Adm. William J. Fallon is finding new ways
to lower tensions in a volatile command that spans half the
As commander of the Pacific Command (PACOM),
Adm. William J. Fallon is head of
military operations in one of
the most complex regions of the world. In the Pacific, all
eyes are on
, a surging economic power that
is rapidly improving its military capabilities and expanding
its political influence around the globe.
Some states in the region — such as
— are breeding grounds for what
Fallon calls a “worldwide terror network … pretty
much focused in
.” Other Pacific nations long have
been known for anti-American sentiment stemming from the
days when the
dictators such as
’s Mohammed Suharto, who limited personal freedoms, allied with the West
and built a fortune for himself and his family by controlling
large swaths of the nation’s economy.
Fallon is improving communications with
military as a means to create a more transparent relationship
and build mutual confidence. Special Operations Forces under
his command provide antiterrorist training to several countries
dotting the Pacific, and he’s determined to build on
the goodwill generated by the
forces that sped to the aid of
nations devastated by the 2004 tsunami. PACOM’s hospital
ship, the USNS Mercy, returns to the region this spring for
an extended tour to provide medical services in
Meanwhile, Fallon and his unit commanders
are engaging with countries throughout the Pacific to foster
an environment less conducive to terrorists and bolster the
region’s champions of democracy, such as
’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who rose to power in 2004 on a platform of economic
and democratic reforms.
A naval officer for 38 years — many
as a flight officer with the call sign “Silver Fox” — Fallon
has been vice chief of naval operations
and commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Atlantic
Fleet. He served in
, as deputy director for operations,
Joint Task Force, Southwest Asia, and has held a variety
of strategic planning posts for NATO and the
chief of naval operations.
Fallon says tension levels across the
, one of the potential trouble spots in his
domain, have diminished substantially during the past year. “The
situation is much less volatile, at least on the surface,” he
said, “and that’s something that we want to encourage.” Fallon
discussed these and other issues with Editor in Chief Richard
C. Barnard and Associate Editor Matt Hilburn. Excerpts follow.
What are your priorities as head of PACOM?
FALLON: The first is the war on terrorism.
The worldwide terror network is pretty much focused in Southeast
Asia in the area of southern
to some extent
then further west in
. So the common threads
here are countries with generally weak governments that are
strained to provide the kind of border security to prevent
folks from going back and forth, large Muslim populations
in which the terrorists keep taking refuge.
Countries are realizing that within their
own borders, without stability and security, unrest festers
and becomes an open invitation to the bad actors that thrive
in these environments. We’re trying to work with these
governments generally in
help them enhance their capabilities.
We’ve been working quite a while with
help them. This is a country that has a huge amount of debt,
lots of internal issues and several insurgency groups.
What kind of help, for example?
FALLON: We provide training. We provide
advisers. We provide some material. We help them in trying
to shape and reform their own institutions. For example,
there is a major effort under way to change the Philippine
defense establishment. It’s called Philippine Defense
Reform. It’s been ongoing for some time, and it’s
an interesting mutual investment by both the
and the Philippine government
to overhaul their entire way of doing business, which has
not been particularly effective.
At the operational level, we have a joint
task force that has been working in the
for a couple of years,
primarily in the south. These are mostly Special Forces types
because of the nature of the topography there — lots
of water. We find it advantageous to work from the maritime
domain, so we have some ships that periodically go down there
and act as afloat staging points,
being very careful to respect the Philippine borders and
Since becoming PACOM commander, you’ve
had a lot to say about the need to open up communications
and build mutual confidence.
FALLON: The big picture of
most significant issue in the Pacific area. That’s
not a negative. It’s just the reality of a country
that is so big, so influential in terms of its impact on
the world: 1.3 billion people, an incredibly active economic
engine, staggering growth rates and engagement throughout
the world. The list goes on and on.
On the flip side is the concern among people
in our country about the steep pickup in
’s military presence. They’re
acquiring a lot of stuff. I don’t know exactly what
they’re spending, but it appears to be very substantial.
The question is: What for? What’s the threat? Why are
they doing this?
The fact that
is huge and growing and has
relationships with everybody is reason enough to be quite
interested from my side. As I look at things now and in the
future, there’s an awful lot of potential for good.
We ought to be working those lanes, as opposed to those who
would have us focus on the negatives. The idea is to not
have a conflict between the
just as it is to not have a conflict between
a very interesting challenge for me because the
tied to both of these countries, and any movement with one
will, of necessity, involve the other.
When I arrived, things were not looking
particularly well. The tension levels were up, friction was
up, rhetoric level was high, but I must say that in the past
year there has been a decided “de-tensioning” of
that rhetoric. I think the situation is much less volatile,
at least on the surface, and that’s something that
we want to encourage.
There are ways we can do that. First,
by more engagement with the mainland. There is extensive
by many levels of our government.
But the military engagement was virtually nil. It’s high time we re-engage with the Chinese military.
