ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
May 17, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m honored to be in your company so that I can convey how important the U.S. / Republic of Korea alliance is to me, both personally and professionally. It’s a historical fact that my father, a Tennessee native, served in the Navy throughout World War II and the Korean War before retiring in 1958. My dad spent a lot of time in Korea -- mostly in Chinhae with the Korean Navy -- and from his stories, I gained a deep appreciation for the Korean culture at an early age.
Engagements like this and many visits to the Peninsula during my military career have only deepened that admiration. So truly, thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.
Long-winded speakers in this town are as common as traffic jams – both are to be avoided at all costs. So I’ll keep my remarks short.
Folks, I’m thrilled to join my friends from ICAS – an organization with the noble motto of “advancing humanity, liberty, peace and security among all nations and all people.” For five decades, ICAS has been dedicated to pursuing peace and prosperity with an emphasis on multilateral relations between the United States and Indo-Asia-Pacific nations – that sounds like U.S. Pacific Command! You’ve supported the deep thinkers and big ideas that have helped to shape America’s relationships with key allies and partners in the region. I appreciate your support for the rules-based security architecture that has served the Indo-Asia-Pacific so well for so long. As the region faces a multitude of threats, your ideas and discussions are more important than ever.
Bilateral relationships – like America’s ironclad alliance with South Korea – have dominated our regional discussions for many years. But recently, U.S. Pacific Command has been working to expand our relationship networks into trilaterals, quadrilaterals and multilaterals.
So one idea that I’d like to discuss with you today is my priority to advance trilateral cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the U.S.
I strongly believe that constructive relations between Japan and South Korea – our key treaty allies in Northeast Asia – help to advance peace and prosperity throughout the entire region.
Our three countries share so much in common: democracy, free markets, a commitment to human rights, and common security threats. We are stronger together... and I believe there is much we can achieve with closer cooperation.
But before discussing the importance of this vital trilateral framework, I’d like to provide a brief overview of U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM as we call it.
PACOM is America’s oldest and largest military combatant command. Headquartered in Hawaii, it’s made up of nearly 400,000 personnel – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and Department of Defense civilians – who defend American interests over half the Earth: from Hollywood to Bollywood... from penguins to polar bears.
PACOM is responsible for all U.S. military operations in the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific. About 20 percent of the entire U.S. military is assigned to PACOM, the most assigned forces of any combatant command. Our motto is “be ready to fight tonight.” One of our sub-unified commands, U.S. Forces Korea, epitomizes this commitment. Led by my good friend General Vince Brooks, the 28,500 American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen of U.S. Forces Korea help maintain security and stability on the Peninsula.
Now, when referring to our area of operation, I prefer using the term Indo-Asia-Pacific, as this more accurately captures the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the economic lifeblood that links India, Australia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania, South America and North America.
Oceans that once were physical and psychological barriers that kept us apart are now maritime super highways that bring us together as one global economy.
My boss -- Secretary of Defense Ash Carter -- has said that “trade requires safe passage... investment requires stability... innovation requires freedom... and each of these requires security.”
Clearly, security and stability fuel prosperity. One of the slides I often show to those who visit our Hawaii headquarters is a picture of the Han River in 1953, which is basically a blank canvas… and then I show a picture of the same area today that depicts the economically vibrant city of Seoul.
I use this picture along with images of other cities throughout Asia to help demonstrate how prosperity and security are inextricably linked – and how the current rules-based international order has set the conditions for the economic rise of many Asian nations.
Secretary Carter has also called the Indo-Asia Pacific the single most consequential region for America’s future. Indeed, Asia is now the economic center of gravity for the global economy. And this helps explain why President Obama initiated our strategic Rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific back in 2011.
The Rebalance is an intentional effort based on a strategy of collaboration and cooperation. But the Rebalance is not just a security-or defense-centered policy, it’s a whole of government effort: diplomatic political, and especially economic.
The collective respect for, and adherence to, international rules and norms by like-minded nations have now produced the longest era of peace and prosperity in modern history. In my opinion, this has been made possible by a carefully crafted security architecture in the region. This structure has been supported by 7 decades of U.S.-forward military presence and underpinned by America's five bilateral security alliances with Australia, the Philippines, Thailand… and Japan and South Korea.
