DOD News Briefing with Adm. Locklear from the Pentagon
CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY: Good morning, everyone, and welcome here to the Pentagon briefing room. I'm pleased to introduce to you Admiral Sam Locklear, the Pacific Command commander. He has been in command since March, recently returned from the Shangri-La Dialogue. I know some of you were there.
This is Admiral Locklear's first time in our Pentagon briefing room. He will make briefing opening remarks and then we'll open the floor to your questions.
I'll ask you -- I'll be calling on you. I'd ask you to please just identify yourself and who you are before you ask the question. We have about 30 minutes to go, so with that, sir, the floor is yours.
ADMIRAL SAMUEL LOCKLEAR: Well, good morning and thank you, Captain.
First let me recognize Captain Kirby. I think y'all know that he's been selected to be a rear admiral and that he will soon head up the chief of our Navy operations information area and be our CHINFO, we call it. And I can tell you from being a naval officer myself and an admiral that he has a big job taking care of the information flow in the Navy, particularly as he has to watch out for folks like me.
Thanks for taking the time today. It is my first time here. I've been in the position of Pacific commander for about three months and have -- in that time have done some extensive travel throughout the AOR and will continue that in the near term. I'd like to also thank you for being here today and also for those of you who do find the time to travel with us and to see what we're doing with our alliances and partners in the Pacific. When you have the opportunity to do that, we certainly do welcome that and support it.
I am privileged to lead the roughly 320,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and their families that happen to be with them forward-postured in the Asia-Pacific. You know, this is the -- my area of responsibility is the oldest combatant command in the U.S. military. It is the largest; it covers about just roughly over half the surface of the earth. In my AOR [area of responsibility] there are 3.6 billion people. There's 36 nations. There are the largest armies in the world, many of the largest economies in the world, and certainly it's a region with tremendous opportunities and -- well as tremendous challenges. Five of our -- of the seven allies that the U.S. have are in my AOR as well as some of the most critical strategic partnerships that we have in the globe as well as some very critical emerging partnerships.
You've been -- all have been reading and discussing among yourselves the rebalance, sometimes referred to as the pivot to the Pacific. One of the good things that I have -- any time you come in as a new commander, it's always really good to have a -- to have your boss tell you what the priorities will be.
In this case, I was privileged to have from our commander in chief, our president, and from our secretary of defense a clear guidance on what our priorities would be in the Asia-Pacific, what that rebalance would consist of and as we move forward. And we look forward in the coming weeks and months to be able to articulate -- continue to articulate how we are going to make that rebalance occur.
But that rebalance is based on several key aspects as we go forward. One is it refreshes and re-energizes and continually reassesses where we are with our key alliances. These alliances form the backbone, the cornerstone of our security posture in the Asia-Pacific.
The rebalance also recognizes, I think, for the American people that we are a Pacific power, we do have national interests throughout the Asia-Pacific, and it is the best interest of our children and our grandchildren that we stay engaged in the Asia-Pacific and that we continue to build those alliances and partnerships that allow us to help ensure a security environment that will allow future peace and prosperity in this vast region.
So we're going to look at our alliances and continue to strengthen them. We're going to look at key strategic partnerships and ensure that those are properly taken care of and properly articulated.
We are going to take a steady, deliberate and sustainable approach. We're going to continue to work on our military-to-military relationships with China because it's so important that as China emerges, that we understand each other, that we prevent miscalculation as we go forward, and that we would certainly like to have our Chinese counterparts -- military counterparts -- be a positive influence on the security environment and that we are hopeful that can occur as we go forward.
So steady, deliberate and sustainable is the -- is, again, the way I would characterize our rebalance.
Now, the challenges you're aware of -- we still have instability on the Korean Peninsula with North Korea, a new young leader, with a provocation cycle that's concerning, that has nuclear ambitions and, as you're all aware of, recent missile launches and certainly the continuation of a tendency for proliferation.
We also have non-state and transnational threats. We have violent extremist organizations in the Southeast Asia, in South Asia, that we are concerned about as well as a host of other humanitarian assistance/disaster relief scenarios that we know, in this vast region, can come up upon us quickly and that we must be able to respond to collectively as a -- as the Asia-Pacific nations.
