US umbrella of security for Brunei's assets
By Narissa Noor

"We came with very high expectations and those expectations have been met," said Commander of the US Pacific Command in an exclusive interview with the Bulletin.

"Though Brunei is small and does not have the capabilities that the United States military has, (we came to Brunei) to develop first hand the personal relationship with the leaders of the country, and to get a better understanding of the strength of conviction of the country's leaders.

"We represent 350,000 men and women in uniform in the United States Pacific Command and we want Brunei to understand that we are committed to the same overarching desire for peace and stability that they are; and to have the opportunity to do it face-to-face is very important to us," asserted the Admiral Timothy J Keating.

He arrived in Brunei Tuesday on a two-day introductory visit. He was received in an audience by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and HRH Prince General Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince to promote security and peaceful development in the Asia-Pacific region by deterring aggression, advancing regional security cooperation, and responding to humanitarian emergencies.

Having also met the Commander of Royal Brunei Armed Forces, Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General Dato Paduka Seri Haji Awang Halbi bin Haji Mohd Yussof, and other senior military and government officials, the United States has got, what he calls, "a great partner".

The biggest concern remains to be violent extremists all throughout the Asia Pacific region. "I discussed this directly with His Majesty," revealed the Admiral.

"I've expressed to him our conviction that by improving the flow of information between our countries and our intelligence gathering apparatus, we can make it even tougher for violent extremists to move throughout the region and make it increasingly difficult for misguided folks who would support (extremists) whether by financial or moral backing, so that none of us feel the sting of terrorists attacks.

"And as Brunei has offshore oil facilities that is of significant importance to Brunei, that is an area where in the course of Carat exercise or information sharing, we can provide an umbrella of security and protection for Brunei's assets and interests," the Admiral asserted.

On the annual Carat Exercise between the two naval forces, the Admiral noted the benefits of the exercise, which he pointed out as a great opportunity to meet friends.

"A lot of kids still join the navy to see the world, and to come to a city that is predominantly Muslim, (they may have) slightly different religious backgrounds but still have very similar perspectives. They want peace and stability. They want a better life for their kids and their grandkids.

"By operating together on a military-to-military basis on a bilateral exercise like this, we afford other countries the opportunity to observe these exercises," he added.

Bangladesh this year has been invited to observe the Carat exercises, revealed the Admiral. Brunei is at present taking part in a three-week exercise dubbed "Ambassador of Peace" involving troops from 12 countries led by the US.

When asked whether the military exercise will go beyond the normal naval operations, Admiral Keating said that they would be careful to take this at a pace that serves Brunei as well as US interests.

"Whatever those interests are, it seems advantageous to include more nations gradually but it would be a mutually beneficial situation and one that both countries endorse before going forward."

When asked of the advantages to be gained from these exercises, the Admiral emphasised that although disaster relief is not the primary role of the military, it is their moral responsibility to assist those in need.

"Brunei and the United States have demonstrated the commitment to support people in need (in Acheh and Bangladesh) and we have reinforced that commitment during our visit," he said.

"By using a multilateral approach to our challenges and opportunities, it is easier for the US Pacific Command to be less present and less dominant. We are not overbearing in our presence and it serves to encourage other countries to cooperate across the broad spectrum of security interests and not just military interests," he added.

Commenting on what Brunei can offer to the US Navy, he reiterated that both friendship and also the observation of best practices as major contributions.

"While we were at the naval headquarters, we were given a very illuminating and informative briefing on Brunei's Defence White Paper which was prepared by the Brunei military."

This Defence White Paper, said the Admiral, was very impressive in illustrating the vision of Brunei military, the roles and missions of the military, including humanitarian assistance, non-combative evacuation and disaster relief. The vision highlights some of the areas that the US military can glean best practices from the Brunei military.

Admiral Keating ended his visit yesterday evening to continue his introductory tour to Indonesia. - Borneo Bulletin (10th April 2008)