Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
IISS Fullerton Lecture
Fullerton Hotel, Singapore
October 17, 2017
Thanks, Dr. Huxley, for that kind introduction -- I'm truly honored to address this accomplished group of leaders here at the Fullerton Lecture. Your diverse and informed opinions are part and parcel of the incubator of ideas that makes this region such an impactful place. 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 future prosperity and security for the United States and for the world as well.
Before continuing, I’d like to recognize Singapore’s tremendous assistance this past August in the search for the missing U.S. Sailors during the tragedy that befell the USS John S. McCain and the amazing hospitality and support in the aftermath. You have my personal thanks and gratitude for this incredible and dedicated effort. I’d also like to acknowledge:
- The international Institute for Strategic Studies....
- Members of the diplomatic and consular corps...
- Government, private sector, and academia leaders...
- Distinguished guests...
Ladies and gentlemen, forums like this help all of us dig deep to analyze the issues that impact our region, indeed, the world -- something especially needed in this day and age of instant news and sound bites that simply scratch the surface -- like a 20-minute speech from a U.S. admiral.
But since I know there’s media in the room, I’ll try to be noteworthy and not newsworthy.
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.
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.
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.
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 security alliances and partnerships … like our enduring partnership with Singapore.
And we’re enhancing regional security by deepening our partnerships with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and many other like-minded nations who are dedicated to longstanding, customary international law. These principles 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 willy-nilly. 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.
Now, our opportunities here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific are abundant, but the path is burdened by several considerable challenges, including North Korea, China, and ISIS.
Today, North Korea stands out as the only nation in this century to have tested nuclear weapons. Pyongyang is ruled by a reckless dictator…a man who values his pursuit for power over the prosperity and welfare of his own people. Contrast this with a free South Korea -- an economic giant with endless opportunity led by a democratically elected President.
Now I want you to stop for a minute and really think about this.
Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missiles in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong-Un is a recipe for disaster. And because he isn’t afraid to fail in public, North Korea's capability will continue to improve.
So what is the way ahead? Well, Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis have clearly stated that diplomacy is our main battery. Joined by many in the international community, the United States is applying diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a dismantling of the regime's ballistic missile programs.
As Secretary Tillerson said after North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile recently, "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 China; it’s a threat to Russia; it’s a threat to Singapore and our allies in Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Thailand; it’s a threat to America; in fact, it’s a threat to the entire world because Kim Jong-Un’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. And just last month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang carried out its sixth and largest nuclear test.
So, I 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.
While diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea's course of action, it is diplomacy backed by credible military power. My job as a military commander is to develop those hard power options. Many people have talked about military options being unimaginable regarding North Korea.
Folks, I must imagine the unimaginable. And what is unimaginable to me are North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles delivered in Los Angeles, or in Honolulu, or in Seoul, or in Tokyo, or in Sydney or Singapore.
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. This 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. Chinese entities are involved with roughly 90 percent of North Korean trade. 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.
That brings me to the second challenge – which is China.
Some might find it a bit odd that in successive sentences, I’m asking for China’s assistance on North Korea on the one hand and then calling China a challenge on the other. But as I like to say, I believe great powers can walk and chew gum at the same time...though not in Singapore in public!
By that, I mean that I think we can praise Chinese efforts to help on North Korea -- and we should -- just as President Trump did during his recent United Nations address ... even as we rightly criticize and hold China accountable for actions that run counter to international rules and norms. I think we can do both. In fact, I think we must do both. As President Trump also said during his U.N. address, quote, "We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea. We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture, and the peaceful engagements these allow." Unquote.
I believe that China, as a great power, can handle criticisms on the one hand while they're dealing proactively with North Korea on the other. As Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis have said, China has a strong incentive to pursue the same goals as the U.S. The North Korean regime's actions and the prospect of nuclear proliferation or conflict threaten the economic, political and military security China has worked to build over decades. North Korea's behavior further threatens China's long-term interest in regional peace and stability. China's
recent Security Council votes are steps in the right direction, but the region and the world need and expect China to do more.
