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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | July 28, 2017

Fourth Japan-U.S. Military Statesmen Forum

By ADM Harry Harris U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris

Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

The Fourth Japan-U.S. Military Statesmen Forum

Official Residence of the Ambassador of Japan to the United States

Washington, D.C.

July 27, 2017

As Delivered


(Introduced by Admiral (ret.) Mike Mullen)


Good evening ladies and gentlemen, friends, allies. If you’d indulge me for one moment, instead of opening with one my typical bad jokes, I’d like to start with a truth, and read some inspirational remarks given recently about the importance of allies, so I want to quote something to you, quote:


"Why are we allies? The answer transcends narrow materialism. The animating purpose of our alliance is that we are free societies, who put our faith in the rule of law – we believe that when the strong trample the rights and independence of the weak with impunity, then our liberty and our sovereignty are at risk. We believe that when all peoples cannot sail the seas, and fly the skies, and engage in commerce freely, then our prosperity will suffer. We believe that when the balance of power in the world favors those bent on injustice, and aggression, and conquest, then the peace we cherish will not last. That’s why we are allies… and why we must remain so." Unquote.


Those words were spoken by Senator John McCain a couple of months ago. As he is arguably the American leader on security issues in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, I wanted to start tonight by reflecting on the wise words of Senator McCain, while also sending our thoughts and prayers to him, to Cindy and their family as they begin his latest battle.


While Senator McCain made those remarks in a different place, about a different ally, I believe they speak to our alliance with Japan as well. Senator McCain is a great friend of Japan – just like Admiral Mike Mullen, who also introduced me exactly one year ago today during my speech in Tokyo at R.J.I.F., the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation’s 2016 event. So thank you, Admiral, for yet another overly generous introduction. If there’s one thing I’ve always appreciated, it’s creative sincerity.


Hopefully the media joining us tonight will take Admiral Mullen’s kind words to heart, as I try to be noteworthy and not newsworthy.


Folks, it’s great to once again be amongst so many friends from the artist formerly known as the R.J.I.F. Congratulations to Dr. Funabashi and all the members of the new Asia Pacific Initiative. Just one of many changes since last year.


As strong defenders of the U.S.-Japan alliance, every person here tonight is worthy of recognition. But I’ll just take a moment to specifically acknowledge a few:

  • And I’ll begin with Ambassador and Mrs. Sasae – thank you very much for hosting us. What you and Japanese diplomats do on a daily basis matters so much to our countries and to the world.
  • To the members of Congress here tonight from both houses and both sides of the aisle – I think we all agree that our alliance with Japan is truly worthy of bipartisan support.
  • And although he’s not with us tonight, I’d also like to acknowledge Bill Hagerty, our incoming U.S. Ambassador to Japan. I’ll be seeing him in Hawaii next month on his way to Japan, and I’m going to do everything I can to support him and the American diplomacy that keeps this alliance strong.
  • We are fortunate to have Admiral Kawano with us tonight. He and I had dinner together last night, so candidly, he’s probably tired of talking to me. But it gave me a chance to publicly thank him for his critical leadership to our alliance and for his great friendship.
  • Fellow flag and general officers, including our outstanding U.S. Forces Japan commander General Martinez; Generals Oriki, Iwasaki, Jung, and Sharp; Admirals Roughhead, Blair, and Takei.
  • To the diplomatic corps here tonight, including former Assistant Secretaries Dave Shear, Danny Russel and Chip Gregson.
  • Distinguished guests…

Ladies and gentlemen, I know the only thing keeping us from a wonderful dinner is me. So let’s get down to business. As I mentioned, many of you last saw me exactly one year ago in Tokyo. Wow! A lot has changed over the last 12 months. So during our brief time together tonight, I’ll begin by talking about how three of those changes have impacted our alliance:


One: last September, North Korea tested yet another nuclear device, and on July 4th, Kim Jong-Un successfully launched his first-ever Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or I.C.B.M.


