Pivoting east: Defense chief Carter heading to Asia

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter delivers remarks to the student body of Abington Senior High School in Abington, Pa., on March 30, 2015.


By JON HARPER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 3, 2015

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will head to Asia next week, his third high-profile trip since taking office in February.

Carter will travel to Japan and South Korea to meet with senior allied officials. The talks will be focused on “strengthening and modernizing America’s alliances in Northeast Asia,” according to a Pentagon statement released Friday.

The defense chief will depart Washington on Monday, stopping to give a speech at Arizona State University’s McCain Institute en route to Tokyo, where he will arrive late Tuesday.

RELATED: More Stars and Stripes coverage of the Pacific pivot

Carter’s talk in Tempe on Monday will highlight “the strong link between national security and economic security and the full-court press the administration will continue to take on the rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific, according to the Pentagon.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, the U.S. military embarked on a plan to shift more of its forces to the Asia-Pacific to deal with a rising China and other security challenges. The move is often referred to as the “rebalance” or “pivot.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Carter he will meet with senior Japanese officials to discuss the U.S.-Japan defense strategic guidelines review and other security issues ahead of Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Washington later this month. The guidelines spell out how the countries will cooperate militarily, including in times of crisis. Since taking office, Abe has sought to loosen the restrictions on what the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are allowed to do, a move that the U.S. has welcomed.

After arriving in Seoul on Thursday, Carter will meet with senior South Korean government officials to “reiterate the United States’ strong commitment to Republic of Korea’s security” and talk about regional issues, according to the Pentagon.

The threat posed by North Korea will undoubtedly be on the top of the list of items to be discussed. Starting last year, the U.S. military has been boosting its rotational force presence on the Peninsula amid concerns about Pyongyang and its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-Un.

In both Japan and South Korea, Carter will meet with U.S. servicemembers and their families. There are about 49,000 American troops stationed in Japan, and 28,500 in South Korea.

On the return leg of his trip, the Pentagon leader will stop in Honolulu, Hawaii, on April 11 and visit U.S. Pacific Command, before returning to Washington on April 12.

The Asia-Pacific swing will be Carter’s third high-profile trip since he stepped into the job. In February, just days after assuming the office, he went to Afghanistan and Kuwait to meet with U.S. military commanders and foreign leaders about the future of the American war efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Earlier this week, he traveled to Pennsylvania and New York, where he laid out his ideas about building the “future of the force”, which included proposals for major changes to the personnel policies of the Defense Department and the services.

Twitter: @JHarperStripes