We also want Beijing to do more to stop provocative actions in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, where the Chinese are building up combat power and positional advantage in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features … where they are fundamentally altering the physical and political landscape by creating and militarizing man-made islands...where they are using its military and economic power to erode the rules-based international order.
Consider that earlier this year China had an intelligence collection ship operating near Alaska in America's exclusive economic zone. China was acting in accordance with international law, so no criticism there. Yet, I keep reading in the press that China continues to complain about U.S. lawful and peaceful freedom of navigation operations in international waters ... and about our flights in international air space above them.
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 speaks volumes about the kind of nation China is and will be in the decades ahead. So I've advocated for dealing with China realistically -- as it is, and not as we would wish it to be.
Just last month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford said during Congressional testimony that China will pose the greatest threat to the United States by 2025. Yet, General Dunford also recently visited China where he signed an agreement with his Chinese military counterparts to enhance communications and decrease the possibility of miscalculation.
That's dealing with China realistically.
Folks, some people focus on the witticisms I say about China-- it makes for better headlines, I guess. But I’ve always believed and I’ve always emphasized that we must not allow the areas where China and the U.S. disagree to impact our ability to make progress on the areas that we do agree. In my opinion, the United States -- in fact, all Indo-Asia-Pacific nations -- should cooperate with China where we can. And the foundation for that cooperation should begin and end with international law.
So I was pleased to see many new dialogues take place between the U.S. and China over the last several months. These dialogues covered a wide range of topics to include diplomacy, economics, education, social development, culture, law enforcement, and cybersecurity. These efforts elevate our diplomatic and defense engagements, helping us narrow our differences to expand cooperation.
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, and honoring its international commitments. 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 the third challenge -- and that’s ISIS.
Over the past year, we've witnessed ISIS-inspired terrorism in Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. ISIS is here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific -- and it's a clear threat that must be defeated.
The main geographic focus of our coalition's military effort, and rightfully so, is in the Middle East and North Africa. But as we succeed in degrading ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, radicalized, weaponized, and displaced terrorists will seek new footholds in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
Sadly, we’ve seen this come to fruition right now in the Southern Philippines in Mindanao, where, in 2016, Isnilon Hapilon, a commander in the Abu Sayyaf Group -- a Philippine-based terrorist organization -- was named ISIS emir of Southeast Asia.
Just yesterday, we’ve received initial news that Hapilon has been killed, along with another senior military leader allied with him, during the most recent efforts by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to retake the city of Marawi. Good news indeed.
But it’s important to understand Hapilon’s rise in 2016, when in just a matter of months, he 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 kill in the city of Marawi in Mindanao – the first time ISIS-inspired forces have banded together to fight on this kind of scale in this region.
Today, Marawi is a wake-up call and a rallying cry for every nation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Foreign fighters are passing their ideology, resources and methods to local, home-grown, next-generation radicals. So we must stop ISIS at the front end and not at the back end when the threat can become even more dangerous.
But we cannot do it alone. Only through multinational collaboration can we eradicate this nemesis to humanity before it spreads further in this region.
Ladies and gentlemen, while I’ve been the PACOM commander, I’ve emphasized the need to enhance multinational partnerships -- or "partnerships with a purpose" as I like to call it. These partnerships advance national interests outside the confines of the old hub and spoke model, and are based on shared values and shared concerns.
Multinational partnerships are force multipliers for good around the world and contribute to a stronger, more resilient security architecture. So we should look for opportunities to work together on important issues that affect us all … opportunities for collaboration to counter illicit trafficking, improve maritime security, enhance readiness for disaster relief, and defeat Violent Extremist Organizations.
In many instances, we’re seeing terrorist and insurgent organizations turn to criminal activities to fund their cells and targeted attacks.
The global nature of illicit trafficking means that problems that exist in the Indo-Asia-Pacific may have its start on the other side of the globe, and vice versa. Our world is interconnected, as is theirs...so it's critical that we work with each other to identify areas of common concern, and fight them together where we can.
Maritime security is another area where I think we all need to focus our attention. Through information sharing and analysis with partner nation law enforcement or national security officials, we can fight these nefarious criminal and terrorist organizations as global stakeholders for peace and prosperity.
