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Admiral Timothy Keating discusses US strategi -

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Admiral Timothy Keating discusses US strategic interests

Broadcast: 01/09/2009

Reporter: Tony Jones

Commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, joins Lateline to discuss America's
strategic interests in the Pacific as they relate to the US Navy, with a special focus on China,
Taiwan, North Korea and Burma.

Transcript

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: As chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating is at the pointy
end of the US military superpower. In 32 years, the former Navy pilot rose to the highest ranks in
the service. He's commanded US Naval Forces Central Command and the US Fifth Fleet and for three
years from 2004 he was commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as
NORAD. The remarkable thing about the NORAD command centre is that it's buried in a nuclear
bomb-proof bunker, 600 metres inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. NORAD was central to the policy
of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, under which a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States
would trigger an overwhelming nuclear retaliation and with it the annihilation of both superpowers
and very likely the rest of the world. Admiral Keating is in Australia for talks with the Chief of
the Australian Defence Forces, Angus Houston, on the two countries mutual military interests in the
region. He joined us in the studio earlier this evening.

Admiral Keating, thanks for joining us.

TIMOTHY KEATING, US PACIFIC COMMAND: Hi, Tony.

TONY JONES: Yours is the largest US naval command in the world. Can you start by giving us a sense
of the size and scope of it?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Sure. Fifty-one per cent of the surface of the Earth, from the West Coast of the
United States and South America to essentially the East Coast of Africa, including India, China,
Mongolia, eastern half of Russia, North Pole to the South Pole. So, 51 per cent of the surface of
the Earth, half the world's population. It is the largest combatant command, not just naval
command, but combatant command, in the world, particularly for the United States of America.

TONY JONES: To use your own words, the United States is the "big dog on the block" in this region,
in this massive region that you've just described. What does that mean exactly?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Well it's not a point we would emphasise. We like folks to understand that because
of the strategy that we're employing, Tony; we don't want to come in and dominate or pound our
chest, rather we want to work in a very cooperative, collaborate fashion with all of our friends,
partners and allies in the region, including, foremost on that list, Australia.

TONY JONES: But you are the pre-eminent military power; you've said so yourself. And you said that
you will remain so - the United States will remain so for the near, mid and long term and that this
is an issue which others will have to concern themselves with. I presume the others are those who
might compete for power in the region.

TIMOTHY KEATING: We'd hope that everyone would take that into consideration, what you said. We do -
we have significant capabilities and capacity, and we would like folks to consider that as they
develop their own strategies.

TONY JONES: And yet when you met your Chinese counterpart, a story you've also told in the past
that, I guess, Admiral, said to you that he hoped there'd be a day when you stayed on your own side
of the Pacific. Presumably what he meant is the Chinese will control one side of the Pacific, and
you'll be able to stay on your side of the Pacific.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Yeah. None of us will agree to that, of course. He was very much tongue-in-cheek;
it was said in a very offhand manner and we have no intention of forfeiting any - nor do any of us
have any intention of forfeiting free and ready access to the maritime domain or other domains.

TONY JONES: You don't really expect that Chinese military commanders are going to be joking about
something like that, though. Behind, what are you saying? There's something serious, isn't there?

TIMOTHY KEATING: I think China has a desire to, in their words, Tony, protect those things that are
theirs, which is fair enough. And that means unfettered access to the maritime domain for supply of
natural resources, for supply of fuel oils, for supply - for the transport of export and import
goods. So their desire to have access to the maritime domain and the air domain is understandable
and we would support that.

TONY JONES: It seems to me that that small confrontation is somewhat symbolic, though, that what's
at stake here is your power - and I think this would have to be a US military objective now, which
would be to contain Chinese military power in the world.

TIMOTHY KEATING: We'd rather not use the term "contain", Tony. I'd rather say, "Welcome them to
participate as a free and willing partner in military exercises, in personnel exchanges, in
humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises," so that they can come on out and join with
all the rest of us in the Asia Pacific region. There's lots of room for us, and we can go a long
way to ensure peace and stability in the region by having them come into the coalition as willing
partners.

TONY JONES: That's a diplomatic way of putting it, of course. And the truth is that China's
undergoing a rapid modernisation of its military forces and in particular its navy. It's trying to
build blue water navy, it's building aircraft carriers, it already has missile carrying warships
and will build more and more advanced ones and it has a submarine fleet which is growing all the
time. I mean, what do you suppose Chinese military - the Chinese military position, particularly
the naval position, will look like in the next 10 or 20 years.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Yeah. You raise a great point and we emphasise this in the somewhat limited
conversation we have with our Chinese military colleagues: we want to understand much better their
intention. We can see the development that they're undergoing, we see some of the improvements that
they're making in their military forces. But in our dialogue with our Chinese counterparts, we
emphasise to them our desire to understand intention. Some folks like the word transparency; we
don't think that's sufficient to cause. We want to understand not just what it is they're doing,
'cause we can see a lot of that and you just ran through a pretty good list. We want to understand
what it is they have in mind for the near, mid and long term. That's our goal: to understand better
their intentions.

