PEARL HARBOR - Republic of Korea Navy Capt. Yong Mo Yang, defense attaché in Hawaii, waves to a Korean destroyer arriving at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise, May 20, 2014.
PEARL HARBOR - Republic of Korea Navy Capt. Yong Mo Yang, defense attaché in Hawaii, waves to a Korean destroyer arriving at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise, May 20, 2014. // U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro/Released

It’s Time Congress Helps the U.S. Craft a Clear Asian-Pacific Strategy

The United States faces a complex and uncertain security landscape and the pace of change only continues to accelerate. With the heightened crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s continued threats to invade, our presence in the Middle East winding down, increased terrorist activity in Africa, ongoing threats from North Korea and the slow boil of tensions taking place in the South China and East China Sea, the short-term and long-term security needs for our country must be carefully examined.  

While it is true we are operating under a fiscally constrained environment with many competing priorities, we must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of allowing budgets to drive our national security strategy.

I recently traveled in a bipartisan congressional delegation to Japan, South Korea and China and met with senior leaders in each country, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Park Geun-Hye, and Premier Li Keqiang. Each country acknowledged the difficulties and tensions that exist, but more importantly there was absolute agreement that stability and peace in the region is essential for ongoing economic growth. Nowhere in the world are our economic and security interests more inextricably linked than in the Asia-Pacific.

Among the most serious threats we face as a nation, and that exists within the region, is the development and proliferation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to carry them. My constituents in Hawai’i face the seriousness of this threat firsthand every time North Korea issues a new round of threats against the U.S. and every time we learn of North Korea’s continued increase in capabilities. The destabilizing actions of the North Korean regime to develop nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, programs and Russia’s recent testing of ICBMs underscore the importance of maintaining robust missile defense.

While I continue to call for further investment in our ballistic missile defense systems, missile defense alone will not completely deter the threats from such unstable actors. We need a robust strategy for our force structure and posture and a budget that invests where needed, supports the warfighter and eliminates waste and fraud.

Our government’s primary role is to serve and protect the American people and our way of life. We must ensure our national security strategy works toward that end and includes a trained and ready military force. Congress has to be creative in how it funds these priorities and we must have the courage to make difficult choices. 

In turn, our service chiefs and the combatant commanders have a responsibility to continue to shape our military to be not only strong but also adaptive in how we approach and think through contingencies and, more importantly, how we proactively maintain peace. The U.S. focus in the Asia-Pacific region must be more than a concept - it must be a concrete plan that takes traditional and non-traditional threats and opportunities into account, and addresses them via a whole-of-government approach with coordinated security, economic and diplomatic strategies.

No decision about aspects of our foreign or national security policy should be made in a vacuum, divorced from the other. A comprehensive national security strategy that is integrated and clearly articulated would be invaluable in the allocation of resources and would demonstrate to the international community that the U.S. is prepared – and willing – to lead, proactively engage, and respond to the full spectrum of threats that exist today. 

It is critical to our own economy and, more broadly, our standing in the world, that we remain committed to upholding international norms to ensure regional stability and shared prosperity. It is a serious miscalculation on the part of the U.S. to show a lack of global leadership and resolve as we face rising tensions in both Europe and Asia.

As Congress considers the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 this week, our nation needs a strategic vision that is focused on maintaining peace and promoting prosperity, and when needed to have the ability and resolve to fight and win. We must take proactive steps to strengthen our relationships with our allies and partners, support a holistic security strategy that integrates all the different forms of national power, and when threatened stand with our partners or risk losing ground as a stabilizing force in the world.

America sustained a remarkably consistent defense policy for fifty years of the Cold War. Our national leaders were able to establish a durable consensus on national challenges and strategic objectives. We now need a comparable framework for the next thirty years that pursues U.S. interests and is supported by American values. Ultimately, we want to avoid conflict and the best way to accomplish this goal is to shape the security environment through the active engagement of our forces with allies and partners. This will contribute to not only a more stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific, but it will have far reaching impacts throughout the world.

Tulsi Gabbard is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawai‘i’s Second Congressional District and a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees. She is a captain in the Hawai‘i Army National Guard and has deployed to the Middle East twice.