We're also concerned about the cyber world and where we are today. And as our alliances and partnerships grow, we will continue to carry out -- carry on the dialogue of how we will address these cyber threats together, how we will discuss the cyber environment together. And it is a rapidly changing, rapidly evolving environment that we have to deal with, but it is very important.
Our forward forces underpin our strategy. You know, we have traditional basings that we have had since end of the World War II: Japan, Republic of Korea, Guam. But we're also pursuing some new initiatives that are not basing, but are an opportunity for us to partner with other countries to be able to share their facilities, to share in their -- our abilities, and to be able to partner so that we can build a security environment where we have interoperability and where we can potentially rotate U.S. forces throughout the region to be able to help our partners and our allies as we go forward.
So with that, I will stop there and let you to -- ask you to ask some questions.
CAPT. KIRBY: Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you, Admiral. Shin Shoji, NHK, Japan, Broadcasting. The Rim of the Pacific exercises are about two weeks away, and this year the theme is capable partnership. And I guess non-U.S. commissioned officers will be leading some of the exercises. Can you elaborate the significance of this particular aspect in RIMPAC this year?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yes, great question. This year, I think, will be the largest Rim of the Pacific exercise that we've ever done. I had the privilege of leading this exercise when I was the 3rd Fleet commander back in 2008. It happens every two years.
I think it's an excellence example of the type of multilateral cooperative -- cooperation that can occur between militaries that improve our interoperability, that improve our understanding of each other and improve our overall security environment.
The idea that we come together and that we allow leadership from a variety of different countries that participate -- and I think there's 23 nations this year participating in RIMPAC -- that we allow them to take those leadership roles, it only strengthens our alliances, our partnerships and our ability to operate together. So I think you would quite pleased by what you would see from that RIMPAC operation.
They also have a week in there where they do things socially together. So they have soccer matches and they have baseball games against each other. And they're quite -- it's quite good. And then there's a week in there where they have social events on each of the ships, so that each of the different countries can experience the culture of the other countries. And these almost become competition with each other, but in a very good way, to see who can have the best music or the best food or the best decorations on the ships.
So I think it's a great example of what can be done globally, but it's in the microcosm of a -- of a -- of a maritime event that occurs in Hawaii. And it made a pretty good precursor to a movie that was just put out. So --
CAPT. KIRBY: Mike.
Q: Admiral, Mike Evans from the Times -- London Times. Can I ask you two questions? Do you anticipate that the U.S. Navy in the Pacific area will need to acquire a new defensive weapon system to counter the so-called area denial -- ballistic, anti-ship missile -- which the Chinese have? And when do you anticipate starting to rotate the B-52s out of Australia?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, to your second question, I don't have a timeline to give you -- a specific timeline on that -- on that question of -- I know we are continually in the discussion with our Australian partners about what and when we'll do in this -- in our initiatives as we move forward. So I'm not really -- want to comment on that.
To the degree that we are -- that the U.S. Navy, as all of our joint force, are continually required to look at the threat set that presents itself, and this is not something new. We've been doing this since a -- since our Navy was formed, and updating our defensive systems to be able to ensure that we have the guaranteed access to be able to do the job that we're doing, that we need to do and to be -- remain forward.
I'm confident today in the ability of our U.S. forces and our allies to be able to stay forward in the places that we need to be forward to ensure that we can provide a security environment that allows peace and prosperity, particularly in the Asia-Pacific.
CAPT. KIRBY: Craig.
Q: Admiral Locklear, you mentioned the longtime bases in Guam -- I'm sorry, Craig Whitlock with the Washington Post -- Guam, South Korea and Japan. I know there's some reviews going on over defense posture, but speaking generally over the next few years, how much do you think our force postures will shift in Northeast Asia? Is it going to look a lot different from what it's been for the past couple of decades, or are we talking about modifying around the edges?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yes, you know, we have been looking at this with our allies for some time, for a number of years, and have been in discussion -- as we always are, because nothing stays the same in the security environment. And we have -- basically, we have taken a look at making sure that our force lay-down, our posture is -- first of all, for me it has to be operationally, you know, relevant. It has to be resilient enough for us to be able to support the type of operations that we do. It has to be sustainable, and it has to be politically sustainable. Those are all aspects, and you can't deny that any one of them aren't important.
