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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | June 6, 2016

Shangri-La Dialogue Young Leaders Forum

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

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Shangri-La Dialogue Young Leaders Forum
June 5, 2016
As Delivered

(Introduced by Dr. John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive of The International Institute for Strategic Studies)

Thanks, Dr. Chipman, for the introduction. I’m very impressed by what The International Institute for Strategic Studies does. It’s programs like this that will help prepare talented young leaders like y’all to tackle the complex and rapidly-evolving strategic challenges we face together. So I look forward to hearing what’s on your mind when I finish my opening remarks.

And, folks, I’m mindful of the two types of speakers one might encounter at an event like this: those who never stop to think... and those who never think to stop. 

I’ll do my best not to be either.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m honored to be here today. You should be proud of the individual accomplishments that brought you here to this very important dialogue. I urge you to make friends among your peers and continue to champion the “ASEAN Way” to improve multinational cooperation.

I’ll get back to cooperation in a minute – it’s important.

But first, I’d like to set the stage by providing a little context about U.S. Pacific Command – or PACOM, as we call it – America’s oldest and largest military 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. military operations in this vast area, including exercises and capacity building with our allies and partners.

Although many refer to this region as the Asia-Pacific, I prefer to call it the Indo-Asia-Pacific – 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 and the United States. Oceans that once were barriers keeping us apart are now superhighways that bring us together.

Let’s highlight our host nation, Singapore, for instance.

Singapore is a global financial hub and a vibrant democracy in a sea of shared space. By shared space, I specifically mean the maritime, air, space, and cyberspace domains. But without access to shared domains, Singapore becomes a land-locked nation... and a much poorer one.

Singapore’s economic miracle and innovative society can be traced to cooperation with the international community to build and maintain the current rules-based order. It’s this order that ensures open access to the shared spaces granted to all nations under international law.

This dialogue, in this great country, is a way for us to be ambitious together and discuss difficult challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific – shared challenges, in shared spaces.

I’ll highlight a few of the challenges we face together, and then offer my view on what we can do to mitigate their effects.

By 2050, 7 out of every 10 people will live in the Indo-Asia-Pacific; this is equal to the entire population of the world today. Most of those people are young just like you. How do we manage this population explosion – especially in the face of trends like mega-cities, fresh water scarcity, fishery depletion and environmental degradation? These trends deepen the problems that we can expect from the population explosion. 

Economic development in the region is allowing for military maturation in some places – 7 of the world’s 10 largest armies and navies are operating here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. All focused on their national interests, I might add. Militarization can become a source of tension if we choose to divide ourselves narrowly by national interests.

While I may not have ‘the answer’ that makes all of these challenges disappear overnight – they won’t – I will offer you my thoughts on how to begin addressing these challenges. 

Here’s the secret.

We are stronger, together.

Multilateral partnerships, built on trust, cooperation, and collaboration... by working with important organizations like ASEAN, I believe that we can mitigate regional challenges if we work together, multilaterally, to assure access to the shared domains.

The peace and prosperity this region has enjoyed for decades has been made possible through our collective adherence to the principles that are the foundation of the current rules-based order – the peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation and overflight for all civilian and military vessels, and unimpeded lawful commerce.

These principles are not abstractions, nor are they subject to the whims of any one country. They are not privileges to be granted or withdrawn. They make sense because they have worked for decades to keep the peace while creating prosperous economic conditions to lift more than a billion people out of poverty.

If, like me, all of you want open skies, open seas and open cyberspace, now and in the future, then we must defend these principles that underpin the rules-based international order. So I challenge all of you to champion these ideas and encourage all nations in this region to uphold the rules-based order.

The Indo-Asia-Pacific is vast – and there are many issues where we can use your help. The talent and leadership present here today in this room are needed to help think through the critical challenges facing all of us. 

Thanks for your attention, and I think we have time for a few questions.


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