Two: China increased aggressive maneuvers in the East China Sea, and continued its unabated militarization of the South China Sea. 

And three: In May, we were all reminded that ISIS is a truly global threat, as violent extremist organizations banded together to occupy Marawi City in Mindinao in the Philippines.


While all this was going on, the U.S. peacefully transitioned power to a new Administration – and one of the first leaders President Trump spoke with was Prime Minister Abe – the start of what has been a reassuring and productive relationship for both of our countries.


We saw Secretary of Defense Mattis visit Japan in February, and Secretary of State Tillerson visit in March, and Vice President Pence visit in April, and next month our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford, will visit Japan as well.


Indeed, that’s a lot of change in just 12 months – but I’ll point out three truths that have not changed.


One: the Indo-Asia-Pacific remains a top priority for the United States. As Deputy Assistant Secretary Bridge Colby told all of you earlier today, the U.S. remains laser-focused on the region because our interests there are enduring. U.S. key leader engagements with the region – to include Japan – prove our actions back up those words.


Two: America is and will remain a Pacific power and Pacific leader, and just as we have for the past 70 years, PACOM Joint forces will maintain a robust and stabilizing military presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.


And three: Central to this audience, the strength and necessity of the Japan-U.S. alliance has not changed. In a world crying out for leadership at the global level, the need for our alliance has never been stronger. Today, the ties that bind our countries together have never been more robust. And I submit that those ties have never been more vital because of the mutual threats we face.


During his despotic regime, Kim Jong-Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined, and he's on record pace to conduct more tests in 2017 than in any other year – in fact, the July 4th
I.C.B.M. launch by North Korea was its 10th ballistic missile test event this year. Yet another reminder that North Korea is not only the most immediate threat to our alliance, but also a clear and present danger to global peace and stability. Let me emphasize that word global. As Secretary of State Tillerson rightly said after North Korea’s I.C.B.M. launch, "global action is required to stop a global threat."

The alarming behavior exhibited by the Kim Jong-Un regime is not just a threat to our friends in South Korea. It’s a threat to Japan; it’s a threat to China; it’s a threat to Russia; it’s a threat to U.S. allies in the Philippines, Australia and Thailand; it’s a threat to the United States; it’s a threat to the entire world, because North Korea’s missiles point in every direction. And it’s the reason that we call for all nations to implement far stronger economic sanctions against Pyongyang. 

Kim Jong-Un is on a quest for nuclear weapons on the one hand, and the means to deliver them intercontinentally on the other – separate capabilities where he continues to make substantial progress. 

As the world saw on July 4th, North Korea now has an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capability. That means North Korean missiles now have the range to reach North America and Hawaii. I don’t know if these missiles can actually hit what they’re aimed at, but, like horseshoes and hand grenades, getting close is all that’s needed when you’re dealing with nuclear weapons. 

Now I want you to stop for a minute and really think about this. Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of Kim Jong-Un is a recipe for disaster. And because he isn’t afraid to fail in public, North Korean capability will continue to improve. So we must study and consider every possible step to increase the defense of our homelands with the best, most effective solutions possible. 

Additionally, Japan, South Korea and the United States are vigorously pursuing economic and diplomatic pressures aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program. So at PACOM, we’re doing our best to back up these preferred diplomatic options with credible combat power. That’s why we deploy carrier strike groups with AEGIS ships and the world’s best submarines to Northeast Asia. That’s why we maintain a formidable continuous bomber presence in the region. That’s why we continue our ironclad defense of Japan, to include deploying our newest and best military platforms like the F-35 joint strike fighter, the P-8 Poseidon, and the MV-22 Osprey.


And that’s why I continue to emphasize multinational collaboration against a North Korean threat that endangers all of our nations. This includes increasing tri-lateral cooperation between the U.S., Japan and South Korea, a partnership with a purpose if there ever was one. Our three countries share so much in common – democracy, free markets, a commitment to human rights – and we share common security threats. United, we’re stronger, and I believe there is much we can achieve with closer cooperation.


