Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Los Angeles World Affairs Council: Future of Asia Conference
Los Angeles, CA
September 15, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m grateful for this opportunity to be here to discuss the importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific to the United States. I'll try not to talk too long though. I’ve been told it’s best to leave your audience before your audience leaves you.
I’m honored to join this accomplished collection of leaders and scholars here in Santa Monica -- a.k.a. Silicon Beach. Your diverse and informed opinions are part and parcel of the incubator of ideas that makes Los Angeles such an impactful place.
I’m very impressed by the World Affairs Council network, specifically the Los Angeles branch. Since 1953, you’ve inspired Americans to better understand the outside world and the critical global issues of our times. So it’s very apropos that this conference is titled ‘The Future of Asia,’ because I believe that the future of the United States is inextricably linked to this dynamic region.
Thanks to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, events like this help all of us dig deep to analyze issues that impact our nation -- something especially needed in this day and age of instant news and sound bites that simply scratch the surface.
But since I know there’s media in the room, I’ll try to say something ‘tweetable’ -- in fewer than 140 characters, of course.
Perhaps it’s best I set the stage by providing a little context about the United States Pacific Command, or PACOM, America’s oldest and largest military combatant command that is headquartered in Hawaii.
We’re made up of about 380,000 personnel – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense civilians – who stand the watch over half the Earth. Normally, I say our area of responsibility extends from Hollywood to Bollywood, and from polar bears to penguins. But not tonight. Tonight, I’ll say that the PACOM region stretches from the Silicon Beach in Southern California to the Silicon Plateau in Bangladore India -- places which are becoming the epicenter for global innovation.
This region spans 14 time zones and contains 36 countries. Although many refer to this area as the Asia-Pacific, I prefer calling it the
Indo-Asia-Pacific. This term more accurately captures, for me, 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 together.
In my opinion, all of these areas must be included in a discussion of ‘the future of Asia.’
Strengthening the security, diplomatic and economic connective tissue throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific is what America’s ongoing Rebalance is all about. The whole-of-government Rebalance is an intentional effort based on a strategy of collaboration and cooperation.
And PACOM is right in the center of implementing the security aspects of the Rebalance. Since its establishment in 1947, PACOM has been responsible for all U.S. military operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, including exercises and activities designed to strengthen our alliances and expand our regional partnerships.
Over the past 70 years, the Indo-Asia-Pacific has been one of the world’s great success stories. Completely transformed since the end of World War II, the region is now home to the world’s three largest economies and seven of the eight fastest growing markets.
Each year, approximately $5.3 trillion in annual global trade transits the South China Sea – and $1.2 trillion of this sea-based trade involves the United States. This global trade relies on unimpeded sea lanes. In fact, the Strait of Malacca alone sees over 25 percent of global oil shipments and 50 percent of all natural gas shipments daily.
What happens in the Indo-Asia-Pacific matters to America. So let there be no doubt – the United States is a vital part of this region with fundamental national interests at stake. This region is critically important to Los Angeles, to Chattanooga, and to our nation -- now and in the future.
The Indo-Asia-Pacific has 7 of the world’s 10 largest armies, which means the area also shapes the course of global security. And even with a belligerent North Korea, this region has experienced decades of relative peace and stability. This secure environment has facilitated an increase in prosperity unequaled in human history.
In my opinion, this success story has been made possible, in large part, by the rules-based security architecture in the region...supported by seven decades of U.S. forward military presence and underpinned by America's five bilateral security alliances with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand.
And we’re enhancing our mutual security by deepening our partnerships with nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, and many others.
A bright spot I’ll specifically mention is the growing U.S.-India relationship. As the world's two largest democracies, we are uniquely poised, in my opinion, to help bring greater security and prosperity to the entire region. And I think that’s primarily because two visionary policies are now converging at the perfect time. Shortly after President Obama announced America’s Rebalance in 2011, Prime Minister Modi implemented his ‘Act East’ policy. The results have been impressive.
The Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or D.T.T.I., has proven to be an effective mechanism to enable closer defense and industrial ties between our two nations. It allows us to take advantage of opportunities to strengthen our defense through collaboration by focusing on the larger strategic picture rather than succumbing to old-think and outdated bureaucratic obstacles. For instance, this framework has allowed us to work together on technology to improve jet engines and aircraft carriers, to name a few.
Our deepening cooperation with India – based on shared values and shared concerns – is becoming the key partnership that defines the Rebalance and, arguably, American engagement in the region in the 21st century.
