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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | April 20, 2016

AUSA Meeting: Role of Land Forces In Ensuring Access To Shared Domains

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. U.S. Pacific Command

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

Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Meeting 
Defense Services Asia Exhibition
“Role of Land Forces In Ensuring Access To Shared Domains”

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
April 20, 2016
As Prepared for Delivery

I’d like to thank Defense Services Asia for hosting one of the world’s largest defense events. And of course, none of this would be possible without the hard work from the Ministry of Defense, Malaysian Armed Forces and Royal Malaysian Police. 


And a big thanks to AUSA for organizing the U.S. Army Security and Defense Pavilion. It’s not every day you get both advocates and experts of the Army, the global defense and security community, and government representatives under one roof. And it’s not every day that someone convinces a salty ol’ Admiral to speak at a land-centric pavilion sponsored by an Army organization. 


So to prove that someone made an obvious mistake in inviting a Naval Academy graduate to speak, I’d like to spend the remainder of my time talking about our current 14-year winning streak in the Army-Navy game.


But seriously, I think it’s pretty cool that you’ve invited me here today. It goes to show how truly joint the U.S. military has become – and rightfully so! That’s why I’m proud to be here as the PACOM commander responsible for defending in all domains – land, sea, air, space, and cyber. 

But for us to be all we can be--pun intended--we can't just think about one domain or one service. We can't be a “Domain of One” to borrow another slogan. And in a bigger sense, we also need to think about how combined operations between nations can help us achieve our collective security objectives. That’s appropriate, because today, I want to pose an important question in order to encourage an important dialogue: 


What is the role of land forces in ensuring access to shared domains?


I don’t claim to know the answer to this question – probably not a surprise to many of you who’ve dealt with Navy Admirals before.


But what I do know is that the question of the role of land forces in ensuring unfettered access to shared domains should be addressed by every country, not only as a matter of security, but also a matter of economic prosperity.

There are 36 countries in the U.S. Pacific Command--or PACOM--area of responsibility, and in 26 of them, the Army is the predominant service.


So while you ponder that, I’m going to set the stage by telling you why this is important to PACOM.


PACOM is America’s oldest and largest joint combatant command. We’re made up of nearly 400,000 personnel--Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and Department of Defense civilians--who stand the watch over half the Earth:from Hollywood to Bollywood, and penguins to polar bears.


Headquartered in Hawaii, PACOM is responsible for all U.S. operations, including exercises and building relationships and capacity with our partners through military-to-military engagements.


Although many refer to this region as the Asia-Pacific, I prefer calling it the Indo-Asia-Pacific. This more accurately captures the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans--shared maritime domains--are the economic lifeblood that links India, Australia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania and the United States together. 


Strengthening that economic connective tissue through diplomatic and security partnership is what America’s strategic rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific is all about. 


Enhancing our collective prosperity is a big reason why President Obama initiated our Rebalance to this region a few years ago – a clear sign that the United States recognizes the Indo-Asia-Pacific as the world’s economic and political center of gravity. 


In the South China Sea alone, approximately $5.3 trillion in annual global trade relies on unimpeded sea lanes; $1.2 trillion of this sea-based trade is destined to or from the United States. The Strait of Malacca alone sees over 25 percent of global oil shipments and 50 percent of all natural gas transits each day.

Thanks in large part to freedom of navigation for civilian and military assets, this region is now home to the world’s 3 largest economies and 7 of the 8 fastest growing economies. Interestingly, the region is also home to 7 of the world’s 10 largest land armies. In fact, most of the Chiefs of Defense, like my friend General Zulkifeli, are Army officers.

Underpinned by 70 years of persistent U.S. military presence, the thriving Indo-Asia-Pacific of today is the result of peace, security, and hard work by all the nations in the region. And I believe it’s the ultimate success story of the international rules based order that has set the framework for open access of the sea-lanes and airspace to all nations.


Preserving unimpeded access so that prosperity can continue is something that my boss, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, often talks about. Secretary Carter just finished visiting this region a few days ago and culminated his trip by embarking the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the international waters of the South China Sea.


So with the regional preponderance of archipelagic countries or nations with large coastlines – and with most of these countries having large and powerful armies, what is the appropriate role of land forces in protecting shared maritime spaces?


Because land domains are almost entirely sovereign, armies usually don’t think much about shared domains. Contested land domains present challenges that threaten peace and security. In fact, war is the usual outcome and history is replete with examples of wars fought over them. 

In the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, we are now faced with security challenges brought by competing claims of sovereignty over certain land features and the resources in the maritime zones that attach to these features. We must find ways to settle these disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.


Considering the importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the impacts of globalization, perhaps it’s appropriate for coastal and archipelagic nations with capable land forces to consider operational missions that improve maritime security. Land forces can help identify and counter threats from foreign terrorist fighters; they can combat human trafficking; and they can develop amphibious capabilities to protect their coastal borders.


Working coastal borders is important, as I learned during my time as the Commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and Deputy Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa. There, we worked with many countries with large land armies that also happened to be coastal nations. These countries were victims of what we called "sea blindness.” In other words, they focused their armies either inwardly as a constabulary force... or externally to their often-contested land borders with other like-countries... or both. 


They were blinded to the challenges posed to their Exclusive Economic Zones and territorial seas... challenges that threatened their undersea resources and sea-based foodstocks – in other words, their very economic lifeblood.


Avoiding sea blindness is an area where I think PACOM can help. Our new Maritime Security Initiative, or MSI, will help build a common operational picture around maritime spaces. For example, this year alone we will invest approximately $3 million dollars to improve the capability of the Malaysian Armed Forces. 


But ladies and gentlemen, awareness is just half the battle. Each country also needs the air, naval, and land based assets that can do something about it... that can take action. Because without the capability to defend territorial waters and air space and enforce the rights provided by international law within exclusive economic zones, nations could find themselves in a bad position against other countries or non-state actors that do not adhere to international laws and norms.


That’s not a place where any nation wants to be.

Folks, I’m sure there are other ideas out there about the future roles of land forces that warrant attention and consideration. So I hope my brief comments today spur some discussion about what the armies of archipelagic countries can do in the defense of shared maritime spaces.


I also hope that all countries in the region continue to work with U.S. PACOM forces to address our collective security challenges. For, indeed, we are stronger together.


And now, I’d like to hear your thoughts. So let’s open up the floor to questions and have a shared dialogue.


Thank you very much.


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