Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Chicago Council on Global Affairs
April 12, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m grateful for this opportunity to discuss the importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific and how I believe this region is indelibly linked to America’s future prosperity and security.
When you’re talking about half the planet, it’s hard to be brief. But I'll try not to talk too long. I’ve been told it’s best to leave your audience before your audience leaves you.
It is a special treat to be here. As The Chairman of the Board once said, Chicago is my kind of town. But unlike Mr. Sinatra, I’ll refrain from ‘throwing each one of you a kiss.’
I would, however, like to express my personal admiration for the Mayor and the City of Chicago for hosting the 2017 Warrior Games from June 30th to July 8th. This will be the first Warrior Games to be held outside a military installation or Olympic facility and it’s truly inspirational how Chicago is welcoming our wounded warriors and their families from around the country.
Chicago is a world class city. And candidly, I thought I’d never be able to say this in my lifetime – it’s great to be in the city of the reigning World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.
Folks, I’m truly honored to join this accomplished group of leaders and scholars here at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Your diverse and informed opinions are part and parcel of the incubator of ideas that makes this city such an impactful place. I’m very impressed by this organization. Since 1922 – nearly a century – you’ve inspired Americans to better understand the outside world and the critical global issues of our times.
Forums like this help all of us dig deep to analyze the issues that impact our nation -- something especially needed in this day and age of instant news and sound bites that simply scratch the surface. But since I know there’s media in the room, I’ll try to be noteworthy and not newsworthy.
Perhaps it’s best I set the stage by providing a little context about the United States Pacific Command, or PACOM, America’s oldest and largest military combatant command that is headquartered in Honolulu Hawaii. I must admit, the sky is as blue as it is today, but it’s a heck of a lot warmer!
We’re made up of about 375,000 personnel – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense civilians – who stand the watch over half the Earth. I always say it goes from Hollywood to Bollywood, and from polar bears to penguins.
Although many refer to this area as the Asia-Pacific, I prefer to call it the Indo-Asia-Pacific. This term, in my view, more accurately captures, for me, the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the economic lifeblood that links India, Australia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania and the United States.
Strengthening U.S. security, diplomatic, and economic connective tissue throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific is nothing new for PACOM. For 70 years, our Joint forces have been protecting America’s enduring national interests throughout this critical region – not quite as long as this Chicago Council, but certainly a bit longer than I’ve been around.
Since 1947, PACOM has been responsible for all U.S. military operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater – all designed to reinforce our alliances, expand our partnerships, and ensure our outstanding diplomats can negotiate from a position of strength. And if diplomacy fails, we must ensure our Joint forces can fight and win in any conflict.
Over the past 70 years, the Indo-Asia-Pacific has been one of the world’s great success stories. Completely transformed since the end of World War II, the region is now home to the world’s three largest economies and seven of the eight fastest growing markets.
Each year, over $5 trillion in annual global trade transits the South China Sea – and a trillion dollars of this sea-based trade involves the United States. This global trade relies on unimpeded sea lanes. In fact, the Strait of Malacca alone sees over 25 percent of global oil shipments and 50 percent of all natural gas shipments daily.
The Indo-Asia-Pacific also has 7 of the world’s 10 largest armies, which means the area also shapes the course of global security. But even so, this region has experienced decades of relative peace and stability. This secure environment has facilitated an increase in prosperity unequaled in human history.
In my opinion, this success story has been made possible, in large part, by the rules-based security architecture in the region – supported by seven decades of American military presence and underpinned by America's five bilateral security alliances with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand.
And we’re enhancing regional security by deepening our partnerships with nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and many others.
Of the many bright spots in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, I’ll mention one in particular – the growing U.S.-India relationship. As the world's two largest democracies, we are uniquely poised to help bring greater security and prosperity to the entire region. There are those who question the motives for the increasingly cooperative relationship between the U.S. and India. Some have said that it’s to contain China. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s simply not true.
The U.S.-India relationship stands on its own merits. This is why I made enhancing our relationship with India a major line of effort at PACOM. I’m pleased to report on the upward trajectory of cooperation between our two great nations.
With its commitment to improving its defense capabilities and modernizing its forces, India has demonstrated it has skin in the game. India is now a 'Major Defense Partner' of the United States. The Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or D.T.T.I., the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, or LEMOA, and our robust multilateral military cooperation are improving regional security.
