Remarks at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies




Tom Kelly
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
December 12, 2013



Thank you Steven for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to be at here in Kuala Lumpur, and meeting at ISIS ─ Malaysia’s leading foreign affairs think tank. This is my first visit to Malaysia, and I am very happy to be here. And that’s not just because it was snowing when I left Washington.

What happens in this part of the world matters to my country and to the entire world. There are several reasons for this but the most important reason is this: the United States is a Pacific nation. I’m from California and I grew up in a home a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. The United States and our president, who was born in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and lived for part of his childhood here in Southeast Asia, has made a strategic commitment to rebalance our interests and investments in Asia. Together, the countries of the Asia/Pacific region, including Malaysia and the United States, have an opportunity in this global age to define our dream for the Pacific region, one in which nations and people forge new partnerships that can shape our shared future.

As we in the U.S. Department of State, take on shared security challenges, we first and foremost try to build the right kind of partnerships. In that vein, I would like to talk with you today about the role of defense cooperation in U.S. foreign policy; its role in America’s rebalance to Asia; and in enhancing our bilateral relationship.


The Asia-Pacific is home to half the world’s population, more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half of its trade. The past few generations have produced an extraordinary period of prosperity in Asia. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty across the entire region. Dynamic, innovative economies were developed that today are fueling global growth.

Despite all of these positive trends, we know that challenges remain. They include regional tensions and natural disasters, including Typhoon Haiyan which so recently and tragically struck in the Philippines. That tragedy reminded us of the importance of regional cooperation. In the aftermath of the storm, U.S. military forces in the Philippines evacuated more than 17,000 people from typhoon-impacted areas and delivered more than 2,000 tons of relief supplies.

The disaster relief and humanitarian assistance exercises that we work on together with the Filipinos throughout the year prepare us to work together quickly and effectively to respond to such events.

We face other shared threats as well, including piracy, terrorism, arms proliferation, and other illicit activities. Malaysia has experienced some of these challenges directly, such as the incursion by armed followers of the so-called Sultan of Sulu into Sabah in February of this year.

Our strategic rebalance reflects over a century of diplomatic, economic, and people-to-people ties to the region. Malaysia is an important U.S. partner in this effort. As Malaysia assumes ASEAN’s chairmanship in 2015, we look forward to cooperating to support the centrality, unity, and effectiveness of ASEAN.

President Obama and Prime Minister Najib [NAH-jib] have opened a new, more collaborative chapter in the history of our relationship. We are working together on English language education, promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. We are also confronting the threats posed by terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other transnational security challenges. We continue to improve already strong U.S.-Malaysia military ties through exercises, security dialogues, ship visits, military education, and joint training.


Under the U.S. system, it is the Secretary of State, not the Secretary of Defense, who is responsible for overseeing arms sales and security assistance to countries around the world. And it is the division where I work, the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs that implements this authority to ensure any transfer is fully in line with U.S. foreign policy. Many wonder why the State Department – as the lead diplomatic agency – plays a role in the area of arms transfers and security assistance. The reason is fairly clear: the transfer or export of items to countries for military use has clear foreign policy implications. Fundamentally these acts are foreign policy functions.

The State Department’s security cooperation efforts include a broad array of tools, including direct grant assistance, the sale or transfer of military items and equipment, training peacekeepers, and supporting demining efforts. I will talk about each of these.

By using security assistance to partner with other nations, we can work together to stabilize weak states. We can also contribute to regional security architectures that reduce the possibility of conflict. These partnerships help make a safer and more stable world. One example is Malaysia’s own deployment of a 40-person contingent to Afghanistan. Your assistance provided medical aid and access to clean drinking water to Afghan people who were trying to escape from decades of conflict. We were proud to work together with Malaysia in support of that mission, in conjunction with our mutual friends from New Zealand.

Our assistance can help states to better control their borders and their coastlines and deal more effectively with transnational threats. We can help train a state’s forces to ensure they operate in a more professional manner that protects their country, while respecting human rights.

Security cooperation is not a one-way street. When U.S. and Malaysian forces train and exercise together, we both benefit from the experience. As an example, we have a strong partnership with the Malaysian Army Combat Training Centre, which has provided our forces valuable insights from Malaysian experiences in jungle warfare.

Direct grant assistance, such as International Military Education and Training ─ better known by its acronym, IMET─ and Foreign Military Financing ─ which is known as FMF ─ is central to our capacity building efforts. IMET and FMF are efficient and cost-effective ways to achieve shared security objectives with our international partners.

IMET is part of a smart investment in the kind of positive, mutually beneficial, long-term relationships that the United States wants to have with all our partners. Through the IMET program, military officers from Malaysia and around the world have the opportunity to acquire essential skills and lifelong ties with their U.S. military counterparts. This benefits both of our countries for decades to come.

Last year, 20 IMET-funded military officers from Malaysia studied at major U.S. professional military institutions. Separately, there are currently five Malaysian students on U.S. government scholarships completing four-year degrees at U.S. service academies. We are proud to note that all current Malaysian service chiefs are alumni of the IMET program. Just as your officers learn from us, U.S. military officers benefit from interacting and exchanging views with colleagues from Malaysia and other countries.