India is just one of many of the countries in this region which have demonstrated a commitment to longstanding, customary international law. The principles of which provide the foundation of the rules-based order:
- the peaceful resolution of disputes;
- freedom of navigation for military and civilian ships and aircraft;
- 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.
Now, that sounds rosy, right? But I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the challenges that are undermining (sic) the current rules-based international order.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has rightly called the Indo-Asia-Pacific the single most consequential region for America’s future. He’s also identified five strategic, and very real, global challenges to U.S. security that drive our defense planning and budgeting – North Korea, China, Russia, the Islamic State or ISIL, and Iran.
And guess what? Four of these challenges are resident in the PACOM area of responsibility. We can’t turn a blind eye to these challenges. And we can’t give any nation or insidious non-state actor a pass if they purposefully erode the rules-based security order.
In the here and now, ISIL is a clear threat that must be destroyed. The main focus of our military effort is rightfully on the Middle East and North Africa, as coalition forces continue to attack those savages throughout Syria, Iraq and Libya. But as ISIL is squeezed out of these geographic areas, it will undoubtedly seek to operate in others.
Population numbers alone have forced PACOM to think ahead about ‘what's next’ in the fight against ISIL. There are far more Muslims living in the PACOM area than in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
The vast majority of these people are peaceful folks who seek to live lives free from the curse of terrorism – they want to raise their families and pursue their dreams just like every American…just like each of us in this room. But we know that a small band of terrorist fanatics can produce deadly results. In 2016 alone, we've witnessed ISIL-inspired terrorism in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
It's clear to me that ISIL is trying to rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific. So we must stop them now. But we can’t do it alone. To halt ISIL’s cancerous spread, we must work together with like-minded nations in the region and across the globe.
Multinational efforts are underway to meet this challenge. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines recently agreed to deepen cooperation to fight regional piracy and related kidnapping for ransom in the Sulu Sea. The Abu Sayyaf Group, a Philippine-based terrorist organization, whose leader has sworn allegiance to ISIL, is responsible for much of this activity.
Cooperative efforts in this vast and largely ungoverned maritime area connecting these three nations and their thousands of islands will help deny these terrorists maneuver space and revenue sources. This partnership, along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ renewed offensive against the group, is already having meaningful results.
Counter-terror cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia is another high point. Because of the coordination between these two nations, a plot by a terrorist cell with links to ISIL to conduct an attack in Singapore was broken up by Indonesian security forces.
Many other like-minded nations – Australia, Japan, and New Zealand to name a few – have joined the coalition dedicated to ISIL’s complete destruction. PACOM, including Special Operations Command Pacific, or SOCPAC, supports these efforts to improve cooperation against this nemesis to humanity.
Through multinational collaboration, we can eradicate this ISIL disease before it metastasizes in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
But ISIL isn't our only immediate threat. North Korea stands out as the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons in this century. Last week’s nuclear test, North Korea's largest ever and second this year, follows an unprecedented campaign of provocations including ballistic missile launches, which Pyongyang claims are intended to serve as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons targeting the United States and our allies, South Korea and Japan.
Now I want you to stop for a minute and really think about this. Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong-un, is a recipe for disaster.
I know there’s some debate about the miniaturization advancements made by Pyongyang. But PACOM must be prepared to fight tonight, so I take them at their word. I must assume their claims are true – their aspirations certainly are. So we must consider every possible step to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies. That’s why the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance has decided to deploy THAAD – the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system – in South Korea as soon as possible. That’s why I continue to call on China to exert its considerable influence on North Korea to stop the madness. That’s why I continue to emphasize trilateral cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States. That’s why all nations must continue to rally the international community to loudly condemn North Korea’s aberrational behavior and be prepared to counter this challenge.
Other significant challenges are posed by a revanchist Russia and an assertive China. Both Moscow and Beijing have choices to make. They can choose to disregard the rules-based international order or they can contribute to it as responsible stakeholders. I’ve been loud and clear that I prefer cooperation so that we can collectively address our shared security challenges.
Regardless, America's ironclad commitments to our treaty allies will never waiver. And across the region, including in the East and South China Seas, the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and support the right of all nations to do the same.
From my perspective, we will continue to cooperate where we can, and we will be ready to confront where we must.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm often asked about what to do in the face of these challenges I've spent the last few minutes talking about, and my response is two-fold.