I also firmly believe that every nation who considers itself to be a responsible contributor to international security must work diplomatically and economically to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses,
and not to his knees.


That said, my job as a military commander is to develop hard power options for the Secretary of Defense and the President. Many people have talked about military options being unimaginable regarding North Korea.


Ladies and gentlemen, I must imagine the unimaginable so that we are always ready to fight tonight.


I’ll echo Chairman Dunford’s recent comments in saying what is unimaginable is North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles delivered in Denver, or in Juneau, or in Honolulu, or in Seoul, or Tokyo.


So I’ll continue to provide military options to President Trump and Secretary Mattis, while doing everything possible to emphasize our desire for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That includes calling on China to do more to exert its considerable economic influence to stop Pyongyang’s unprecedented weapons testing. North Korea has only one ally – that’s China, and vice versa.


That means Beijing has exponentially more influence on Pyongyang than anyone else, which makes China the key to a peaceful outcome on the Korean Peninsula. But ladies and gentlemen, China is not the key for all outcomes.


So we continue to try to find common ground with China about the North Korean threat, even as we criticize China’s aggressive behavior elsewhere.


For example, some in the press reported this week about an unsafe air intercept by Chinese fighter jets on a U.S. Navy aircraft operating in international airspace. While it’s always difficult to ascertain true intent of Chinese pilots, the vast majority of air and sea interactions between the People’s Liberation Army and the U.S. continue to be safe and professional. That’s because both nations have worked hard to develop military cooperation consultations in an attempt to avoid miscalculation.


That said, I remain very concerned about Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions that run counter to the international rules-based order.


Some might find it odd for me to advocate cooperation with China on one hand while criticizing Beijing on another. But as I like to say, great powers can walk and chew gum at the same time. By that, I think we can praise Chinese efforts for help on issues like counter-piracy, even as we rightly hold them accountable for not doing enough to influence their North Korean allies. I think we can and should do both.


Accordingly, I’ll remind you that the Chinese are building up combat power and positional advantage in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features and spaces in South China Sea, where they are fundamentally altering the physical and political landscape by creating and militarizing man-made bases, and then using tone-deaf propaganda to justify these unprovoked aggressions as measures intended to rescue some wayward fisherman. As I’ve said before, fake islands should not be believed by real people.


Then there’s a Japan Defense Ministry report released last April that noted how Japan had to scramble aircraft more than 1,000 times in the East China Sea the previous 12 months -- one thousand times – mostly because of Chinese incursions into areas rightly administered by Japan.

With these examples in mind, consider that China recently had an intelligence collection ship operating near Alaska in America’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. China was acting in accordance with international law, so no criticism there. Yet, after this week’s unsafe Chinese fighter intercept, I read in the press that they complained about our U.S. aircraft operating in international airspace in the South China Sea in accordance with international law. 

As Admiral Scott Swift recently opined, why does China believe there’s a different rule set with respect to the P.L.A. operating in international water and airspace, while at the same time, believing this rule set doesn’t apply to other nations operating in international waters and airspace? 

Ladies and gentlemen, China can’t have it both ways. 

In my opinion, Beijing’s desire to pick and choose when it comes to international law demonstrates the kind of nation China is. To me, China is a strategic competitor for the United States – and to Japan, for that matter. That doesn’t mean that conflict is inevitable – I don’t believe Japan, China, or the U.S. want that. But because we are in competition, I’ve advocated dealing with China realistically – as it is, and not as we would wish it would be.

I’ve repeatedly emphasized that we can’t allow the areas where we disagree with China to impact our ability to make progress in the areas where we do agree. All Indo-Asia-Pacific nations, including the United States, should use smart power and try to cooperate with China where possible. 

For PACOM, my goal remains to convince China that its best future comes from peaceful cooperation and meaningful participation in the current rules-based international order. 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. 

And now, to the third challenge I wanted to mention tonight, and that’s ISIS – a clear threat that must be defeated. The main geographic focus of the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition has rightfully been in the Middle East and North Africa. But as I’ve been saying for more than a year now, as our military operations continue to deny ISIS territory, radicalized, weaponized, and displaced terrorists will inspire new fighters in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. 