TONY JONES: One strategic assessment of what they have in mind is building the capacity to prevent
any US military intervention if it comes to an invasion of Taiwan. In other words, to interdict or
prevent US naval or other forces reaching the Taiwanese if it came to that. Is that a strategic
assessment that you would go along with?

TIMOTHY KEATING: As you know, our Taiwan policy is long standing. It's been on the books for many,
many years, since the late '70s. China certainly understands our policy toward Taiwan. We are
increasingly hopeful that China understands that there is a potential for some peaceful resolution
to the cross strait issue. And so the likelihood of a situation developing where military powers
are applied we hope is very remote.

TONY JONES: But what about the Chinese strategic position? I mean, do you assess what they're doing
as being related to an attempt to put beyond doubt Chinese hegemony over Taiwan - and military
domination.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Yeah. Our Chinese colleagues emphasise to us repeatedly their desire for a
reunification of Taiwan. Our position is we would like some peaceful resolution of the situation.
How China and Taiwan resolve that - up to them. Taiwan of course has a freely-elected government,
and we would allow both of those countries to work towards some sort of eventual solution, and we
are vitally interested in maintaining peace and stability across the strait, and that is our
long-term goal as well.

TONY JONES: Is China considered a potential military threat?

TIMOTHY KEATING: I would call them a country whose military development is worth watching very
carefully. I would not call them a threat.

TONY JONES: And yet, I think you've answered before: they could be if we ignore them.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Oh, we ignore them at our own peril and they ignore us at their own peril. That
gets to the very heart of the issue: we want to ask them - we have repeatedly asked them to come on
out, if you will, and to join with us in very small scale, limited, incremental steps so as to
understand our position that there is plenty - and once again, there's plenty of room for all of us
in the Asia Pacific. We don't want to end up in a confrontational situation with them, and we're
very confident they don't want to end up in the same situation with us.

TONY JONES: Is it more difficult to deal with China or to predict their actions when what you're
dealing with is a one party state where the normal checks and balances on military power that you
would find in a Western democracy simply don't exist. So in fact you don't know how powerful the
military are behind the scenes.

TIMOTHY KEATING: I wouldn't put it that way. As to the, you know, the one party system in China,
that's obviously the subject of a lot different conversation. When I meet with Chinese military
leaders, it's a conversation very similar to that that you and I are having now. We're long-term
professionals. They understand what we represent; we understand what they express as their
strategy. We - again, we'd like to have a better grasp of their intentions. But the politics - the
political system in which they operate is not of - is not a topic of much discussion with us.

TONY JONES: So it's not even a hint of their intentions, as far as you see it, when one of them, a
very senior military officer, says to you, "We'd rather see you on that side of the Pacific, not
this side."

TIMOTHY KEATING: Nah. I'm convinced it was a very tongue-in-cheek comment, Tony.

TONY JONES: Do you think Japan's military capability needs to be enhanced, especially their naval
forces, to counter any potential threat or imbalance of power in the region as China develops its
military capacity?

TIMOTHY KEATING: I'd leave that up to the Chinese Government and the new one likely to be in power
...

TONY JONES: The Japanese Government.

TIMOTHY KEATING: I'm sorry - Japanese Government. Thank you. That's up to them. And I have had the
great fortune of living in Japan with my wife for a couple of years, as did our son and daughter,
and I have good friends in the Japanese military and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So,
they'll decide for themselves to what extent they want to develop or maintain their current naval
power and other power. We're working closely with them on ballistic missile defence, and so in that
particular area we would encourage continued development of that capability.

TONY JONES: On another front, North Korea has been designated a rogue nuclear nation. What do you
make of the recent reports of cooperation between North Korea and Burma in the development of a
secret nuclear program?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Yeah, I can't comment, as you'll understand, on current intelligence. North
Korea's nuclear proliferation or proliferation of any weapons is something that is expressly
forbidden by the United Nations, Security Council resolution and many of the countries in our Asia
Pacific region are united to forestall any such proliferation by North Korea.

TONY JONES: When this story broke, your own US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged
there were growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma. Do you see
those concerns yourself or do you share them?

TIMOTHY KEATING: No direct evidence of them that I have noticed, Tony.

TONY JONES: The original claims, these claims - I know, you're finding it difficult to comment on
intelligence, although a lot of this is now out in the public. The original claims were made by two
Burmese defectors, one of whom was a former army officer who suggested he'd been involved in some
way in this nuclear program in Burma. Does that worry you? Are you aware of that to start with?

TIMOTHY KEATING: We, like almost everybody else, a vast majority of the countries not just in the
Asia Pacific region, but in the world, would view with great concern the proliferation of nuclear
weapons or nuclear capacity, capability sponsored by North Korea. I am not aware of any direct
evidence to support that. As you cite, by the defector, I couldn't comment on it if I did. But it
of course is a matter of some concern to us if there's any remote resemblance to the truth in the
report.

