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Harris Says North Korea is Pacom’s Biggest Worry, Gives Report on Asia Rebalance

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, October 10, 2015 — North Korea and its unpredictable leader are U.S. Pacific Command’s biggest worries, Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. told the Military Reporters and Editors Association here yesterday.

Harris, who has commanded U.S. Pacific Command since May, gave reporters and editors an update on the progress of the military rebalance to the Pacific.

Harris stopped in Washington on his way to the Australia-United States Ministerial in Boston.

“The greatest threat that I face on a day-to-day basis is the threat from North Korea, because you have an unpredictable leaders who is in complete command of his country and his military,” Harris said.

KimJong Un is “on a quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them intercontinentally,” he said, adding that Un “poses a very real threat to the 28,000 Americans in South Korea, the nation of South Korea, Japan and on and on.”

“At some point in the future, as he develops his capability, North Korea will present a very real threat to Hawaii and the rest of the United States,” Harris continued. “Now, I have to be ready from a position of strength to deal with North Korea and we are ready to deal … any time that Kim Jong Un decides to act.”

Pacom Area of Responsibility

U.S. Pacific Command has responsibility for U.S. military operations on more than 52 percent of the Earth’s surface. “It’s the oldest and largest of the geographic combatant commands and responsible for all U.S. military forces from Hollywood to Bollywood and from polar bears to penguins,” Harris said.

In the command’s area are the three largest world economies. Seven of the world’s 10 largest standing armies are in the region, as are five of the seven nations that have nuclear arms. “Most projections place seven out of every 10 people on Earth within the Indo-Asian region by the middle of this century,” Harris said.

All these projections and facts prove that the region “matters,” the admiral said. The region fuels growth in the United States and around the world. This is the impetus behind the U.S. government push to pay more attention to the area, he said.

“Even though the world gets a vote -- like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Syria -- we continue to make real progress on the rebalance and advancing our interests in the Indo-Asia Pacific,” he said.

President Barack Obama announced the rebalance more than four years ago as a whole-of-government approach. Security matters are just one aspect of the program that also includes diplomacy, economic integration and political understandings.

Peace is a Collaborative Process

“The presence of our joint military forces in key locations throughout the region, underpins the rules-based, international order, and provides opportunity to engage with other countries while being positioned to respond to crises,” the admiral said.

U.S. forces are key to maintaining peace and prosperity in the region, he said, but it now entails a more coordinated and cooperative process. U.S. forces do not impose peace; they work with other nations militaries to increase their capabilities and capacity. U.S. forces constantly exercise with nations of the region and their presence strengthens the ties not only with the United States, but among neighbors.

Harris particularly cited cooperation with two treaty allies -- South Korea and Japan. U.S. engagement with these countries “is the foundation for peace and security in the region,” he said. “Not only do we share common values and common concerns, but we face a common threat in North Korea.”.

Provocation by North Korea is one reason why Harris welcomes Japan’s decision to play a greater role in regional security. He said he will do all he can to look for ways for South Korea, Japan and the United States to collaborate.

Building the Relationship with China

Harris reiterated that U.S. involvement in the region is not aimed at containing China. The rebalance is about U.S. recognition of the increased importance of the region to Main Street U.S.A. Simply put, security in the region has means prosperity, he said.

“It’s in the best interests of the United States that we continue to embrace and enhance our relationships with everyone in the region including China,” Harris said. “While I’ve been known to be critical of China’s provocative military activities these past two years … I will also acknowledge when China has been helpful, such as China’s counterpiracy efforts off the Horn of Africa and the search for the Malaysian airliner off the coast of Australia.”

The admiral will meet with Chinese military leaders next month and he will “maximize” these areas of cooperation and agreement, while trying to work through areas where the United States and China disagree, he said.

Harris is prepared to continue the conversation with Chinese leaders. “Obviously one of the topics of on-going discussions is my continuing concern with what I call China’s ‘sand castles in the sea’ in disputed waters of the South China Sea,” he said. “Militarization by any claimant in the area makes it harder to resolve disagreements diplomatically.”

Harris will not discuss future operations in his area of responsibility, but he referred reporters to his testimony before the Senate earlier this year. “To reaffirm our ironclad commitment to international law, I think we must exercise freedom of navigation operations throughout the region and throughout the globe,” he said.

He also said he told a regional chiefs of defense meeting -- which included China -- at his headquarters in Hawaii two weeks ago that the United States “will continue to fly and sail and operate anywhere -- anywhere that international law allows.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)