Pacom Commander Says Indo-Pacific Region at a Crossroads
America’s security and economic prosperity are linked to the Indo-Pacific region, which finds itself at a crossroads, Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee today.
The region finds itself pulled in many directions and dealing with many challenges from the ballistic missiles of North Korea, to significant pressure from China, to increasing activity from Russia and attacks from violent extremist groups, he said.
One of the problems Pacom faces in the region is the perception that the U.S. is a declining power, the admiral said. Budget uncertainty does not help to counter that perception, and he thanked Congress for passing a defense budget that will lead to long-term stability. Harris said he believes that sends a powerful message to allies, partners and potential adversaries throughout that the U.S. is committed to maintaining its status in the Pacific.
North Korea is a main concern for Harris. The rogue nation has continued to work on developing nuclear weapons and mating them with intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has said those missiles are intended for the United States and Guam.
“While some might dispute the reliability and quantity of the North’s strategic weapons, it is indisputable that [Kim] is rapidly closing the gap between rhetoric and capability,” Harris told the representatives. South Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of the north’s threats for years, he said, “and now that shadow looms over the American homeland.”
Pacom fully supports the current State Department maximum pressure campaign to enforce United Nations sanctions against the regime, the admiral said, but the command also stands ready for the full range of contingency responses.
China is a rapidly growing regional military power with aspirations for global effects. The nation is using “military modernization, influence operations and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific to their advantage,” Harris said.
Chinese actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea are not opportunistic -- as some believe -- but “coordinated, methodical and strategic, using their military and economic power to erode the free and open international order,” the admiral said.
China is continuing to build and fortify islands in the South China Sea.
“China’s impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain,” Harris said. China has built new missile capabilities, fielded fifth generation aircraft, and continues to grow their navy.
China is also investing in the next wave of military technologies to include hypersonic weapons, advanced space and cyber capabilities and artificial intelligence. “If the United States does not keep pace, Pacom will struggle to compete with the Peoples’ Liberation Army on future battlefields,” the admiral said.
All this is aimed at supplanting the United States as the security partner of choice for countries in the region. “China’s intent is crystal clear,” Harris said. “We ignore it at our peril. These types of aspirational goals could be appropriate for a nation of China’s stature, but judging by China’s regional behavior I am concerned that China will now work to undermine the rules-based international order, not just in the Indo-Pacific but on a global scale.”
Russia, Counterterrorism Efforts
Russian activity in the region is increasing and the country is acting as a spoiler militarily, economically and politically, the admiral said, adding that their interest in the Arctic is particularly bothersome.
Counterterrorism efforts continue in the region with Pacom helping the Philippines military retake the city of Marawi after a group sympathetic to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took over. The action illustrates two themes for the command, he said. “First, localized threats can quickly transform into international causes. An early and effective response is vital to control the fight and own the narrative.”
“Second, counterterrorism operations are extremely challenging and most regional forces are poorly equipped for such fights,” Harris continued. The command, he said, must work closely with allies and partners to improve capabilities and capacity to take on the terror foe.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)