TONY JONES: What is the policy to North Korea now? Is it still part of the Axis of Evil, as it was
under George W. Bush?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Sure, sure.

TONY JONES: It still is?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Sure.

TONY JONES: So it is a rogue nation capable of pretty much anything and an evil nation.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Um, it's a rogue nation, we watch very carefully their day-to-day military
activity, our State Department has a lead in trying to achieve a nuclear-free peninsula and we are
in support of the State Department initiatives to attain that goal.

TONY JONES: What do you think is the biggest flashpoint for potential conflict in this region at
the moment?

TIMOTHY KEATING: I'm happy to report to you - friends of yours in the media asked me a - that
question in a little bit different way, they say, "What keeps you awake at night?" Well, not much
does. As we go from the West Coast of the United States to Africa and all throughout the Asia
Pacific region and as was reinforced in our conversations with Angus Houston and his staff members
today, things are relatively tranquil in the Asia Pacific region and that's the result, we're
convinced, of a longstanding effort by all of us to demonstrate partnership, to make sure that
we're ready and to present all throughout the area - our area of responsibility. So, the shortest
answer I can give you is: things are fairly calm and tranquil. They are stable.

TONY JONES: What is the most significant area of partnership that you see with Australia - military
partnership with Australia at the moment. I mean - and, for example, it's been suggested by Richard
Armitage, your former Deputy Secretary of State, that if there ever were a conflict over Taiwan
that Australia's military help would be required as part of the alliance obligations.

TIMOTHY KEATING: I don't know that I'd say "required". In the off-chance that there is military
conflict, Australia's contributions would be desirable to be sure. As far as the area in which we
share the most common ground of course, your Prime Minister's commitment to more forces to
Afghanistan is of great importance to us and to the NATO forces that are engaged in that very
important issue there. Angus Houston and I share - shared a great day of conversations on a wide
range of topics, and writ large our vision is very similar. The white paper that the Government
just issued is very closely aligned with, as it happens, with the Pacific command strategy. So
across the entire spectrum of military to military activity, we're very closely aligned.

TONY JONES: Do you bring any message at all to Angus Houston about possible expansion of
Australia's role - military role in Afghanistan, the addition of more troops? I know that's
something that is desired by the NATO allies.

TIMOTHY KEATING: It's desired. I had no specific message. That's not in our area of responsibility,
Tony, as you'd understand. So, absent to this very strong sense of gratitude that I expressed
personally to my good friend Angus and asked him to pass that to your Prime Minister. I had no
specific message.

TONY JONES: But it is desired.

TIMOTHY KEATING: You bet. Sure.

TONY JONES: Finally, I'd like to take you in a completely different direction if I can because I
know you spent a number of years as Commander of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense
Command, which I always think of having grown up in part of the Cold War as a place buried deep in
the Cheyenne Mountain that would have been the command post, if it ever happened, for launching
massive nuclear missile strikes. Now, when you were in command, did it ever occur to you that that
policy at the time of Mutually Assured Destruction was just that, was mad or even insane?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Didn't. No. I was certainly aware of the authorities and responsibilities I had in
that capacity. I wasn't the only one with those authorities and responsibilities and a long way
from it. But I wasn't - the thought didn't cross my mind that it was anything other than a
longstanding policy of the United States of America.

TONY JONES: But an eerie feeling, surely, to be sitting in that place and knowing that, you know,
if you'd have been caught in the middle of the Cold War in that command position you were in, you
might be the person that had to essentially destroy the world.

TIMOTHY KEATING: It's - I didn't come at it that way, but it was nonetheless a sobering location
and a sobering train of thought that would go through your mind as we were running through the
exercises. It was - it'll get your attention, no question about it.

TONY JONES: Did it ever cross your mind at all that there could be a terrible mistake one day?

TIMOTHY KEATING: No.

TONY JONES: There were mistakes; a few had happened in the late 1970s, 1980s ...

TIMOTHY KEATING: Not while I was there.

TONY JONES: Not while you were there.

TIMOTHY KEATING: No.

TONY JONES: Very pleased to hear that. Would you have carried out your orders?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Without question.

TONY JONES: Even if that meant essentially launching massive nuclear strikes around the world.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Without question.

TONY JONES: And, how - I've got to ask you this, because philosophically, why would you not
question yourself under those circumstances?

TIMOTHY KEATING: Well, the inclination that I might not be able to execute the orders of the
President of the United States should have occurred to me well before then. And so I had given it
not insignificant thought prior to assuming command, but it was a clear-eyed decision I made and
would make.

TONY JONES: And anyone presumably in that decision would take the same decision.

TIMOTHY KEATING: I know that all those guys would have gone through the same mental calculus that I
did before assuming command of North American Aerospace Defense Command, that they would execute
their orders.

TONY JONES: Admiral Keating, we're out of time. It's been fascinating talking to you, it really
has.

TIMOTHY KEATING: Thanks, Tony.

TONY JONES: And we thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us tonight.

TIMOTHY KEATING: My pleasure. Nice to talk to you.