Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Cobra Gold 2017 Opening Ceremony
Sattahip Royal Thai Marine Corps Base, Chonburi Province, Thailand
February 14, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen and General Surapong, thanks for having me here. Before I start, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences and heartfelt sympathy to the Royal Family and the people of the Kingdom of Thailand on the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Rama IX last October. His Majesty’s personal efforts promoted peace and security both within Thailand and throughout the region. His Majesty will be forever remembered as one of the world’s great leaders.
The bonds forged over decades of mutual cooperation during other times of tragedy and disaster will allow us to persevere throughout this sorrowful time and others we might face in the future. The enduring alliance between Thailand and the United States remains strong, as indicated by all of us being here today to kick off Cobra Gold.
I’d first like to recognize King Maha Rama X and wish prosperity for the Thai people during his reign.
I’d also like to recognize again Thailand’s Chief of Defense Forces, General Surapong. Thank you for hosting this topnotch multinational exercise and welcoming my team to the Kingdom of Thailand.
Ambassador Davies, thanks for your terrific remarks and your leadership in this critical alliance – it’s hard for a military officer to follow a diplomat to the podium, and you’ve certainly made that no easier sir, thank you. Welcome also to all the ambassadors and diplomatic corps…Fellow Flag and General Officers…Distinguished guests…
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor to be with you today, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Thai allies and our friends from all of the countries represented here today. I’ve visited this beautiful country many times during my long career, but this is my first visit as the U.S. PACOM commander. So as much as I’d like to, I won’t talk long. They say it’s best to leave your audience before your audience leaves you. So I’ll get right to it.
The United States and Thailand enjoy an extraordinary relationship – as the ambassador said, our nations signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1833, setting up a close economic and diplomatic partnership that has lasted for almost two centuries.
And for the last 60-plus years, we’ve been committed to mutual defense cooperation by treaty. In 2003, the U.S. designated Thailand as a major non-NATO ally. Our troops have deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, together.
Folks, our alliance is a big deal. The United States has only 5 bilateral defense treaty allies in the world, and Thailand is one of them. Nations don’t enter into security treaty alliances lightly – it means we’re in it together, for the long haul.
The U.S. alliance with Thailand is a deep and enduring commitment. We look forward to Thailand's reemergence as a flourishing democracy, because we need Thailand as a strong and stable ally. We need Thailand to get back to being the regional and global leader that it always has been. We need Thailand’s leadership in Asia.
The Cobra Gold exercise series is an integral part of the U.S. pledge to strengthen our bonds with the Kingdom of Thailand and other participating nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. This year marks the 36th iteration of Cobra Gold, the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in Asia – 28 nations are participating in the various training events this year.
To me, this high level of participation demonstrates a growing commitment to do the hard work and increase interoperability among our militaries now, so that we know what works when crisis strikes. I’d like to personally thank all of the nations that are participating in this, the Indo-Asia-Pacific region’s exercise of choice. Your commitment to the region’s security matters, and I appreciate your efforts.
Ancient wisdom holds what modern experience confirms: ‘We don’t rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.’ Cobra Gold gives us the opportunity to train to our expectations. This exercise will test us in realistic and complex ways. Earnest collaboration and open minds throughout our entire time together will allow us to learn with each other and from each other.
The three primary event categories – the Staff Exercise, the Humanitarian Civic Assistance Projects, and the Field Training Exercise – are the laboratories that will allow us to discover new ways to cooperate and work together to solve common problems as responsible stakeholders.
These types of events build meaningful trust and durable relationships among those nations who participate.
Here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, we can all benefit by focusing our attention on combined response to crises and challenges, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Every nation, no matter how rich or powerful, can use a little help from time-to-time from its partners. And clearly the best time to develop these partnerships is before world events demand them. With that in mind, regional cooperation and interoperability are imperatives that are easy to support.
A few moments ago, I promised this audience that I would get away from the podium before you all walked away from me. And since I keep my promises, I’ll close with a bit of encouragement.
For the duration of this world-class exercise, train hard, train safely, and train with a willingness to learn from each other. Strive to improve interoperability. Forge relationships that you can call on during times of crisis.
This is the place to think creatively and maybe make a few mistakes – learn from those mistakes and take your training to the next level. This is how you grow and prepare for future crises. Together, we will ensure that our training matches our expectations.
Thank you all for stepping up to participate in Cobra Gold 2017. Your contribution supports stability, prosperity, and peace in this region – and throughout the world.
Thank you very much.