And so if you take a look at our force posture in Northeast Asia, it has a historical basis to it. And there are some changes that we need to go forward with, and I think we have a good agreement among our allies where those changes should be. I think we should have a broader recognition that, you know, 30 years ago the primary security issues were in Northeast Asia. But as we've now had a world of globalization, where we have a massive amount of interstate, inter-country commerce that flows through the commons -- cyber commons, air commons, maritime commons -- that we have to have a broader look at our security environment and we have to ensure that our -- that our military forces are positioned in the right place collectively, not just U.S., but among our allies and partners so that we can address this changing environment.
And I remember when I was a young officer in the Navy, there are places today where we routinely operate our Navy that I couldn't even -- I couldn't even find them on the -- probably find them on the globe if you'd asked me where they were. Because of the changing nature, we're going to be -- in the next few years, we're going to be looking at our Arctic posture. You know, we have now piracy off the Horn of Africa. So we have a lot of different places in the world, and our security environment has to adjust to that.
So, in the Asia-Pacific, you know, those force postures with our alliances in Northeast Asia will remain the cornerstone of our posture. We will make some changes. Guam will become more important to us because of its strategic location, and we will do some things in Guam that, I think, make sense for our posture. And then we will continue to look, with our allies and our partners, for opportunities to be able to partner with them to do co-usage of those facilities.
We're not really interested in building any more U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific. We shouldn't have to at this point in time. We have reliable partners and reliable allies, and together we should be able to find ways to -- not only bilaterally, but in some cases to multilaterally -- to be able to find these locations where we can put security forces that respond to a broad range of security issues, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief which, if you really look at it, that's what we respond to most. Those are the challenges that we face the most together from a security environment. And so we need to be postured to be able to do that in a world that has -- in a part of the world that has 3.6 billion people in it.
CAPT. KIRBY: Yes, sir. You right here.
Q: Thank you, Admiral. My name is Donghui Yu with China Review News Agency. And yesterday, in the hearings of Law of Sea Treaty, you have a statement like this: Some of these claims, if left unchanged, will put us at risk of our operational rights and freedom in key areas of Asia-Pacific. Could you please just elaborate on this statement? Does it mean the United States think Chinese claims is a kind of overclaim and need to be changed? And secondly, you are a new commanders of PACOM -- do you have any special plan to promote a military-to-military exchange with PLA? Thank you.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, let me answer your question generally. First, there are standards set down by the Law of the Sea Convention and by customary law that allow the -- for certain activities, particularly of military vessels in various parts of the global maritime commons -- whether it's in territorial waters for innocent passage, whether it's through archipelago passage, whether it's through major straits and choke points.
And there are a number of countries in the world -- I think China being one of them -- who from our perspective place excessive claims and excessive restrictions that are not consistent with international and aren't consistent with Law of the Sea. It's not just China, though. There's many that do this.
And so as we look at the future, you know, if you -- if you were to take all the world's economic zones and you were to put the restrictions that some of these countries put -- want to put on activities of security forces in those of different countries, you would basically restrict about 35 percent of the world's oceans.
Every major -- every major sea line of -- SLOC, as we call it, sea line of communication -- every major strait would fall into that. And it would be put -- I think, globally, it would put all nations concerned with their access to the global commons, access to the maritime domain, to be able to have their goods and services flow through them -- it would put them, I think, further at risk if these excessive claims aren't resolved.
So I encourage us, as we go forward, to continue to have this dialogue. There's places -- you know, there are going to be places where countries disagree, but we should certainly use a format of law, a format of international law, a format of forums to be able to express those claims and to be able to articulate them.
And then there will have to be some compromise, because you can't just have continually competing claims that end up causing miscalculation at some point in time, which would lead us to conflict. Peace is the most important thing. These should be solved peaceably. There's enough resources, I think, for everybody in the world. We just got to figure out how to make sure that everybody has adequate access to them.
