The Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted Donald Rumsfeld the former U.S. Secretary of Defense on October 13, 2011. Secretary Rumsfeld delivered the 6th Asan Memorial Lecture entitled, “21st Century Challenges in the Pacific and Beyond”.
As former Secretary of Defense, he shared his insights on the future of the United States, South Korea’s role in the world economy, the U.S.-ROK alliance, and China’s challenges in the coming decades.
On China, Mr. Rumsfeld was especially blunt saying that the nation had “closed ranks with the world’s few remaining dictators” and was unhelpful in the recent efforts of the global community to isolate Syria, a nation brutalizing its own people to suppress revolution.
Mr. Rumsfeld also sharply criticized the “moral failure” of the Chinese government in maintaining the One Child Policy. He called it a “state-sanctioned abortion program” which had cost the lives of 250 million Chinese girls.
He went on to question the idea that China was destined to continue on a straight path towards becoming the world’s most powerful nation. While its growth—which had been aided by the opening of its markets as well as the global structure maintained primarily by the United States—was impressive, the rise of a nation is rarely linear. Challenges remain in restructuring its economy, especially since it is still dominated by many large government-run businesses. When these businesses are restructured it will inevitably create social turmoil.
Many experts argued that the opening of the Chinese economy would promote political change within the country but this has proven to be false. Those within the rising middle class are frustrated by this lack of change, and this frustration may start to wear on social cohesion within China.
However, Secretary Rumsfeld asserted that China and the United States were not necessarily on a crash course. Instead, he stated that if China chooses to become a more responsible stakeholder there are many areas in which the United States and China can cooperate. Should China and the United States engage in armed conflict, Mr. Rumsfeld stated it would be “the gravest possible failure of diplomacy”.
Secretary Rumsfeld had high praise for South Korea and all that it has achieved in the past decades. Its growth and growing prosperity had made South Korea a model for the rest of the world. The United States needs to work to ensure that the alliance stays strong.
While Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged that leaders in the United States are occupied with other problems he stressed the importance of staying engaged in East Asia, especially as the demographic and economic center of gravity shifted towards the region. The problems facing the United States are certainly daunting, but Mr. Rumsfeld was confident that they could be overcome. The U.S. has overcome major challenges in the past, and it could and would do so again. Thus, Mr. Rumsfeld disputed the idea that America was in decline. He stated that the United States continues to lead the world in science and research, is home to the top universities, and remains open to new ideas because all of its citizens have their ancestral roots in different nations. Moreover, the economy remained free and dynamic, with more businesses started in the United States each year than anywhere else in the world.
On economics, Mr. Rumsfeld urged the passing of free trade agreements, including the pending FTA with Korea. The possibility of the United States becoming isolationist and protectionist, citing the recent proposed bill to place a tariff on Chinese imports, was the primary danger facing the nation.
With Korea as one of its primary allies, Mr. Rumsfeld stated that the United States was ready to work closely with it to increase prosperity and security in the region. The United States has been and will continue to be a Pacific nation.
Donald Rumsfeld, the 13th and 21st U.S. Secretary of Defense, currently chairs a non-profit with his wife, Joyce. Mr. Rumsfeld completed his second term as a Secretary of Defense on December 2006. A former naval aviator, Secretary Rumsfeld served as U.S. Congressman, U.S. Ambassador to NATO, White House Chief of Staff, Special Presidential Envoy to the Middle East, and Chief Executive Officer of two Fortune 500 companies. Secretary Rumsfeld led the Defense Department in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, to include the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban and Al Qaeda and the liberation of Iraq from the regime of Saddam Hussein. He also helped to oversee the reform and transformation of America’s military to be better able to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Since the end of his term, Mr. Rumsfeld has continued his public service in a variety of public and private posts. Secretary Rumsfeld recently published a bestselling memoir, Known and Unknown, in February 2011. Mr. Rumsfeld is a graduate of Princeton University where he received his B.A. degree.