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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | March 1, 2018

American Bankers Association National Conference for Community Bankers

By ADM Harry Harris U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

American Bankers Association (ABA) National Conference for Community Bankers

Hilton Hawaiian Village, Hawaii.

February 27, 2018
As Delivered

Thanks Charles for that nice introduction.

Before getting started, I’d also like to acknowledge:

  • ABA’s President and CEO Rob Nichols and Chairman Kenneth Burgess; my good friend and former Assistant Secretary and Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook; and Executive Vice President for Member Relations Bob Schmermund … who is also a classmate and company-mate of mine from the Naval Academy Class of 1978 … Bob is probably here more out of curiosity than loyalty;
  • Distinguished guests … ladies and gentlemen;

Aloha y’all! That’s East Tennessee speak for those who live in Hawaii.
While I was preparing my remarks for this event I asked my wife Bruni for some advice. She replied …‘Well Harry, there’s a first time for everything, so you might try being funny … and brief.’

I'm truly honored to join this accomplished group of financial sector leaders here today. Combined, you manage 17 trillion dollars … that’s serious money … that’ a lot of whiskey, fishing rods, and some F-35s too. I’m grateful for the opportunity to discuss the importance of the Indo-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.

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 here in Hawaii.

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.

Or, for this crowd, Dollars to Rupees, and Rubles to Australian Dollars.

Although many refer to this area as the Asia-Pacific, I prefer to call it the Indo-Pacific. This term more accurately captures the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the economic lifeblood to the nations that surround them, linking India, Australia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania and the United States.

There are few regions as culturally, socially, economically, and geopolitically diverse as the Indo-Pacific. The 36 nations that comprise the region are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s population speaking 3,000 different languages over 14 time zones. It contains the most populous nation in the world, the largest democracy, and the largest Muslim-majority nation.

Since 1947, PACOM has been responsible for all U.S. military operations in this area of responsibility – 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 your Joint forces can fight and win in any conflict.

Over the past 70 years, the Indo-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.

But, the Indo-Pacific also has seven of the world’s 10 largest armies and five of the world's declared nuclear nations, which means the area also shapes the course of global security. 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.

And we’re enhancing regional security by deepening our partnerships with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and many other like-minded nations who are dedicated to the principles of longstanding, customary international law.

Now, our opportunities here in the Indo-Pacific are abundant, but the path is burdened by several considerable challenges, including North Korea, China, and ISIS.

First, let’s talk about the most immediate challenge that I know is on the minds of many of you in this room today … and that’s North Korea. In only six years, Kim Jong-Un has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined, and he is actively exploring ways to expand their reach.

As the world witnessed in November, North Korea has made significant advancements in their ballistic missile program with the launch of its most powerful missile to date. In response, Secretary of Defense Mattis expressed great concern over the technological advances on display in the 53-minute flight that went higher than any previous launch, stating that Pyongyang now threatens ‘everywhere in the world.’

North Korea stands out as the only nation in this century to have tested nuclear weapons, and Kim Jong-Un is actively pursuing ballistic missile technology that will allow him to deliver a nuclear warhead. Linking these two capabilities, in the hands of a volatile leader, is a recipe for disaster.

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.

Economic pressure, by the way, is shorthand for getting the bankers of the world to help enforce United Nations sanctions against a brutal dictator by cutting off his access to the global banking system. When behavior change can be driven by sanctions and diplomacy instead of military action … everyone wins.

While diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea's course of action, it is diplomacy backed by credible military power that matters. My job as a military commander is to develop those hard power options for your National Command Authority.

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 Honolulu, or in Los Angeles, or in Chicago, New York or Washington D.C.

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, let me be clear … China is not the key for all outcomes on the Korean Peninsula. 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!

By that, I mean that I think we can praise Chinese efforts to help, 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.

China has a strong incentive to pursue the same goals as the U.S. North Korea’s actions and the prospect of nuclear proliferation threaten the economic, political, and military security that 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 free and open international order.

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. Beijing has choices to make. They can choose to disregard the rules-based order or they can contribute to it as a responsible stakeholder. Their actions – not ours – will tell us what kind of nation they'll be for the rest of the 21st Century.