And thanks to our whole-of-government Rebalance, the regional security architecture has been nourished by our growing partnerships with nations like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Bangladesh… and Mongolia – a nation I look forward to visiting next week.
Despite the good news on how our Rebalance has led to greater cooperation and stability in the region, there are also threats – and no threat is more dangerous than North Korea.
Of course, I don’t need to remind the members of ICAS about this. But I will note the irony in the fact that, as we began the Rebalance, Kim Jong Un assumed power following his father’s death in December 2011. The current regime demonstrates a more aggressive and unpredictable North Korea.
KJU exercises complete dominion over his citizens in a brutal fashion including purges and public executions. He now flagrantly rejects United Nations Security Council Resolutions condemning his nuclear aspirations and ballistic missile-related activities. Additionally, he recently threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and other countries in the region.
Folks, make no mistake – North Korea is on a quest for nuclear weapons, a means to miniaturize them, and the ways to deliver them intercontinentally. As we speak, North Korea has hundreds of thousands of rockets within range of Seoul, posing a real threat to American troops and their families, Republic of Korea citizens, and the region. This is a menace to both our Korean and Japanese allies.
The best way to effectively counter North Korea’s aggression is through credible combat power, unrelenting resolve in the face of provocations, and sustained partnerships with our closest allies. This is a big reason why I’m doing everything possible to encourage trilateral cooperation with Japan and the Republic of Korea.
The current level of military cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States is good, but I’d like it to get better.
The South Korean and Japanese governments recently took a big step forward by reaching an agreement surrounding the “comfort women” issue. I applaud the leaders of both countries for having the courage and vision to settle this difficult historical issue… and I agree with President Park’s observation that it was “especially meaningful” to reach such an agreement coincident with the 50th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
Today, South Korea, Japan and the United States share a desire to lend their resources and incredible human talent to the task of improving the well-being of citizens around the globe.
Earlier this spring, President Park, Prime Minister Abe, and President Obama met in Washington, D.C. to reaffirm a common vision for a rules-based order at the heart of the Indo-Asia-Pacific, where all countries – regardless of size – act according to established norms and principles.
The benefits of our strong trilateral relationship are crystal clear. Last month, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken met with his Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul and agreed to expand cooperation even further in response to North Korea’s provocations and destabilizing behavior.
All three countries have agreed to renew efforts to build upon the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement that’s aimed at countering the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea. In addition to working more closely to strengthen sanctions, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will shine an intense light on North Korea’s deplorable human rights violations.
Prime Minister Abe has been known to say that South Korea is Japan’s most important neighbor – evolving cooperative ties between the two countries and bringing all our capabilities together magnifies our impact far beyond the immediate region. A trilateral partnership is a force multiplier for good around the world, and together with Seoul and Tokyo, we’re having an impact on global challenges facing the world today… from combating ISIL and other terrorist organizations, to countering WMD proliferation.
Working trilaterally, we can bolster our collective defense against North Korean provocations, and uphold the principles of international law and unimpeded lawful commerce – the catalysts that bring prosperity to South Korea, Japan, the United States and every other nation in the global economy.
Folks, being in places like this where smart people congregate always reminds me of the wise Greek philosopher Socrates – he talked too much... and his friends poisoned him.
Since I don’t want any hemlock sent in my direction, let me close my formal remarks with this final thought.
Forged on the battlefield and through the blood we shed together on the Peninsula seven decades ago, South Korea and the United States have an enduring partnership.
America and the Republic of Korea are strong because of those who have served before, those who serve now, and those who will serve tomorrow – an unbroken chain, linking our citizens, generation to generation.
Our strength also comes from informed citizens – people like you – who are aware of the challenges, opportunities, dangers we face in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
So on behalf of PACOM’s Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coastguardsmen, and D.O.D. civilians, thank you for helping us to ensure that America remains the world’s strongest force for good.
May God bless the Republic of Korea. May God bless the United States of America, and may God keep our alliance strong and prosperous.