Malaysia has received FMF for training of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. And elsewhere in the region, FMF helped Indonesia support and expand a maritime domain awareness radar system to help counter the illicit transit and trafficking of goods and people. In the Philippines and Bangladesh, FMF upgraded coast guard patrol vessels that will increase those countries’ ability to combat transnational threats, respond to natural disasters, and increase the government’s presence in isolated areas.

Another way we partner with countries is through the sale of U.S. defense equipment. The United States can sell or transfer weapon systems and military items through its Foreign Military Sales program, which is a transaction between the U.S. government and a foreign partner government. The growth in Foreign Military Sales has also been extraordinary. For four consecutive years, U.S. Foreign Military Sales have exceeded $30 billion. Under the Foreign Military Sales system, the U.S. government acts as the purchase nation’s interlocutor. This means that you can rely on FMS for a better value and a transparent process with an established history of strong performance.

We can also transfer items through Direct Commercial Sales, where foreign countries purchase directly from U.S. companies. A third method we use is called Excess Defense Article transfer. This process allows the U.S. government to grant defense equipment to countries in need, usually at no or little cost. Sometimes we combine these approaches. For example, we transferred Coast Guard patrol vessels to the Philippines and Bangladesh, and then we later upgraded those vessels using FMF funds.

When the United States transfers a weapon system, especially through our Foreign Military Sales program, we are not just providing a country military hardware or capabilities. We are also reinforcing diplomatic relations and establishing a long-term security partnership, which in turn reinforces our diplomatic relationship. Defense trade can increase inter-operability between forces. The use of similar military platforms helps streamline operations and reduce the potential for problems when coordinating between highly advanced and complicated defense systems.

Additionally, the complex and technical nature of advanced defense systems frequently requires interaction between countries over the life of that system. When a country purchases an advanced, U.S.-manufactured defense system, such as an F/A-18 fighter aircraft, it is not just getting the hardware. The purchase allows partner countries to work in partnership with the United States to secure training, upgrades, and repairs throughout the system’s lifespan, which in the case of a fighter jet can be as long as 40 years.

Our “whole package” approach to defense trade strengthens diplomatic ties between countries and the United States over the long term. And this again is why all sales and arms transfers are reviewed and rigorously assessed by the State Department to carefully determine whether a sale is in the best foreign policy and national security interests of the United States.

We absolutely recognize that countries intend to use this equipment for their own defense requirements. Let me assure you that, contrary to the many myths and rumors, there are no “kill switches” or embedded controls that prevent employment of the equipment against specific targets. Additionally, contrary to some commentators, the United States does not withhold any “source codes” that are required to operate any defense products prior to conducting missions.

When a country is willing to cooperate with us in the security sector – perhaps the most sensitive area for any country – it serves to strengthen our broader diplomatic relationships. This means that in purchasing the U.S. defense products, partner nations are investing in a broader, long-term relationship with the United States.

Security cooperation has therefore been an essential part of the rebalance to Asia, where U.S. economic, diplomatic, cultural, and military ties continue to strengthen daily. In the past year, the State Department has approved and reported to Congress over $20 billion in arms sales to countries across the Asia-Pacific region. Building new partnerships with established partners and emerging powers, including China, is crucial to sustaining the regional stability that has facilitated rapid economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

Let me take a minute to talk specifically about China. I know that there are some who think our rebalance to Asia is part of a broader American effort to contain China. Let me be clear: it’s not true. On the contrary, the United States wants to build a cooperative partnership with China, just like Malaysia does. We understand that China will play an important role in critical global challenges like fighting climate change, wildlife trafficking, and countering proliferation. We welcome that role. And we recognize that our two economies are deeply intertwined, just as Malaysia’s is with China. We consistently seek to engage with China on all levels on a wide range of issues. Vice President Biden’s recent travel to Beijing is just the latest example of our ongoing dialogue with China. We want to do more with China in many areas, including economic relations. National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently said that the United States welcomes China and any other nation interested in joining and sharing the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership so long as they can commit to the high standards of the agreement.

The United States seeks to build healthy, stable, reliable, and continuous military-to-military relations with China. We maintain a robust schedule of military-to-military exchanges and dialogues in pursuit of that goal and to encourage transparency. In addition, U.S. military, diplomatic, and defense officials participate in a range of combined civilian-military dialogues with the Chinese in which we work to build mutual trust and understanding. I’ve participated personally in some of them. We welcome strong relations between China and Malaysia and believe it is in the interest of the United States for China to have positive and stable ties with its regional partners.


This week, I am visiting Malaysia to mark a unique milestone in our successful partnership to promote international security. Through the Global Peace Operations Initiative ─ known as GPOI ─ the United States and Malaysia have partnered to meet the growing global demand for military and civilian personnel to serve on UN and regional peacekeeping missions.

GPOI is a U.S. security cooperation program that has helped train and equip more than 225,000 peacekeeping personnel worldwide. Malaysia was among the founding partners of GPOI when it was launched in 2005.

