We are here for the opening of the multilateral exercise, Cobra Gold, which we have held annually since 1982. From a modest beginning, Cobra Gold has evolved into the Asia-Pacific region’s marquee multilateral military event, as the two dozen participating nations demonstrate.
The evolution of Cobra Gold has not taken place in a vacuum. Since 1982, Southeast Asia has also transformed politically, economically, and socially into one of the world’s most interconnected and dynamic regions. There have also been changes in the security challenges we collectively face: typhoons and terrorism are now more common threats than tanks and torpedoes. Taking this into account, we have refocused Cobra Gold this year to place greater emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities. Mirroring ongoing real-world operations and multinational efforts, the exercise will include a simulated UN-authorized counter-piracy mission and multilateral evacuation of civilians from a disaster-affected area, and special training for disaster evaluation and assistance planning.
Cobra Gold 2015 also features components aimed at mitigating and preventing emerging infectious disease threats. We’ve seen in recent years how diseases like Ebola, Avian Influenza, and SARS can spread quickly and cause tremendous human and economic devastation. International cooperation is the only way to effectively address these transnational threats.
These adjustments keep Cobra Gold relevant in a shifting security environment. Some things stay the same, however: An unwavering U.S. commitment to Asia; to peace, freedom, prosperity, and democracy; and to our many partners in the region – including our co-host, Thailand, a close friend and ally for 182 years.
A senior U.S. envoy recently visiting Thailand made clear our unwavering friendship and support for the Thai people, as well as our hopes for the country’s return to democracy as soon as possible so we can restore our bilateral relationship to its full potential. Still, we can’t deny that this period is a challenging one for us all, and has necessitated a modified Cobra Gold exercise this year as Thailand manages its return to elected, civilian-led government.
The multilateral Cobra Gold exercise, however, transcends any bilateral relationship, strengthens regional cooperation, advances the security interests of participant nations, and delivers significant benefits to the wider Asia-Pacific region. The 24 countries that comprise Cobra Gold as participants and observers represent a formidable cross-section of the Asia-Pacific. We are pleased to have joining the United States and Thailand as full participants, and represented here today, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. We extend a special welcome to India, joining the exercise as an “observer plus” for the first time this year. India’s participation, like the addition last year of China, is a tremendous step in building an even broader and more inclusive Cobra Gold group.
The benefits of this broader cooperation are already blossoming. U.S., Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian soldiers are making great progress, as we speak, on projects at four Cobra Gold humanitarian civic action sites that will benefit local communities for generations to come. Over the next two weeks, it’s our hope that all participating nations will exchange ideas and best practices, learn new skills, and build bonds that allow us to respond faster and more effectively to regional and global security challenges. Working together, we are much stronger than any of us are individually.
Thank you to the Armed Forces Academy Preparatory School for hosting this year’s exercise in beautiful Nakhon Nayok Province. It is fitting that the young cadets here will see early in their careers the importance of multilateral security cooperation. Thank you all for your contributions to this vital security and humanitarian work, which directly benefits billions of our citizens across the entire Asia-Pacific region.