ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Surface Navy Association National Symposium 2019
Crystal City, VA
17 January 2019
Good evening everyone...it’s an honor to be here tonight with you all...There’s nothing like escaping the harsh winter in Hawaii and enjoying the beautiful weather of the National Capital Region in January.
I want to welcome our distinguished guests.... Fellow Flag Officers... industry partners...and all of the Surface Warriors in attendance. Congratulations to all of our award winners.
I also want to thank Rick Hunt for that introduction... I’m still not used to being the Old Salt...If you have never seen the Old Salt award, I tell you it’s as big as a tombstone – probably not a coincident – SWO IRONY. But I have been fortunate to be part of this organization for nearly 37 years, serving alongside a number of amazing men and women. It’s truly an honor.
As always, I want to thank the Surface Navy Association for putting on this symposium and for inviting me back to speak again this year. Its events like this, that bring together our officers and Sailors, our community, its leaders, industry partners, and academia and allows us to discuss (and debate) our future.
In many respects the future of our nation depends on the skills of the amazing men and women - like those in this room - especially as we return to great power competition around the world.
I want to take a few minutes tonight, as we bring a close to this 31st SNA Symposium, to talk about this return to great competition and how its playing out in the Indo-Pacific region.
For starters, I firmly believe that the future security and prosperity of our country depends upon the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific.
In my short time in command I have said this quite often: For more than 70 years, the Indo-Pacific has been largely peaceful. This was made possible by two things: the willingness and commitment of free nations to work together for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and the credibility of the combat power of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
This commitment, and this credibility has worked to liberate hundreds of millions as well as literally lift billions of people out of poverty, all to a level of prosperity previously unseen in human history.
Now, the Communist Party of China is trying to change the very free and open rules and conditions they have benefited from, to one with the Communist Party’s characteristics.
They want to re-shape a free and open world to one consistent with their internally closed and authoritarian model, and they are deploying all elements of their national power to achieve their global ambition.
Through excessive territorial claims, debt-trap diplomacy, the militarization of disputed geographic features, and aggressive diplomatic, economic and informational coercion and intimidation, the Chinese Communist Party seeks the ability to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics, and the way of life in South East Asia, an area on which the entire world’s economic future depends.
Those that believe this is reflective of an intensifying competition between an established power (the United States), and a rising power (China) are not seeing the whole picture.
Rather, I believe we are facing something even more serious – a fundamental divergence in values that leads to two incompatible visions of the future.
Chinese senior officials openly express dissatisfaction with the existing free and open international order, which they describe as built and led by the U.S., rooted in American or western values, and operating primarily to Washington’s great benefit and to the detriment of other nations.
So China is looking to change the world order to one where Chinese national power is more important than international law; a system where the “strong do what they will and the weak do what they must.”
In many respects, how we respond to those who reject our vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific is dependent upon us – the United States – and many of you here tonight.
The most obvious point – and one made abundantly clear in the U.S. National Security Strategy – is that whatever we do, we must do with our allies and partners.
When strong nations stand up – and stand together – for a free and open Indo-Pacific, we send a signal that it’s okay to resist – and that signal will be heard by those nations absorbing the full weight of Chinese malign influence.
We are seeing a general convergence around the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific across the region – as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and India have all put forth similar concepts or visions.
And within the past year, allies and partners like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and France have all been operating in the South China Sea. Just earlier this week, USS McCampbell conducted a cooperative deployment with the UK in the South China Sea.
As just one example, operations like these help demonstrate to the international community our continued commitment to the freedom of navigation for all nations, especially those like ASEAN nations and the countries on the rim of the South China Sea.
The United States remains committed to protecting the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea, and the ability of all countries to exercise those rights.
That is why we will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.
Though these individual actions garner significant media attention, we need to remain focused on the broader strategic implications.
The actions of our Navy in the Western Pacific are not about the free passage of U.S. Navy Destroyers.
We are talking about standing up for the security and the right of all nations to trade, to communicate, and to choose their destiny in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
When we say Free we mean Free both in terms of security –free from coercion by other nations, and in terms of values and political systems. Free to choose trading partners. Free to exercise sovereignty.
An “Open” Indo-Pacific means we believe all nations should enjoy unfettered access to the seas and airways upon which all nations’ economies depend.
Open includes open investment environments, transparent agreements between nations, protection of intellectual property rights, and fair and reciprocal trade – all of which are essential for people, goods and capital to move across borders for the shared benefit of all.
At the end of the day – this is why our nation conducts these Freedom of Navigation Operations.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the combat-credibility of our forces in the Indo-Pacific remains a foundation of its security.
The people of the United States entrust our Sailors with tremendous responsibility – to be ready, to do right, and to be resolute in the challenges they face. I know they do not take this duty lightly.
Great power competition demands that our total force capability be able to deter potential aggressors, and when deterrence fails, to fight and win at any given time – day in and day out - which means having ready, capable, and modern ships and Sailors focused on this competition each and every day.
A more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating joint force, combined with a robust constellation of allies and partners, will sustain American influence and the free and open international order.
For the Navy, this means building a 355-ship fleet, capable of maintaining maritime superiority amidst great power competitors and deterring and defeating potential adversaries...building a better fleet by investing in advanced and innovative technologies... integrating our joint and combined warfare capabilities…, and most importantly, continuing to recruit, train, and retain our nation’s best and brightest people.
But, the true strength of the U.S Navy comes from the toughness, initiative, integrity, and accountability of the amazing group of men and women, who make up our Navy, and our Surface community today.
We must continue to develop and challenge our Sailors by personifying these characteristic in all facets of their duties, and training them to do the same. We owe it to them, to each other, to our nation – indeed to all those interested in a peaceful and prosperous future.
As the commander for USINDOPACOM, I assure you my singular focus is to ensure the U.S. forces under my command are prepared to prevent challenges to a free and open Indo-Pacific tomorrow, next week, next year, over the next decade – and indeed, well into the future.
The challenges are daunting, but there’s no doubt in my mind about what we’re working toward or the importance of our mission.
Most importantly, I’m optimistic about the future, because I know the United States will confront these challenges standing alongside our strong friends across the Indo-Pacific.
May God bless the men and women of the United States Navy and our Surface Warriors, and may God bless the United States of America, which will forever be, the land of the free and home of the brave.