Sadly, we’re seeing some of this come to fruition right now in the Southern Philippines, where in 2016, Isnilon Hapilon, a commander in the Abu Sayyaf Group, was named ISIS emir of Southeast Asia. In just a matter of months, Hapilon started uniting elements of several violent extremist organizations – building a coalition under the ISIS black flag. 

These terrorists are using combat tactics that we’ve seen in the Middle East to murder in the city of Marawi in the Philippines – the first time ISIS-inspired forces have banded together to fight on this kind of scale in this region. 

It’s clear that foreign fighters are passing their ideology, resources and methods to local, home-grown, next-generation radicals. So Marawi should be a wake-up call and a rallying cry for every nation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region – only through multilateral and multinational collaboration can we eradicate ISIS and other violent extremist organizations before they spread. 

Japan has done its part as a staunch member of the coalition to defeat ISIS. It has also helped by agreeing to provide the Philippines with patrol vessels and maritime surveillance aircraft. Last year, both nations signed a landmark agreement on defense equipment and technology transfer, making the Philippines just the fourth country Japan has ever inked such a pact with.

And the U.S. is doing our part, not only in the global fight against ISIS, but in direct support to our brothers and sisters in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, or A.F.P. Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador Kim and the PACOM Deputy Commander LTG Fenton delivered two new Cessna-208 aircraft to the A.F.P. These aircraft will significantly enhance the A.F.P.’s counterterrorism operations with the capability to locate terrorist groups operating in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The delivery of these brand new aircraft is just the latest donation from the U.S. government, which over the last 5 years has allocated nearly $300 million of grant funding to provide the A.F.P. with up-to-date equipment and training. 

While these bilateral activities are helpful, even better are multinational activities – or ‘partnerships with a purpose’ as I like to call it. And we’ve seen this concept in action the last few weeks during exercises Malabar and Talisman Saber.


In Malabar, the U.S., Japan and India continued our growing partnership to keep the peace throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific. And in Talisman Saber, Japan and the U.S. joined our warfighting mates in Australia.


Unfortunately, there are some who question the motives for the increasingly cooperative relationship between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. To this I say our partnerships stand on their own merits. Deepening military cooperation between these four great democracies is based on shared values and shared concerns. So I’ve spoken about the clear benefits of a ‘democracy quadrilateral’ that enhances security cooperation between India, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. I could use the help of all of you in this room to make such a partnership flourish.


Alright, I know I’ve been up here for some time now. Hopefully I’ve given each of you something to think about. I’ll wrap this up with a challenge and a call to action before taking a few questions.


Ladies and gentlemen, 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 order hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord simply because we wish it would.


Now, I’m a big believer that anytime you can work Winston Churchill in to a speech, you always sound smart – and let’s face it, I need all the help I can get.


So I’ll quote the great man himself in saying "It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required." 

Thus, my challenge to all of you is simple: Do what’s required. For indeed, this is an inflection point in mankind’s history... and we must do more than simply our best.


Because of the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance, I believe we can meet this challenge. Whether it’s the U.S. and Japan working together to provide assistance during the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, or working together to create a global echo chamber to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, or working together to combat violent extremist organizations like ISIS, our alliance is doing what’s required for the security of our homelands; the security of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region; and, indeed, the security of the world.


Now that I’ve given you my challenge, here’s my call to action:
We ‘must be reminded of the trust we share’ – we must be reminded of the trust we share… ’because fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing.’ Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing. That’s from the movie Transformers 2.


Since it’s summer movie season here in Washington, I thought that if you remembered nothing else I said, maybe you’d remember when you were at the Military Statesmen Forum dinner the night that the PACOM Commander stole a line from Optimus Prime.


May God bless each of you, may God bless Japan and the United States, and may God keep our alliance as a pillar of strength for years to come. Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions – and dinner. 


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