U.S. Under Secretary of the Navy Mr. Thomas Modly Visit to Fiji

Remarks by Under Secretary of the Navy Mr. Thomas Modly 

Press Briefing: 9/27/18

I’m Tom Modly the Undersecretary of the United States Navy. My responsibilities as the number two official in the Navy are basically for chief management and CIO functions of the Navy. But I am also here as part of the implementation of the National Defense Strategy of the United States. The second plank of which is building and strengthening our partners, partnerships and alliances around the world. One of the key elements for our strategy is to recognize the geostrategic context is very complex, particularly in regions like this where you have nations that are separated by vast amounts of ocean. We recognize that maintaining strong partnerships and alliances in this region is critical to security because of the economic interests that are vested in the oceans here.

So I am here on a tour. I started in Hawaii. We went to Kiribati and visited our memorial in Tarawa to commemorate the loss of lives during World War II. We moved on from there to Papua New Guinea and then we were in Vanuatu yesterday. We are here today and we’ll probably be here for another day or so and then moving on to Micronesia, Guam and then back home. It has been a fascinating visit for me. I have learned a lot about the region and had the opportunity to interact with senior defense and security officials in each of the countries we visited. I really looked for opportunities where we can work with them to strengthen the security situation for those countries. Also [I am here] to just reestablish the fact that the United States is here and interested in maintaining our friendships and furthering them and becoming more integrated as part of a broad security structure for this region. We met with several members of the military both the Army and the Navy as well as the Defense Ministry and the police.

I think there are multiple areas where we can be of assistance here. One of which is we have a fairly large naval presence in the Pacific which allows us to support the development and integration of the Fijian Naval Forces here. We have a lot of expertise in the region that can be applied to help with that. We can provide help with that both from an engineering perspective with our Seabees, who are civil engineers, as well as our divers, who can help train. As well as coming and creating opportunities for cultural interchange through ship visits and things such as that. We are planning to do several of those things, I am not at liberty to announce them right now, but we are clearly looking at those as opportunities or us to establish relations and maintain our friendship.

I think we all hope to gain by maintaining better partnerships in the region; maintaining security of these nations as well as our own. You have vested interests in maintaining your fisheries and freedom of navigation in these waters. These waters are critical to our trade as well. You are clearly a maritime nation and we are also a maritime nation that depends upon the seas for commerce. As part of that we hope to be partners with you as you develop your own economy, build greater prosperity for your own people. We want to be a part of and part of that story for you.

Terrorism is a concern for us as well. As you know the barriers to entry for people to have an asymmetric type of power has become much more critical and severe. We almost lost a ship several years ago when a small ship rammed it with explosives. The price for the terrorists compared to us was very asymmetric. It was probably one hundred thousand dollars to develop that weapon and it attacked a warship of ours that cost two billion dollars. We have to be very, very vigilant in this and to the extent that the Fijian government is looking at ways to combat that we are fully committed to helping you there.

Another example of us trying to maintain relationships and improve relationships and build on partnerships; we’ve offered a position at the United States Naval Academy for a mid-shipman from Fiji to be part of a graduating class there. It is a four year program at the Naval Academy. We do this with a lot of countries around the world and it’s a fantastic program because it gives them not only the professional education that they can bring back here but I think more importantly it allows us to develop military to military relationships that extend beyond that four year term. So your mid-shipman will be going to school with people who ten to fifteen, twenty years from now will be the senior leaders in the United States Navy. From my perspective you’ll pick a very well qualified candidate. That candidate will make a lot of friends while they are there and these friendships will continue and that is critical to maintaining the partnerships. The program will start with the class that comes in next summer. So I spoke to your head of Navy today and they are in the process of picking out the best candidate to do that. I told them “Make sure the person is very smart and make sure he or she is a very good rugby player because we need some good rugby players at the Naval Academy.”

Thank you very much.