As you know better than me, China has the second largest defense budget and the second largest economy in the world … and Beijing has increased its defense spending every year for the past two decades. In fact, China surpassed the U.S. in Purchasing Power Parity at the turn of this century and some projections show China passing the U.S. in GDP by the mid-2020s. This historically unprecedented economic development has enabled China to improve its military capabilities at a rate unmatched by any other nation in recent history.

While an economically strong and militarily powerful China is not of itself a bad thing … the world takes issue when they use that power aggressively and provocatively in manners inconsistent with international law.

And now to the third challenge – and that’s ISIS.

ISIS is here in the Indo-Pacific … and 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 region.

Sadly, we’ve seen this come to fruition last year in the Southern Philippines in the embattled city of Marawi, where the media has reported that over 1,000 people were killed and 350,000 displaced in an existential struggle that left the city in ruins.

Today, Marawi serves as a wake-up call and a rallying cry for every nation in the Indo-Pacific as 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.

And here again, the bankers of the world, large and small, play an important role in our efforts to maintain a peaceful and stable world. When radical ideas can be spread across the Internet, stopping the flow of money to potential terrorists can prevent violence and misery from taking root.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a time of persistent conflict, and these security challenges threaten to destabilize the region and reverse the trends of transparency and prosperity we’ve all enjoyed for over 70 years. Your United States Pacific Command recognizes the global significance of the Indo-Pacific and we understand that challenges are best met together.

That is why 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 … because global security challenges require global solutions.

Maritime security is naturally an area that we focus our attention, as our area of responsibility encompasses more than 100 million square miles … most of which is sea. Cooperative efforts in this vast and largely ungoverned maritime area are helping us fight piracy, illicit trafficking, and terrorism through collaborative information sharing and analysis with partner nations.

Another area of common concern is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, where it’s important for friends to help each other out in their time of need. This is especially important in the Indo-Pacific as it remains the most disaster prone region in the world. The best time to develop these partnerships is before world events demand them.

And countering violent extremism is something we can all get behind. This global scourge must be fought and terrorist safe havens rooted out in every part of the world. For our 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. We all have a role in combatting terrorism, and the U.S. stands with those who condemn and confront it.

Alright folks, I’ve been up here awhile. Since spring training starts soon, I’m reminded of a baseball team that was getting pounded in the first inning. The manager walked out of the dugout, headed directly to the mound, and took the ball from the pitcher.

The pitcher protested, ‘Coach, it’s just the first inning! 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 close with a thought before taking a few questions.

Both our American way of life and the rules-based international order rely on secure, reliable and trustworthy institutions – like banks – working together to make modern life possible.

The Indian and Pacific Oceans have a lot of liquid, but it is our financial system – and bankers – that provide the liquidity needed for transactions ranging in size from sandwiches to supertankers.

Thank you for all you do in your communities to make them better and to strengthen the fabric of our country by providing a system where the fruits of our labor – the money we work for – can be safely stored and securely spent. The reliable banking system you provide is essential to our way of life and an indispensable part of a stable and peaceful world.

And your work to maintain that stable and peaceful world is more important than ever.

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

Our nation continues to draw her strength from those who have served in the past … and those who are serving today. And our nation will continue to draw strength from those who will serve tomorrow … an unbroken chain, linking Americans, generation to generation … keeping that scale of freedom tipping in America’s favor.

Even when our money isn’t stuffed under our mattresses, we can dream the American dream – and chase it the next day – because of institutions like yours ... and mine … so that people can sleep peaceably in their beds at night knowing rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

Our strength as a nation also comes from loyal citizens like each of you in the audience today – Americans who are aware of the challenges …
aware of the opportunities … and aware of the dangers we face. Those of us who serve are grateful for patriots like you, who support us … who support our families when we are deployed … who help make us what we are today … the world’s greatest force for stability and peace on the face of the Earth, and I’m grateful for all that you do.

So I’ll conclude by saying that today your joint forces have assumed liberty’s mantle, passed down in an unbroken chain, watch-to-watch, for centuries. No one should doubt that a strong U.S. military will continue to stand a global watch for generations to come … as the legacy and lessons of previous wars are passed to our children, and our children’s children, who will also stand the watch to continue the fight against oppression, against injustice, and against all who seek to take our freedom.

May God bless our men and women who wear the cloth of our nation. May God bless our families, loved ones, and patriots like those in this room today. And may God bless the United States of America, which has always been – and forever shall be – the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Thank you very much.


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