We have put forward a pretty aggressive
military-to-military engagement proposal to the Office of
the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and had a meeting just before
the end of the year with the Chinese to lay out our way ahead
for this. Our objective is to get more contact, get more
exposure, to show the Chinese that we are not interested
in, as some seem to think, containing them or inhibiting
them or shackling them to some lower growth rate, or to limit
their engagement to our country. We want them to be more
Engagement between countries can mean a
lot of things. What is your meaning?
FALLON: We want more interaction at many
levels. We want to expose their people, their leaders, to
ours and vice-versa. Probably one of the most useful activities
that’s taken place recently is that the Chinese sent
a delegation of mid-range officers, mostly one-star equivalents,
from the Chinese armed forces and some related enterprises
in China. They spent a couple days in
us. We discovered that their people are very, very good at
a tactical level, less knowledgeable at the operational levels
and very lacking in strategic understanding. And this is
one of the problems because there are policy statements made
or accusations made that, for example, the
is now unhappy with
growth, and we’re going to box them in.
We said, “Wait a minute. Let’s
look at this. Take a look at the force structure, for example.
military is down about 50 percent
from where it was 10 years ago.
? We’re in Central Asia because these
invited us to come to
and to help them engage in an opportunity
to grow in the future. And, by the way, we have this terrorist
you have similar problems,” which they recognize within
They haven’t been exposed to an alternative
rationale for why things happen. So there is an opportunity
for us to expand the horizon and encourage them to engage
with us in new areas.
What about tsunami relief? Where were [they] back on Dec. 26 of ? It took them a while [to respond].
They realized they were behind the power curve. It’s
interesting, I was in
we had the hurricane disaster in the Gulf, and within hours
the Chinese foreign minister let me know that they had two
747s filled with relief supplies on the runway, ready to
It was very quick.
The Quadrennial Defense Review mentions
carriers and submarines being shifted to the Pacific. What
about surface forces?
FALLON: We’re looking at this very
hard with OSD. There are a lot of pieces that are on the
board and if you move one it affects the others. For example,
we had negotiations with the Japanese regarding a strategic
alliance — where do we want to go in the future?
recognizes that things are different in
There are changes going on within their security establishment.
They’re concerned with what’s going on in
, so they’re
interested in missile defense.
We’re also addressing our posture
in view of changes on the
The South Koreans are increasing their military capabilities
substantially. I was very impressed with what I saw there,
so we have begun a drawdown of some of our forces as the
builds up theirs.
One area that’s particularly touchy
. … We have a very visible presence in
; it is very important … extremely strategically
important to us, and yet there’s a continuing tension.
And as we look at a lot of things from different angles,
we’re trying to figure out what the best way forward
is going to be.
going to be built up to accommodate a larger presence from
the Marine Corps.
is another very strategic place. We had a lot of facilities
there for years. We are assessing how these might be adapted
and modified to accommodate future potential use. It’s
going to require significant investment, and the key challenge
that I see is we have got to do this coherently and in a
Regarding naval forces specifically, we’ve
moved several submarines forward to
we think the forward basing there will give us some leverage
in transit time and the ability to be on-station. Several
issues the Navy has undertaken in recent years are to provide
more forward presence to enable us to meet our commitments
to our allies and friends and provide that engagement we
think is so important with a reduced fleet. We have had a
pretty even split between the
and Pacific fleets. Is that really appropriate
today? What is the likelihood of challenge in the
as opposed to the Pacific?
Trying to maintain six [carriers] all the
time in the Pacific is a high priority. So you’ll see
moves along these lines. If we have a carrier out there,
we’re certainly going to want to have its escorts with
it, so I think you’ll see a pretty robust presence
in the Pacific.
When you look at all forces of the Pacific
Command, are we going to see a substantially larger force
in five years?
FALLON: I don’t think you’re
going to see a substantially larger force but certainly a
more capable force. At the same time we’re trying to
work the other end of the spectrum, too. It’s not just
with military force. You’ve got to get the hearts and
minds of the people.
We had tremendous benefit last year, for
example, in having the hospital ship USNS Mercy go out and
in some other areas. Our intent is to deploy Mercy again
this year [in April] to Southeast Asia and to
to go back and show them our desire … to
make lives better for people. We also want to make the environment
more stable and more receptive to our message as opposed
to terrorist messages.
The other side of that is in our operations.
It’s been quite a while since we have really done anything
at a robust level in the Pacific because of the demands on
resources going to the
We have been working to put a substantially larger amount
of the force structure in the Pacific for a period of months
so that we can actually get the experience with these larger-size
groups, several aircraft carriers and their strikers, significant
Air Force units falling in on top of them. It’s one
thing to operate a single carrier; it’s yet another
to have several together, and sharpen our command and control
and our logistics support structure.
What are you telling the Chinese about the
activities planned for the months ahead?
FALLON: We are trying to tell them and show
them by daily activity that we are interested in cooperating
in many areas, and that we regularly exercise with most nations
around the world. We engage in multiple levels, be it with
One of my long-term goals is to have [the
Chinese] come out and participate in some fashion in these
exercises. I want to get them to engage because the more
they engage, the more likely they
are to see that there are a lot of things we ought to be
doing together. There are all manner of things that could
be beneficial. We want to get them into it. We’ll press
on and hopefully make some progress.