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Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan hosts a multilateral meeting with Asian nations, at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2019, Singapore, on May 31, 2019. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

On the eve of his speech at the 2019 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Asia-Pacific nations can look to US defense spending for reassurance that America will be a steadfast ally.

“The fact that we’ve been able to get sizable increases in the budget and then how we’re deploying the budget is really a measure to me, a real indicator, of whether we’re backing up what we’re saying in the [National Defense] Strategy,” he said at a May 31 press conference. “The deployment [of 900 troops to the Middle East] isn’t depleting our capability. The budgets that we’ve been able to generate have gone towards filling a deficit that we had in readiness. Now what you’re seeing is really the movement of resources and activities to the Indo-Pacific.”

The region will see a larger US presence in part due to the “really significant” number of exercises the Pentagon is planning with Indonesia and other countries, he added.

“I believe the efforts that we have underway in the region enable a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. “What we have to be mindful of is trying to just measure, take one measurement in one small period of time. This is something that evolves over time.”

He also pushed for countries to consider buying weapon systems that can network with American assets: “People understand that the value of partnering with the United States is a lot more than just the price of one piece of equipment.” Countries have to invest in their own security, he said, acknowledging not every nation has the means to substantially do so right now.

“We’re going to be modernizing and there’s a lot of synergy by investing in the capability that we have,” Shanahan said. “Through these exercises and through [foreign military sales] procurements, now we have interoperability. The benefit is, they get the value of all the infrastructure that we put in place, all the logistics systems that get put in place.”

Noting many countries will likely ask how the US can help, he said their conversations will cover what the right burden-sharing balance might be. President Donald Trump argues partner nations like those in NATO need to shoulder a larger share of global defense spending instead of relying on the US.

Shanahan said he would call out good and bad behaviors by players in the region in his June 1 speech, and describe how the US is strengthening its alliances as well as its own military capabilities for future conflicts in the Pacific. He plans to attend a trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea to discuss issues with North Korea.

“There are efforts as a result of that that will strengthen the ties between Japan and the Republic of Korea,” he said. “I think when we leave these meetings and conclude the visits that we’ll be in a better place.”

Later in the press conference, Shanahan also noted he wants to avoid a “tit-for-tat” feud between the US and Turkey as that military pursues the Russian S-400 air defense system, saying the strategic partners need to respectfully work together on a way forward.