First, D.T.T.I. is creating closer defense and industrial ties between our two nations. The LEMOA allows both India and the U.S., to assist each other in new ways such as refueling and replenishment – this is especially critical for our disaster response operations. This agreement provides us flexibility by increasing our operational endurance and reach.
Indeed, our deepening cooperation with India – based on shared values and shared concerns – is becoming a key component of American engagement in the 21st century.
Of course, there’s still more work to be done. I’m eager to continue the work on other foundational agreements that will make our armed forces even more interoperable, such as a Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, or COMCASA, and Basic Exchange and the Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Information and Services Cooperation, or BECA.
As you can tell, we’re also sharing with our Indian friends the U.S. military affection for acronyms.
Folks, India is just one of the many countries in this region which have demonstrated a commitment to longstanding, customary international law. The principles of which provide the foundation of the rules-based international order:
- the peaceful resolution of disputes;
- freedom of navigation for military and civilian ships and aircraft;
- and unimpeded lawful commerce.
These principles are not abstractions, nor are they subject to the whims of any one country. They’re not privileges to be granted or withdrawn. They make sense because they’ve worked for decades to keep the peace while creating prosperous economic conditions to lift more than a billion people out of poverty.
American opportunities in the Indo-Asia-Pacific are abundant, but the path is burdened by four considerable threats: North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS or Islamic terrorists.
We can’t turn a blind eye to these challenges. And we can’t give any nation or insidious non-state actor a pass if they purposefully erode the rules-based security order.
In the here and now, ISIS is a threat that must be destroyed. The main focus of our coalition's military effort, and rightfully so, is in the Middle East and North Africa. But as we eliminate ISIS in these areas, some of the surviving fighters will likely repatriate to their home countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. And what's worse is they’ll be radicalized and weaponized.
In the past year, the region has witnessed ISIS-inspired terrorism in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. So we must eradicate this disease before it fully metastasizes in the PACOM area of responsibility. But we can’t do it alone. To halt ISIS’s cancerous spread, we must work together with like-minded partners in the region and across the globe.
Multinational efforts are underway to meet this challenge. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are deepening cooperation to fight regional piracy and related kidnapping for ransom in the Sulu Sea. The Abu Sayyaf Group, a Philippine-based terrorist organization, whose leader has sworn allegiance to ISIS, is responsible for much of this activity.
Cooperative efforts in this vast and largely ungoverned maritime area connecting these three nations and their thousands of islands will help deny these terrorists maneuver space, recruits, and revenue streams. This partnership, along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ renewed offensive against the group, is producing meaningful results.
Cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia is another high point. Because of the coordination between these two nations, a plot by a terrorist cell with links to ISIS to conduct an attack in Singapore was broken up by Indonesian security forces.
In fact, 68 countries, including many partners from the Indo-Asia-Pacific, have joined the coalition dedicated to ISIS’s complete destruction. PACOM, including Special Operations Command Pacific, or SOCPAC, supports these efforts to improve cooperation against this nemesis to humanity.
But ISIS isn't our only immediate threat. North Korea distinguishes itself as the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons in this century. As former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry once said, we have to deal with North Korea, ‘…as it is, not as we wish it to be.’
Now I want all of you smart people to stop for a minute and really think about this. Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong-Un is a recipe for disaster. That’s North Korea as it is.
I know there's some debate about the miniaturization and other technological advancements made by Pyongyang. But an aggressive weapons test schedule, as demonstrated by the recent missile launch headlines we’ve all read, moves North Korea closer to its stated goal of a pre-emptive nuclear strike capability against American cities, including Chicago. Kim Jong-Un is not afraid to fail in public.
Defending our homeland is always my top priority. So I must assume that Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear claims are true – I know his aspirations certainly are. And that should provide all of us a sense of urgency to ensure PACOM is prepared to fight tonight with the best technology of any force on the planet.
That’s why we must remain ever vigilant in our efforts to defend the U.S. homeland and the homelands of our allies in South Korea and Japan. That’s why we’ve ordered THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Area Defense – to South Korea. That’s why the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group is heading back to Northeast Asia. That’s why we continue to bring the newest and best military platforms to PACOM, to include our F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Early Warning Aircraft that will be based in Japan. That’s why I continue to emphasize trilateral cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States.