First, as the PACOM Commander, I must be ready to confront all challenges from a position of strength with credible combat power. Second, I need help to find creative solutions to the challenges ahead of us.
Fortunately, I think I’ve come to the right place to get support on both.
From Silicon Beach to Silicon Valley, and throughout our nation, I need visionaries to continue developing cutting edge technology that helps our military maintain our significant asymmetric advantages.
Thanks to America’s strategic Rebalance, everything that’s new in cool in the U.S. military arsenal is coming first to the Pacific. Advanced aircraft like the Joint Strike Fighter, P-8 Poseidon, and the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. More U.A.V.s like the Triton and Stingray, more advanced aerial platforms like the V-22 Osprey, and more new ships like the Gerald Ford class aircraft carriers and Littoral Combat Ships.
And then, there’s the D.D.G.-1000. The lead ship, U.S.S. Zumwalt, is scheduled to be commissioned next month and then homeported in San Diego. Folks, this region is getting a ship even the Klingons would fear. And the destroyer skipper’s name is Captain James Kirk. You just can’t make this stuff up.
Jokes aside, this is serious business. If we have to fight tonight, I don't want it to be a fair fight. If it's a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it's a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery…and all of our partners with their artillery.
But as I said during Congressional testimony last year, sequestration could reduce us to wielding a butter knife in this fight.
So getting sequestration repealed is the first of three issues where we could use the support and brainpower of those in this room.
The second issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or T.P.P. Now, no one should misconstrue my comments about T.P.P. as lobbying for legislation. Those of us who wear the uniform of our country know better. And anyone who’s met me knows I’m no economist – I have enough problems just balancing my checkbook and this e-banking thing frightens me.
But I’d be remiss in talking about ‘the future of Asia’ if I didn’t mention the security aspects – my lane if you will – of this proposed 12-nation agreement that would account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s G.D.P.
You don’t have to be an economist to know that the foundation of American security is a strong economy, and the economic future of the United States lies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Increased trade binds nations closer together because there’s more to lose when there’s instability. T.P.P. would strengthen stability and security by deepening our relationships throughout the region and raising the bar to entry to protect the things that matter. Things like enhanced cybersecurity, privacy, and intellectual property protections. T.P.P.’s provisions to combat the theft of trade secrets, including by cyber theft (sic), protect our defense industrial base. And obviously, our partners who’ve signed up for T.P.P. see it as a vital demonstration of America’s enduring commitment to the region.
The third and final issue is UNCLOS, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I think the recent Arbitral Tribunal ruling on the South China Sea validates the strategic importance of UNCLOS and argues for U.S. ratification to the convention. United States policy is to fully adhere to the provisions in UNCLOS. And our military forces around the world reinforce the convention’s standards by operating consistent with the rules in UNCLOS.
In my personal opinion, I believe that by not ratifying it, that we lose some of the credibility for the very thing that we're arguing for – full commitment and respect for rules and norms in the international arena. While some good people argue that we should not ratify the treaty, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. I believe we should align with most of the world – in fact, over 160 countries – and join UNCLOS.
At the end of the day, America is a beacon of freedom and hope across the world for sure, but that light shines brighter if we ratify UNCLOS.
Folks, a lot of you probably don’t know that Terry McCarthy speaks six languages. By now, because of the length of this speech, I’m pretty sure that Terry has picked up a seventh.
So I’d like to close with a thought on how blessed we are as a nation – where we have the freedom to participate in an open forum like this and debate important issues.
Last Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our homeland that forever changed our country and our entire Joint military force. It’s not lost on me that we’ve been at war these last 15 years -- 15 Septembers of sacrifices made by those in uniform and their families.
We’re fortunate to have men and women who volunteer to serve our country – whether it’s to keep the peace in Asia or to go in to harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we’re also richly blessed to have informed citizens, patriots like you, who are aware of the challenges, opportunities, and dangers we face in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and around the world.
You play an important part in shaping our nation’s future – developing new centers of influence, here in Los Angeles and beyond, to help ensure that the United States maintains our global leadership position.
A great American leader, and the only person to ever be Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, General George C. Marshall once noted, ‘Democracy is the most demanding of all forms of government in terms of the energy, imagination, and public spirit required of the individual.’
Your participation in this conference and your imagination demonstrates to me your public spirit to put skin in the game by looking for real solutions to complex problems.
May God bless each person in this room…may God bless the City of Angels…and may God bless this land of liberty we call America.
Thank you very much.