The U.S. Defense Department is changing its focus to the Asia-Pacific as military engagement with Iraq has ended and the Afghan war draws to a close.
Carter told the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue the so-called pivot was more than a military realignment.
"This presence is accompanied by values -- democracy, freedom, human rights, civilian control of the military and respect for the sovereignty of nations," he said.
Carter said about 60 percent of the U.S. Navy's assets will be assigned to the region by 2020. A strategic road map for 2015 will transition a joint U.S.-South Korean force command to South Korean leadership, he added.
"We are not only rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific but also within the Asia-Pacific, in recognition of the growing importance of Southeast Asia to the region as a whole [and] emphasizing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, capacity building and multilateral exercises," he said.
Skeptics of the strategy said the move leaves the Middle East and North African vulnerable to emerging al-Qaida threats.