PACOM commander: ‘Indo-Pacific region at a crossroads’

The following are relevant observations and comments made by Pacific Commander-U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris in testimony last week before the House Armed Services Committee. Generally speaking, he notes that continued American prosperity is linked to the security and safety of the Indo-Pacific region.

— The region is wracked by security crises including ballistic and nuclear threats from North Korea, a rising China, outsized Russian influence, and the growing presence of militant groups; North Korea is his primary concern.

— A principal challenge for PACOM is the growing perception in the region that the U.S. is a declining power; continued uncertainty over the budget process (years of continuing resolutions rather than actual budgets) is adding to those concerns (though Congress recently passed a two-year budget that removes much uncertainty).

— “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.” He notes that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said that his nuclear-capable ICBMs are meant for the U.S. and Guam.

— PACOM fully supports the current State Department effort to exert maximum diplomatic pressure on North Korea in the form of sanctions, but he added that the command stands ready to execute any military contingency chosen by the Congress and the Trump administration.

— China is growing rapidly and seeks to spread influence globally; Beijing is using “military modernization, influence operations and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific to their advantage.”

— Chinese actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea are “coordinated, methodical and strategic, using their military and economic power to erode the free and open international order.”

— China is continuing to build and fortify islands in the South China Sea. Also, “China’s impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain,” Harris said, adding that China has built new missile capabilities, fielded fifth-generation aircraft, and continues to grow their navy. China is also building new military technologies including artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and advanced space- and cyber-capabilities.

— Harris said China’s goal is to supplant the U.S. as the region’s security guarantor. “China’s intent is crystal clear. 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 is attempting to play the role of ‘spoiler’ in the Indo-Pacific as Moscow’s activity increases militarily, economically and politically.

— Russia’s growing interest and militarization of the Arctic is concerning to PACOM.

— U.S. counterterrorism efforts continue throughout the region, especially in the Philippines. [source]

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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