Remarks by Admiral Chris “Lung” Aquilino
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
“Importance of Allies and Partners in the Indo-Pacific”
Halifax International Security Forum Halifax, Nova Scotia
November 20, 2021
(As Prepared for Delivery )
First, let me thank Ambassador Lippert for the kind introduction and his service to the region both in the Department and as Ambassador to Korea.
And special thanks to Ambassador McCain. Your efforts honor the legacy of the late Senator. We know you will provide tremendous leadership to the United Nations Food and Agriculture agencies to ease suffering across the world.
I also want to thank Peter and the Halifax team for inviting me to attend. It is an honor to be here, thank you.
My intent this morning is to highlight the significance of the Indo-Pacific region, and how the rules-based international order has benefited all nations, large and small for the last 75 years. I do so because these international norms are under direct assault across many fronts.
The two important points I would like you to take away from my remarks today are:
How vital the Indo-Pacific region is to global stability and prosperity;
And, the absolute necessity for all like-minded nations to defend the rules-based international order for the benefit of all.
Why the Pacific is Important
As recently as 20 years ago the relative military and economic situations were much different, as the world adapted to a post-Cold War environment and the national security focus in the United States and Europe shifted to asymmetric threats, including terrorism. But in just the past two decades, the military and economic center of gravity has shifted to the Indo-Pacific region.
The region is home to the four most populous nations, the three largest democracies, and the three largest economies. The Indo-Pacific is responsible for 60% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and two-thirds of the present global economic growth.
Militarily, seven of the world’s ten largest armies, five of the world’s declared nuclear nations, and some of the most sophisticated navies reside in the Indo-Pacific.
Additionally, the sea lanes are extremely busy, supported by the world’s nine largest ports. Every day, half of global container cargo and 70% of ship-borne energy supply flows through this area.
The rules-based international order facilitated this dramatic growth and development.
The important work of the ASEAN Member States fostered an environment for nations to prosper. By adhering to international norms such as mutually respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, and resolving disputes in a peaceful manner, these states have created greater stability.
For example, according to the World Bank, Singapore has nearly quadrupled their GDP since 2001.
Similarly, Indonesia has reduced poverty levels 50% in the last 20 years.
The Indo-Pacific region is not an anomaly, the entire world has benefited enormously from the rules based international order, experiencing greater stability, prosperity, and peace.
RBIO under attack
But now, as I stated, the rules-based international order, which has benefited so many, is being challenged in the Indo-Pacific.
Revisionist, autocratic powers seek to disrupt and displace the current system in ways that benefit them at the expense of all others. They use coercion and intimidation to achieve their objectives, and justify their actions with a philosophy of might makes right.
They create domestic laws and then attempt to portray them as new international rules.
And make illegal and excessive territorial claims based on revisionist history.
Even more alarming, they empower their law enforcement entities to police the global commons as if they were their own, physically harassing vessels operating in international waters, infringing on the freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law.
These actions clearly contrast with the peace and stability I just mentioned, and represent an assault on the rules-based international order. But the vast majority of countries throughout the region have rallied around the desire for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
This is defining the security landscape in the 21st Century. How we deal with this affront to the rules-based international order, in this most consequential region, impacts the national interests of all countries.
Whether it is a novel disease, a slow-down in the production of semi-conductors, or an assault on international norms – what happens in the Indo-Pacific does not stay in the Indo-Pacific, but impacts the entire world.
Allies and Partners
Cooperation between allies and partners is required to preserve the rules-based international order and ensure free and open access to the global commons.
At its core, this is what Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt intended when they signed the Atlantic Charter in Newfoundland 80 years ago and a few years later when the United Nations was formed.
This agreed-to international order, provided an era of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Success was achieved because of the impressive prosperity it fostered and the appeal of common values for all nations.
It is critically important the global set of like-minded allies, partners, and friends work together to support our common values. Whether we are talking about the five U.S. bilateral treaty allies in the Pacific, member states of the NATO alliance, mature multilateral forums, strategic partnerships, or mini-lateral engagements, ALL are needed to sustain free and open access to the global commons.