Tomorrow, I’m participating in a ceremony at the Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre in Port Dickson, to mark its successful achievement of Full Training Capability. Malaysia now is self-sufficient to effectively conduct required peacekeeping training for Malaysia’s military personnel.

This achievement is a testament to Malaysia’s decades of commitment to peacekeeping. Malaysia has been a part of United Nations peace operations since 1960, when your soldiers deployed to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the years, Malaysia’s contributions have continued to grow. Today, over 900 Malaysian troops are deployed on missions. Some still serve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while others are in Lebanon, Sudan, South Sudan and Western Sahara. The United States is very grateful for the thousands of Malaysians who have served on over 13 different United Nations peacekeeping missions in the past. We must also recognize, and never forget, the 29 Malaysian peacekeepers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, the United Nations, and the international community’s pursuit of peace and security.

One of those 29 lost his life while helping his American colleagues. Twenty years ago last October, two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia, leaving U.S. service members trapped in hostile territory. Malaysian forces helped to rescue the American troops. In addition to the brave Malaysian Lance Corporal killed in the rescue, nine other Malaysian peacekeepers were injured.

Malaysia’s much-respected peacekeepers reflect the high caliber of training conducted at the Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre—the first training center of its kind in Southeast Asia. The excellence of the Centre underscores Malaysia’s role as a provider of peacekeepers, a training supplier, and an important regional partner.

The Centre symbolizes not only Malaysia’s leadership in peacekeeping, but also the strong and enduring partnership between the United States and Malaysia.

Over the years, the United States has provided approximately $4 million toward Malaysian efforts to build its own peacekeeping capabilities through GPOI. These funds provided national and regional training opportunities for Malaysian peacekeepers, “train-the-trainer” instruction, as well as equipment such as driving simulators and computer hardware for advanced peacekeeping instruction.

In addition to training peacekeepers in residence, Malaysia offers peacekeeping instructors to augment the United States Pacific Command’s regional peacekeeping training and exercise activities funded through GPOI. This demonstrates Malaysia’s expertise and regional peacekeeping capacity building and cooperation.

The Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre is not the only way that Malaysia has shown itself to be a peacekeeping powerhouse. Malaysia has worked actively to build peacekeeping capabilities in the region by incorporating other regional partners’ peacekeeping forces with their own units for “co-deployments.” Malaysia has also been a pioneer in efforts to integrate more women into peace operations. Female peacekeepers play an important role in peacekeeping by improving access and support for local women in post-conflict societies struggling to rebuild. We are proud to have supported Malaysia’s enduring leadership in peace operations and look forward to enhancing our cooperation in the region.


The fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia is another example of the importance of Pacific partnership. Malaysia, a global commercial hub with its own expertise in addressing maritime crime, has been an active participant and a valued partner in this effort.

Back in late 2008, Somali piracy was spiraling out of control. Attacks were escalating, and pirates were expanding operations far into the Indian Ocean. Ransom payments in the millions brought more and more Somali men to the water. At the peak of this activity, Somali pirates held nearly 600 mariners hostage and roamed an area as large as the continental United States in their search for new victims. In addition to the threat posed to innocent mariners, pirate activity was costing the global economy an estimated $7 billion a year.

In response, the United States helped establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia in January 2009, which now includes more than 80 nations, non-governmental organizations, and industry groups working together to take the fight to pirates.

Malaysia is an active participant in the Contact Group and has also embedded a liaison officer with the Combined Maritime Forces. This embedded officer coordinated the activities of Operation Fajar (FA-jar), Malaysia’s own counter-piracy operation, with other operations in the region. Through the Contact Group, the international community has coordinated multi-national naval patrols and impeded the financial flows of pirate networks.

We also worked to empower private sector entities to protect themselves from attack. This has been perhaps the most significant factor in the decline of successful pirate attacks and here too our diplomatic efforts have played a critical role.

We encouraged the maritime industry to adopt Best Management Practices. These are practical measures, like proceeding at full speed through high-risk areas and erecting physical barriers, such as razor wire, around ship perimeters. These practices harden merchant ships against pirate attack. We have also worked with industry and foreign ports to enable on-board privately contracted armed security teams to protect vessels in dangerous waters. No ship with an embarked security team has ever been hijacked.

We have also worked with partner nations to deter piracy through effective apprehension, prosecution and incarceration of pirates and their networks. Today, over 1,000 pirates are in custody in 20 countries around the world. Most are, or will be, prosecuted and face lengthy prison terms if convicted. The United States has encouraged countries to prosecute pirates, and we have supported efforts to increase prison capacity in Somalia.

The results of all of these efforts is what I think is one of the most important multilateral success stories of this young century. There has not been a single successful attack against commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean in more than a year and a half. Pirates no longer control a single hijacked ship. A few years ago pirates held over 600 hostages, today, they hold only a few dozen, and we are doing all we can to facilitate their return.


From peacekeeping to defense cooperation to counter piracy, we can draw the same lesson over and over again: By working together, the United States and its Pacific partners can successfully tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. Working with friends like Malaysia, we are together building a safer, more secure world on land and at sea. We look forward to a future of continued partnership with your nation, and with all our Pacific neighbors.

With that, I’m happy to take any questions.


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