ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium: "Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief"
Marriott Waikiki Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii
June 4, 2019
Remarks by ADM Davidson
Good morning, and aloha.
Thank you, Lew, for the introduction, and my sincere thanks to you and your team for organizing this great event. It is an honor to have the opportunity to say a few words.
Lew and I work closely together, and he is doing a great job moving the Marines forward in the Indo-Pacific, to the benefit of everyone here.
It is also great to see more than 30 flag and general officers here today to support the Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium. Your attendance is a testimony to the importance of this forum.
To our 22 allies and partners representing nations from across the Indo-Pacific, thank you for making the long trip to such an important event. We have representatives from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and the Indian Ocean regions in attendance.
Living here in the ring of fire, the natural disaster season lasts all 365 days of the year. It is wholly appropriate that “Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief” is the theme for this year’s symposium. Every nation represented here today plays a vital role in our collective readiness to respond to HADR events and resiliency to bounce back from them.
I just came from the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this past weekend, where much of the discussion revolved around the competing narratives for what the Indo-Pacific should look like.
Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan delivered a powerful vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific with the release of our new Indo-Pacific Strategy report. It highlights actions we can all take to advance our shared vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific….actions that also advance a peaceful and prosperous region in which our nations are collectively prepared to support each other.
When talking with leaders at Shangri La, I focused my discussions on collaborative efforts to tackle the wide array of threats our nations face. Those threats run the gamut, from, yes, the return of great power competition to the natural disasters and climate change we must all deal with year-in and year-out.
A Free and Open Indo-Pacific must consist of a constellation of like-minded allies and partners, united by mutual security, interests, and values. Joined together, we will deter adversary aggression, protect our homelands, and be there for each other when disasters strike.
While the term “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” is new, I would argue the underlying values and principles to which the vision speaks are not – in fact, this is how the U.S. has approached the region throughout our 243-year history.
Beyond the U.S., there is a convergence around the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific, as Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand, and France have all released similar visions, and Indonesia is leading an effort within ASEAN to elaborate one as well.
Although there are some differences in how this vision is communicated, we are beginning to agree about just what it means to be a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
When we say Free, we mean both in terms of security – being free from coercion by other nations – and in terms of values and political systems.
Free societies respect individual rights and liberties, the promotion of good governance, and adherence to the shared values of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All values we share in our collective responses to aid in disaster relief.
Free means nations do not have to choose with whom they trade and partner out of fear or coercion. Instead, they are free to exercise their sovereignty – and their choice.
An Open Indo-Pacific means we believe all nations should enjoy unfettered access to the seas and airways upon which our people and economies depend. These lines of communication are vital, particularly when disaster strikes and time is of the essence.
Open includes accessible 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.
The more prosperous we are, the more resilient we are to natural disasters and other crises.
Let’s discuss interoperability a bit when it comes to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. I want you to leave here with three operational-level things to consider. These come in the form of our engagements, our exercises, and our individual experiences.
First, the U.S. approach to allies and partners at the operational level is through mutually beneficial and purposeful engagements. We endeavor to listen to our partners’ needs and find solutions that benefit all of us. HA/DR is a prime example of an issue that allows many of us to come together and engage in beneficial partnerships.
At the heart of it, we need to build partnerships that establish trust in our engagements. This concept applies in our foreign military sales, the interoperability that comes from common systems, common operating norms, and our formal and interpersonal relationships.
But, venues like PALS here, are engagements that help to advance our collective security, interests, and values.
At Indo-Pacific Command, the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management is my principal agency to promote disaster preparedness and societal resiliency in the Indo-Pacific, and indeed the entire world. The Center facilitates education and training in disaster preparedness, consequence management and health security to develop domestic, foreign and international capability and capacity.
With programs like Health Emergencies in Large Populations (HELP) and the Human Assistance Readiness Training (HART), we are able to export these courses throughout the globe, for civilian and military organizations and members, to help build our partner capacity. And these programs continue to grow.
Additionally, I have seen first-hand the power and potential of information sharing in our engagements when I visited the ASEAN-led Regional Humanitarian Coordination Cell in Singapore. There, I saw the collective contributions of 18 countries – all collaborating to help respond to humanitarian crisis. This type of collaboration will allow us to more rapidly provide the urgent supplies, essential care, and initial relief to alleviate human suffering.
Second, when it comes to exercises, we must expand our training to embrace new concepts and capabilities, not only for our traditional forces, but also in cyber, space, and our critical civilian infrastructure. The more connected we are, the more effectively we can respond across the spectrum of conflict and to HA/DR events.
It is not lost on anyone in this room that effective and efficient HA/DR requires us to operate seamlessly with our civilian counterparts. We must not only respond alongside them but help them prepare for the unknown. Securing our critical civilian infrastructure makes our societies more resilient to both the “known” challenges that have plagued the globe for millennia and future unexpected trials.
Let me give you a couple of examples of the importance of exercises in our multilateral HA/DR collaboration:
In July of last year, members of the Philippine Army’s 525th Engineer Brigade learned life-saving skills in the Multilateral Urban Search and Rescue Exercise here in Hawaii. When an earthquake struck near Manila on April 22nd, just over one month ago, those same members of the 525th applied the very skills they learned in Hawaii to save their fellow citizens trapped by debris.
Exercises like RIMPAC, Cobra Gold, and ADMM+ also contribute to increased interoperability.
And as part of Task Force Koa Moana, U.S. Marines and Sailors participate in security-cooperation events with several partner nations in the Indo-Pacific. Koa Moana promotes regional security and stability, and improves interoperability between security establishments by preparing to respond effectively to crises – from terrorism to disaster relief efforts.
This task force seeks to discover areas of shared common interests with partner nations while building upon similar or complementary capabilities ahead of potential real-world crises, to include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
We should celebrate these and many other exercises that validate our multilateral approach to information sharing, exercises, and disaster response. We must also apply the lessons learned from real world crises to enhance tomorrow’s training.
Lastly, it is all about individual experiences. It has been my great fortune to meet and know many of you; to understand your concerns, as well as the capabilities and capacities of your militaries. As we work together, we build trust – that trust is critical to ensure we can operate efficiently and together in times of crisis.
I assure you all – we are in this for the long haul. We must execute, learn, and improve alongside each other. This symposium is one great example of that; incorporating lessons into our exercises would be another.
Sharing our experiences and lessons-learned through engagements like PALS and our many bilateral and multilateral exercises throughout the Indo-Pacific will enhance our cooperation in times of peace, prevent conflict, and sustain the rules-based international order that has led to the peace and prosperity upon which all of our nations rely. It will only make us better in times of crisis response.
As I stated earlier, the Indo-Pacific has been largely peaceful due to that willingness and commitment, as well as the combat power credibility and flexible readiness we collectively bring to the table, side-by-side.
It will be our engagements, our exercises, and our individual experiences that will help build our interoperability and our collective ability to respond to threats.
I have no doubt about the allies and partners represented in this room today. We have shown our collective will in many ways, with HA/DR being a prime example.
And, as Acting U.S. Secretary Of Defense Shanahan said on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue,
“We are strengthening our unrivaled network of alliances and partnerships. We know this region’s size and complexity requires the greatest degree of cooperation.”
Together, we can and we will cooperate to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.