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Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Opening Statement

By ADM Harry Harris | U.S. Pacific Command | March 20, 2018

Adm. Harry Harris

Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Opening Statement

Senate Office Building, Washington D.C.

March 15, 2018

As Delivered


Thank you, Senator Inhofe, Ranking Member Reed, and distinguished members. It's an honor for me to appear again before this committee for what is likely my last posture hearing to you all. I do regret – as the Senator said – that I'm not here with my usual testimony battle buddy U.S. Forces Korea Commander General Vince Brooks, but I think you will all agree that he's where he's needed most right now, on the Korean Peninsula.  General Brooks and I extend our thoughts and prayers to Chairman McCain and his family as he continues his tough health fight.


There are many things to talk about since my last testimony before you 11 months ago, but I want to start by thanking the Congress for your action last month.  I’m grateful for your bipartisan efforts to raise the budget caps for FY18 and FY19, and I’m optimistic that Congress will resource the FY18 NDAA in the coming weeks.  I, and many others, have regularly highlighted the negative impacts that Sequestration and the Budget Control Act have leveled against the military, so I would ask Congress to make these bipartisan measures permanent and end Sequestration for good.


One of the principal problems we face in the region is overcoming the perception that the United States is a declining or disinterested power. A fully resourced defense budget, leading into long-term budget stability, will send a strong signal to our allies and partners – and all potential adversaries – that the U.S. is fully committed to preserving a free and open order in the Indo-Pacific.  


As your PACOM Commander, I have the tremendous honor of leading approximately 375,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsman, and DOD civilians standing watch for the largest and most diverse geographic command. These men and women, as well as their families, fill me with pride in their hard work and devotion to duty.  I’m humbled to serve alongside them.

The U.S. has an enduring national interest in the Indo-Pacific, and – as I stated last year – I believe America’s security and economic prosperity are indelibly linked to this critical region, which remains at a precarious crossroad where tangible opportunity meets significant challenge.  Here we face a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory.


Senator Reed, I join you in being encouraged by recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and the possibility of a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un… but North Korea remains our most urgent security threat in the region.  PACOM will continue to fully support the President’s maximum pressure campaign and be ready to respond with our allies and partners to the full range of contingency scenarios.


This past year has seen rapid and comprehensive improvement in the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities, despite broad international condemnation and the imposition of additional United Nations Security Council Resolutions.  This includes the detonation of its largest nuclear device, first-ever launches of two different intercontinental ballistic missiles, and six launches of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, all of which Pyongyang emphatically states will target the United States, including Guam.


While some might dispute both the reliability and quantity of the North’s strategic weapons, it is indisputable that KJU is rapidly closing the gap between rhetoric and capability.  The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of North Korea’s threats for years. Now, that shadow looms over the American homeland.


Meanwhile, China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific to their advantage. While some view China’s actions in the East and South China Seas as opportunistic, I do not.  I view them as coordinated, methodical, and strategic, using their military and economic power to erode the free and open international order.


China’s aggression in the South China Sea moves along unabated, despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s 9-dash line claim and unprecedented land reclamation in 2016.  And China is attempting to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features by further militarizing its man-made bases to this very day.

China’s impressive military buildup could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain.  Key advancements include fielding significant improvements in missile systems, developing 5th-generation fighter capabilities, and growing the size and capability of the Chinese navy, to include their first-ever overseas base in the Port of Djibouti.  They are also heavily investing into the next wave of military technologies, including hypersonic missiles, advanced space and cyber capabilities, and artificial intelligence. If the U.S. does not keep pace, PACOM will struggle to compete with the People’s Liberation Army on future battlefields.


China’s ongoing military buildup, advancement, and modernization are core elements of their strategy to supplant the United States as the security partner of choice for countries in the Indo-Pacific. China also holds global ambitions.  But don’t take my word for it; just listen to what China says itself: At the 19th Party Congress, President Xi stated he wanted China to develop a “world-class” military and become the “global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence.”


Ladies and gentlemen, China’s intent is crystal-clear, and we ignore it at our peril.


These types of aspirational goals could be appropriate for a nation of China’s stature, but judging by China’s regional behavior, I’m concerned China will now work to undermine the rules-based international order – not just in the Indo-Pacific, but on a global scale, as China expands its presence in Central Asia, the Arctic, Africa, South America, and Europe.


This increasingly competitive environment necessitates continued dialogue between the United States and China – and our militaries – to improve understanding and reduce risk.  For PACOM, my goal remains to convince China that its best future comes from peaceful cooperation and meaningful participation in the current free and open international order and honoring its international commitments.  After all, the Chinese economic miracle could not have happened without the rules-based order the region has long supported. But I’ve also been loud and clear that we won’t allow the shared domains to be closed down unilaterally, so we’ll cooperate where we can, but remain ready to confront where we must.


Now, on to Russia. Russian operations and engagements throughout the Indo-Pacific continue to rise, both to advance their own strategic interests and to undermine ours.  Russia intends to impose additional costs on the U.S. whenever and wherever possible by playing the role of spoiler, especially with respect to North Korea. Russia also sees economic opportunities to not only build markets for energy exports, but also to build – or in some cases rebuild – arms sales relationships in the region.


Of particular note are Russian efforts to build presence and influence in the high north.  Russia has more bases north of the Arctic Circle than all other countries combined, and is building more with distinctly military capabilities.


In the PACOM region, one event dominated the counterterrorism fight in 2017: the siege by ISIS of the Philippine city of Marawi and the city’s recapture by Philippine security forces.  This was symbolic of the larger struggle against violent extremism that we saw in Iraq, in Syria, and Africa – and now see in South and Southeast Asia.


Marawi underscores two important themes with regard to defeating ISIS in the Indo-Pacific.  First: localized threats can quickly transform into international causes. An early and effective response is vital to control the fight and own the narrative.  


Second: counterterrorism operations are extremely challenging and most regional forces are poorly equipped for such fights.  Our engagement strategy and capacity-building efforts have remained – and will continue to remain – focused on enabling regional counterterrorism forces to win whatever fights they face.  Through multinational collaboration, we can eliminate ISIS before it spreads further in the area.


Every day, our allies and partners join us in addressing these global challenges to defend freedom, deter war, and maintain the rules which underwrite a free and open Indo-Pacific.  These mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships provide a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match.

In the Indo-Pacific, our alliance with Australia continues to anchor peace and stability in the region with increased collaboration in counterterrorism, space, cyber, integrated air and missile defense, and regional capacity building.  Our alliance with South Korea is ironclad and our alliance with Japan has never been stronger. The attack on Marawi City served as a reminder of the value of our alliance to Philippine security and stability, and we’ve reinvigorated our alliance with Thailand through continued engagement with military leadership to promote regional security and healthy civil-military relations.

We’ve also advanced our partnerships with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and many others who are dedicated to the principles of longstanding, customary international law.

While U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific are real and enduring, the growing challenges to our interests are equally real and cannot be overstated.  In order to deter conflict initiated by revisionist powers, rogue states, and transnational threats, we must continue to develop, acquire, and field advanced capabilities.  Our evolving force posture must decrease our vulnerabilities, increase our resilience, and reassure our allies and partners.

America’s resolve is strong, and it’s imperative we continue to show our commitment to the region in the years to come.  I ask this committee to continue its support for these future capabilities that maintain our edge and prevent would-be challengers from gaining the upper hand.

Based on your bipartisan efforts last month, I’m excited about the path ahead.  Thank you for your enduring support to the PACOM team and our families who live and work in the Indo-Pacific – a region critical to America’s future.  I look forward to your questions.


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