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Rebalance to Pacific Needs to Continue, Pacom Commander Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, February 23, 2016 — It is important for the U.S. military to continue its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. noted that four of the five strategic problem sets that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has stressed -- China, North Korea, Russia and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- are in Pacom’s area of operation.

“I’d say that we can't rebalance fast enough,” Harris told the committee. “But there is more work to do, and we must not lose the momentum.

Asia-Pacific Regional Issues

The South China Sea is an international waterway that’s vital to world trade, Harris said. Disputes between China and some other Asia-Pacific nations over ownership of some islands in the area, he said, threaten to disrupt that trade as well as regional peace.

Also, North Korea has been disturbing the peace with its nuclear program and effort to build ballistic missiles, Harris said. Earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said North Korea is the world’s most unpredictable nuclear threat. Pacom is focused on the threat North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un poses, and Harris said he is working with regional allies to contain North Korea.

But other areas also concern the Pacom commander. Russia is “revitalizing its ability to execute long-range strategic patrols in the Pacific to include the basing of its newest strategic ballistic missile submarine,” he said. The Russians have also increased bomber flights around Japan.

Terrorism also presents a threat in the region, as demonstrated by recent terrorist attacks in Bangladesh and Indonesia, Harris said. The attacks “underscore the fact that violent Islamic extremism is a global concern that must be crushed,” he added.

There have been changes in the region that will change the strategic landscape, Harris said. “We've continued to strengthen our alliances and partnerships,” he told the senators. “Japan’s peace and security legislation authorizing limited collective self-defense will take affect this year. This legislation and the revised guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation will significantly increase Japan’s ability to work with us.”

Important Relationships

The same is true with the U.S.-Philippines alliance, Harris said. The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and in January the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries. This should provide significant partnership and access benefits, the admiral said.

Harris told the panel he is particularly pleased about the burgeoning U.S. relationship with India.

“As the world’s two largest democracies, we are uniquely poised to help bring greater security and prosperity to the entire region,” he said. “Two visionary policies are now coinciding as the United States rebalances west to the Indo-Asia-Pacific and India implements its Act East policy.”

Harris also praised the close and continuing cooperation with Australia.

“I rely heavily on Australia, not only for its advanced military capabilities across all domains, but importantly for Australia’s warfighting experience and leadership in operations around the world,” he said.

Harris said he needs continued investment in future capabilities.

“I need weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further, and are more survivable,” he said. “If funding uncertainties continues, the U.S. will experience reduced warfighting capabilities, so I urge Congress to repeal sequestration.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)