Now, to your question of our mil-to-mil relations with the PRC, the PLA-N -- PLA and the PLA-N, I have been encouraged in the few months that I've been here by the receptiveness that I've had from my counterparts in the PRC, the PLA. And I look forward to continuing our dialogue and to doing some visits. I plan to visit the PRC within the next several weeks, at the -- at their invitation. And when we do, we'll sit down and we'll have the same conversations you and I are having. We'll have them in a very open and frank way. And that's the way we have to do business in the world we're in.
And I'm --
Q: Is it separate from Secretary Panetta, I think, today?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yes, this is separate. I'll just go -- and I'll meet with my -- the plan is now for me to go and meet with my military counterparts to -- and we'll have a discussion about military claims and all of the other issues that surround that. But I think the good news is that we -- I think we're in a position in the coming months and years to continue to have a productive dialogue because it is -- you know, it's very important for the security in the Asia-Pacific, for the U.S. and China to be able to have a productive partnership.
CAPT. KIRBY: Yes, sir?
Q: Hi, I'm Yoso Furumoto, Japan's Mainichi newspaper. Admiral, could you talk about the significance of this coming U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral naval exercises? How this exercise differs from the previous ones and what the implication this exercise taking place says of Korean Peninsula?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, we'll -- you know that we have -- there's been a press release that talked about this particular exercise, that talked about the various phases of it, and so I won't go into that in particular.
I would say that, first of all, you know, we are increasingly operating in trilateral, multilateral forums throughout the Asia-Pacific, not just in the East or South China Sea or those areas. And so if you take a look at our exercise program, of what we participate in, you will see that it will start to shape a recognition that we have security challenges that go beyond just Northeast Asia.
Now, in the case of this exercise between Japan, Korea and the U.S. -- first of all, two of our cornerstone allies in this region, so it should be no surprise we operate with them.
It helps improve our interoperability. It helps improve our ability to look at where we have deficiencies in our -- in our defense structure with each other. It helps us -- I think it helps people in the region understand that those three strategic partners are working together in a way that's not aggressive but certainly that's demonstrating freedom of access throughout that particular region.
So I think all in all for us, we will learn a lot from it. And it'll be a great opportunity for both Japan and Korea to work more closely together with our help.
CAPT. KIRBY: OK, we've got time for just one more. Jon.
Q: Hi, I'm Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun. Just to follow up on that last question, obviously DoD has been trying to strengthen trilateral ties between the U.S., Korea and Japan, and also promote bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea.
How do you envision that relationship, or both of those different relationships, going forward? Do you see it more as an informal structure where you do trilateral and bilateral exercises? Or do you anticipate more formal agreements or partnerships?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yup. I think -- I think we kind of have to take these things one step at a time, and we have to do what we can in the environment we're in. I would hope that as we move forward there would be a strengthening relationship between the Republic of Korea and Japan on the military side.
I think that there are things that they have many -- as with us, they have many mutual interests. They have many, you know, consistent themes inside their military organization. And they have world-class militaries. So they really ought to be able to -- I think, to be interoperable, particularly since they're very close neighbors, and they share many of the same interests.
So I believe that, as we go forward, we will -- we will see how this -- how this relationships (sic) develops. But I think we're doing pretty good today. I think, given the world we're in, having this trilateral.
But again, I would say, just don't focus on this one. We're building trilateral/multilateral, you know, exercises and constructs throughout the Asia-Pacific. And this is just one that happens to have visibility at this point in time.
CAPT. KIRBY: OK, thanks guys. That's all the time we have for questions.
But sir, thank you again for coming. I'd like to -- if you have any closing comments, anything you'd like to end with? (Inaudible.)
ADM. LOCKLEAR: No -- again, I would ask you to just -- to continue to come out and see what we're doing. When you -- I'd like to meet with you when we're out on the road and to have discussions with you and to let you see that, you know, the -- to answer to your questions, and to see this particular rebalance that the U.S. is committed to the Asia-Pacific -- U.S. military is committed, and we're going to move forward. Thank you.
CAPT. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.