By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 6, 2007 – One of the biggest challenges facing the United States in Asia is keeping the region's leaders focused on the terrorist threat, a recently retired senior defense official told reporters here today. That's particularly important among nations that don't see themselves as terrorist targets, said Richard Lawless, who retired last week after almost five years as deputy assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs.
"If we don't keep people's attitudes and eyes focused on the threat, they tend to drift away to other subjects," he said. "And keeping people focused on that issue has been very tough."
Lawless acknowledged that some Asian-Pacific countries "are just simply not impacted by terrorism." Others have gone so long since experiencing a terrorist attack within their borders that they have shifted their attention elsewhere.
As counterintuitive as this may seem -- particularly in light of recent terrorist incidents in the United Kingdom that showed that terrorists are alive and well and busily planning attacks -- some countries simply aren't focused on the terrorist threat, Lawless said.
This phenomenon "speaks volumes" about international efforts to contain terrorist incidents, he said. But it also presents challenges.
Many countries don't recognize just how big the U.S. commitment to fighting terrorism is or how much that commitment demands, he said. "I don't think the scale of our commitment to the international war on terrorism is necessarily appreciated or understood by a lot of the countries in the region which have no threats, at least immediately, upon them that they can discern," Lawless said.
"And (so) ... we have to explain that we are hugely committed and have to commit our resources and our troops and our national wealth to this fight," he said. "It's something we have to keep reminding them about."
Lawless noted several major exceptions, including Singapore. Singaporeans "are hugely focused on the terrorism threat and devote a lot of time and a lot of attention and a lot of thought to managing that and managing it very aggressively," he said.
Similarly, U.S. alliances with Australia, Japan and Korea have resulted in big commitments from them in the global war on terror, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"We are very happy and pleased that they have stepped up and made those contributions," he said. "All three alliances ... are stronger because of their willingness to engage globally."