trust in one another … trust in humanity.”

Chandralekha Mukherjee, with India’s defense ministry, was one of Thursday’s graduates.

She said she was really interested, in meeting and learning more about the Pakistani officials in her class.

“I wanted to know … what they thought, what kind of people they were,” she said. “I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that they were just like us. We speak the same language, listen to the same music and watch the same movies.

Mukherjee said the interaction made “it very clear there is a need to sort out whatever issues we have as friends.”

She said it was a humbling experience to learn that “someone who was a foreigner and couldn’t speak my language could be such a very good friend.”

Mutual respect, meaning even the smallest country gets equal say, and a policy of nonattribution are key to the course, fellows said. Nonattribution means that what’s said in the lecture stays in the lecture; no names are attached to course summaries or statements.

And nonattribution allows fellows to speak their minds instead of sticking to their countries’ official policies, said Andy Cui, director of the Presidential Management and Staff, Office of the President, Philippines.

“You can say what you think,” he said. “People tend to be more open in such an atmosphere and there is real exchange. Most of the people drop their official country line … it’s the most conducive to intellectual and cultural exchanges.”

Cui said that apart from the personal bonds and friendships, the broadening of one’s perspective was also very valuable.

“It’s looking at the same issue from different angles … from the other side of the hill,” he said.

And he said the learning will not end here; he expects a continuing dialogue with his classmates.

“It’s because of the information superhighway,” he said. “You can just pick up the phone or shoot an e-mail.”

And when U.S. troops visit the Philippines in the future, Cui is confident his studies in Hawaii will help, especially his interaction with the six U.S. fellows.

“It wasn’t a one-way street,” he said of their discussions on regional security issues. “It wasn’t us just criticizing them.”

Lt. Colonel William Janguan, Papau New Guinea Defense Force, said the course reminded him of a mini-United Nations.

“If we can get all these people to work together, people who have some influence, our problems will be minimized,” he said. “Not solved, but minimized.”

Focus on security

APCSS is a Department of Defense regional study, conference and research center — one of five worldwide — and aims to “provide a forum where current and future military and civilian leaders from Asia-Pacific nations gather to enhance security cooperation through executive education, professional exchange and policy-relevant research,” according to a media kit.

The center supports Adm. Thomas Fargo’s U.S. Pacific Command and complements the command’s theater security cooperation strategy of maintaining positive security relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to information provided by center officials, the security cooperation focus serves to:

• Build an understanding of U.S. policy in the region.• Examine military, economic, political and information polices affecting regional security.• Identify common security interests and fosters cooperative approaches.• Support PACOM theater security cooperation plan.• Emphasize preventative defense and confidence building measure.

Participants from 45 Asia-Pacific region governments and their armed forces are invited to three 12-week Executive Courses, two one-week Senior Executive Courses or up to 12 conferences yearly.

The center is staffed by 122 personnel – including 88 civilians and 34 servicemembers.

— Stars and Stripes

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