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Brigadier General Stilwell, Possible Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and Pacific Affairs

As of October 18th, 2018, retired Brigadier General David R. Stilwell is expected to be nominated by President Donald J. Trump to fill the position of Assistant Secretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs, U.S. State Department. The position was previously held by, Daniel Russel, from 2013 to April 2017. The position was then filled by Susan Thornton, a career diplomat, who held the position till her retirement at the end of July 2018. The biographical sketch of Brigadier General David R. Stilwell is based on information that the US-China Perception Monitor obtained from online sources.

Brigadier General David R. Stillwell

Brigadier General David R. Stillwell retired from the United States Air Force in 2015 after over 35 years of service to his country. Stilwell enlisted into the United States Air Force in 1980, where he was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California, where he trained to be a Korean linguist in what is one of the hardest language programs on earth. Upon successful completion of the Korean language program he would go on to serve as a cryptologic linguist at Osan Airbase in South Korea. Only after three years of service Stilwell was accepted into the prestigious Air Force Academy, as a cadet, where he studied and trained from 1983 to 1987.Upon graduation he was awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Asian history. He then went on to attend the University of Hawaii as an East-West Center participant in 1998, earning a Master of Art degree in Asian Studies and Chinese Language. This was a high honor since the EWC (East-West Center or Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange between East and West) was an education and research organization established by the United States Congress in 1960. Those selected as fellows for the center, such as General Stilwell, were chosen because the Congress believed they could one day help strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States.

Stilwell’s combat positions include serving as a fighter pilot with over 3000 hours in the air and operational tours in the RF-4C and the F-16 at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas; Shaw AFB (Air Force Base) South Carolina; Kunsan Air Base, South Korea; and Misawa AB (Air Base), Japan; and a tour as an Aggressor pilot at Nellis AFB, Nevada. His staff assignments include a tour as an Assistant Professor of History at the Air Force Academy, Chief of Combat Applications at the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, Chief of Plans and Programs for Air Combat Command, and U.S. Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché to China. While stationed at Misawa air base, Brigadier General Stilwell served as the Pacific Air Forces Demonstration Pilot, representing the U.S. at airshows in Guam, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. He commanded the Adversary Tactics Group at Nellis air force base, Nevada, where he was responsible for integrating Air, Space and Cyberspace threat training for Air Force and Joint audiences, as well as the planning and execution of four RED FLAG exercises annually. General Stilwell has deployed to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey in support of combat operations in the Middle East. He ended his service by serving as the Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs for Asia, Joint Staff, and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. where he was responsible for regional planning and policy, and for the implementation of the national security strategy of the United States, supporting commanders of the U.S. Pacific and Central commands.

During his career General Stilwell was bestowed with major awards and commendations from the Department of Defense and Congress such as the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Aerial Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Combat Readiness Medal with oak leaf cluster.

Post-military he has served as an Adjunct Senior Fellow with EWC’s Research Program and a consultant in Asia Pacific political and military affairs. In this role he attended an event held by Project2049 Institute on March 20th, 2015 giving a keynote speech on Chinese Military Development and the U.S.-Japan Alliance.” [1] In the speech General Stilwell expressed that cooperation with the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) Navy in anti-piracy and humanitarian assistance programs had caused him to believe that China is beginning to develop a global-centric perspective which should yield positive results in any future military cooperation between the U.S. and China. He pointed to increasing opportunities for the United States and China to interact with each other but iterated the relationship will depend on sustained and substantial dialogue behind the scenes, enhanced risk reduction talks and measures, and practical cooperation through ship visits, exercises and exchanges. General Stilwell stated, that all these measures will be essential if the U.S. and China in the 21st century are to develop a positive relationship based on mutual trust and bilateral arrangements meant to deescalate any future scenarios.



Written by Adam Donaldson, Fall 2018 Intern

The Carter Center – China Program


[1] Project2049Institute. “Keynote Speech by Brigadier General David R. Stilwell.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 Apr. 2015,