Singapore's leadership in countering piracy and sea crime in the Strait of Malacca is the exemplar for this idea of partnerships with a purpose. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are deepening cooperation with each other to fight regional piracy and related kidnapping-for-ransom in the Sulu Sea.
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.
Another opportunity for multinational cooperation is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief … an area where we all can agree that it’s important for friends to help each other out in their time of need ...
friends like Singapore that’ve donated military and civilian manpower, assets, funds and supplies in response to many recent humanitarian crises worldwide.
Singapore serves as a powerful example of what can be achieved when we work together. Over the past several months, they’ve supported disaster relief following heavy flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka...airlifted crucial equipment and supplies after Hurricane Harvey devastated eastern portions of Texas in the United States...and just last week supported Rohingya refugees with humanitarian supplies in Bangladesh.
Folks, we need all the help we can get as the Indo-Asia-Pacific remains the most disaster prone region in the world. A stable region requires multinational cooperation to address the rising frequency of natural disasters.
We never lack reminders of the need for this kind of teamwork. And the best time to develop these partnerships is before world events demand them.
Today, regional diplomatic mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and Defense Minister’s Meeting-Plus are leading the way in disaster planning and mitigation, providing excellent opportunities to share best practices and improve coordination of disaster relief efforts. These forums build capacity. They promote mutual trust, and they enhance stability and cooperation throughout the world.
The last opportunity that I want to talk about tonight is countering violent extremism. Terrorism, extremism, and radicalization are a global scourge that must be fought and terrorist safe havens rooted out in every part of the world … this is something we can all get behind.
Violent extremist organizations, including fighters returning to this region from the Middle East, and local individuals radicalized by malicious ideologies, seek to gain ground in Southeast Asia. To eradicate this cancer, we must work together with like-minded nations in the region and across the globe.
Long-term regional security and prosperity are at risk. We need only look at the chaos and violence that our friends in the Middle East are contending with to see why we must act swiftly and jointly to address threats to our region. For our counter-terrorism efforts to be successful, we must unify our efforts -- strengthened by moral clarity, political will, and implacable commitment to fully share the difficult and dangerous work this requires.
In this effort the U.S. has joined with over 70 coalition partners, including many nations represented in this room tonight, to tackle terrorism on all fronts, to dismantle its networks and counter its global ambitions.
Together, we are tackling their financing and economic infrastructure, preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders, and exposing their flawed narratives. We all have a role in combatting terrorism and the U.S. stands with you to condemn it and to confront it.
Alright, that was a lot of ground to cover. I’ve been up here for some time now, and hopefully, I’ve given each of you something to think about. I’ll wrap this up with a challenge before taking a few questions.
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 simply because we wish it would.
Thus, my challenge to all of you is simple: don’t be passive.
You all have what I call "skin in the game." Our economies continue to flourish because our collective respect for, and adherence to, international rules and standards have produced the longest era of peace and prosperity in modern times.
These conditions are not happenstance. In my opinion, they have been made possible by a fundamental understanding and commitment among like-minded nations to cultivate principled security networks based on the rule of international law.
Our nations all benefit from a region that preserves security, stability, and the freedom necessary for enduring prosperity … a region where each nation gains security in concert with others. To this end, we must communicate effectively, think critically, and encourage multilateral approaches to multinational problems. We must rely on our collective wisdom to analyze issues impacting regional strategies and enhance security cooperation.
No single government, no matter how powerful, can find definitive solutions on its own. Harnessing the wealth of capabilities represented by the nations here today is a priority. I daresay it’s a necessity in order to successfully address the range of transnational threats throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
I firmly believe, now more than ever, that global security and economic prosperity are indelibly linked to the Indo-Asia-Pacific. And the future of this region requires multinational cooperation, where large nations and small nations and all nations in between can all thrive in a rules-based international order.
Global security challenges require multilateral solutions. So the time to act is now.
Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to continuing conversations of how we can deepen our partnerships, as we all work together to keep this region secure, to keep this region prosperous, and to keep this region peaceful. Thank you very much and I look forward to your questions.