We want to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not to his knees.
Other significant challenges are posed by a revanchist Russia and an aggressive and assertive China. Both Moscow and Beijing have choices to make. They can choose to disregard the rules-based international order or they can contribute to it as responsible stakeholders.
I’ve been loud and clear that I prefer cooperation so that we can collectively address our shared security challenges – especially when it comes to North Korea.
But cooperation requires trust. And trust comes from matching words to actions. If a nation commits to an international accord it should follow those rules. And when they arise, settle disputes within the agreed framework.
I believe that it’s in the best interests of all nations to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the shared spaces of the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Actors that ignore the rules and seek to control international airspace or international waters will only inflame tensions in the region. So, when it’s all said and done, if the words don’t match the actions, there’s no trust upon which to build cooperation.
In my opinion, we are in strategic competition with China. Let’s acknowledge this situation and deal with China realistically – as it is.
No one, including me, wants conflict with any nation. But it’s my job to give President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis military options – and not talk about those options in public. So I’ll simply say that we will cooperate where we can, and we will be ready to confront where we must.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm often asked about what to do in the face of these challenges I've spent the last few minutes talking about, and my response is two-fold.
First, as the PACOM Commander, I must be ready to confront all challenges from a position of strength with credible combat power.
Second, I need to find creative solutions to the challenges ahead of us. Fortunately, I think I’ve come to the right place to get support on both. I need visionaries from right here in Chicago, and all around our great nation, to continue their innovative work to develop smart policy and especially cutting edge technology.
I’m often asked whether China’s military has caught up to the United States and my answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ China is not 10-feet tall. But there’s no doubt that China, Russia and others are trying to close the gaps in technology and capability. So we must drink from the chalice of urgency to ensure that the U.S. military retains our significant asymmetric advantages.
If we have to fight tonight, I don't want it to be a fair fight. If it's a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it's a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery…and the artillery of our friends, allies and partners. But as I said last year, and where I will again say later this month during Congressional testimony, sequestration could reduce us to wielding a butter knife in this gun fight. So getting sequestration repealed is one area where I could use the support and brainpower of those in this room.
I’d also like to leave you with an observation, or if you will, a call to action.
I believe we’re approaching an inflection point in history. We’re certainly not approaching anything resembling the end of history. Freedom, justice, and the rules-based system hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord or simply because of wishful thinking.
So the time to act is now.
Ladies and gentlemen, your continued engagement demonstrates your public spirit to put skin in the game by looking for real solutions to complex problems. I can’t think of better or smarter patriots than those in this room to help ensure American security and prosperity continue throughout this century.
By now, I’m sure some of you are regretting the length of this speech. Since it was opening day at Wrigley just two days ago, I’m reminded of a baseball story where the visiting team was getting pounded in the 1st inning by the Cubbies. The visiting manager walked out of the dugout and headed directly to the mound, where he took the ball from the pitcher.
The pitcher protested, ‘Coach, I’m not tired.’
The manager – with a practiced eye – said ‘Yeah son, I know…but the outfielders sure are.’
So, for all you outfielders out there, let me conclude with this thought on how blessed we are as a nation – where we have the freedom to participate in open forums like this and discuss important issues.
We’re fortunate to have men and women to volunteer to serve our country – whether it’s to keep the peace in Asia or to go in to harm’s way in the Middle East.
But we’re also richly blessed to have informed citizens, patriots like each of you, who are aware of the challenges, opportunities, and dangers we face in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and beyond.
You play an important part in shaping our nation’s future – developing new centers of influence, right here in Chicago and beyond, to help ensure that the United States maintains our global leadership position.
As President Eisenhower once noted, ‘Only alert and knowledgeable citizens can ensure the responsible use of power, so that security and liberty may prosper together.’
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a great example of Ike’s ‘alert and knowledgeable citizenry.’ Those of us in uniform are grateful for your efforts. Keep doing what you’re doing! Please keep doing what you’re doing. I look forward your thoughts on what we can do together to meet these challenges, because we’re in this together.
Ladies and gentlemen, may God bless all of you for always keeping the United States of America on top as a beacon of freedom for the entire world. Thank you very much.