In May, U.S Secretary of Defense Austin introduced the concept of Integrated Deterrence as the approach to maintain peace and stability in the global security environment. Integrated Deterrence is synchronizing all forms of national power, with the Joint Force, and our allies and partners, to preserve peace, stability, and the international rules-based order.
Here are some examples of Integrated Deterrence in execution:
Seven nations including: Canada, the Netherlands, U.K, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States with more than 15,000 sailors and Marines conducting exercises from a 4 carrier strike group in October.
Or U.S. and Canadian navies conducting a combined Taiwan Strait Transit.
Or the French-led La Perouse exercise, with naval assets from Australia, France, India, Japan and the United States
Or, the deployment of the German flag ship Bayern to the region and her participating in the coalition of nations enforcing the UN Security Council Resolutions off the Korean peninsula.
Or the largest maritime exercise in the world, RIMPAC, which routinely incorporates more than 20 different nations, including most ASEAN countries.
Or integrating joint air and maritime operations by embarking U.S. Marines onboard the UK’s Queen Elizabeth in the South China Sea.
These activities increase capability, improve interoperability, and strengthen the trust between like-minded nations to ensure the air, maritime, cyber, and space domains remain open to all nations.
When viewed by those who seek to change the rules-based international order, these activities provide clear, visible evidence of our allies and partners’ commitment to preserving peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
This kind of close collaboration creates the advantage of mass without the vulnerability of concentration and can only be achieved when allies and partners choose to operate together.
Together we are strong, but we must continue to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges and Seize the Initiative now…together.
Future of Allies & Partners
Successfully confronting the challenges in the Indo-Pacific requires all like-minded nations to think, act, and operate differently. One recent development I believe will benefit every nation in the region is the creation of the AUKUS security partnership.
This agreement seeks to preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific while providing Australia a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. AUKUS connects America’s existing allies and partners in new ways and demonstrates how our allies and partners across the Atlantic play a significant role in the Pacific.
Similarly, the QUAD, while not a military alliance, is connecting like-minded nations across economic, diplomatic, informational, and military domains.
Militarily, the MALABAR 21 exercises in the Philippine Sea and the Bay of Bengal highlighted how these four countries can work together to confront unilateral aggression. Every exercise of this magnitude increases our capability, improves our interoperability, and enhances our deterrence efforts.
Another partnership I am excited to see further develop is the trilateral relationship between the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and the United States. As we recently experienced with multiple North Korean missile launches, close collaboration between these countries is vital to quickly understand the dynamic events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula.
However, we have some work to do before we can realize the full potential of these partnerships. Strengthening our bilateral cybersecurity and information security is a foundational pre-requisite of closer defense cooperation.
This safeguards our technological advantages while allowing our allies and partners greater access to a common information picture.
Finally, integrated deterrence requires a geographically distributed, operationally resilient, defense-in-depth, and sustainable force posture that is coordinated globally and effectively employed every day.
Although the challenges I discussed today are primarily found in the physical domain, integrated deterrence extends to the cyber and space domains as well.
We must make concerted efforts to increase resilience, strengthen capabilities, and better integrate these domains because they impact the entire world.
Ultimately, great nations lead toward a compelling vision of the future. Like-minded nations believe in assured access to the global commons for all countries and the opportunity to pursue greater levels of prosperity, but none of us can do this alone. We must work together.
USINDOPACOM is actively taking steps to strengthen our alliances, develop new relationships, and integrate our forces into a broader network of partnerships.
It is important for all nations to demonstrate their commitment to upholding the rules-based international order. I want to encourage our allies and partners across the globe to continue deploying to the Indo-Pacific and seek out opportunities to contribute to integrated deterrence. We welcome your participation in this endeavor.
I appreciate the chance to share these ideas with you and look forward to the rest of the conference. Thank you.