Locklear Warns of Growing Challenges in Asia-Pacific Region
By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014 The top U.S. military commander for the Asia-Pacific region told Congress today that growing challenges posed by China’s rising military power, an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable North Korea, escalating territorial disputes and humanitarian aid efforts after natural disasters are putting the U.S. military in Asia at greater risk.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee the challenges all are part of Pacom’s efforts to defend U.S. interests in a region that spans more than half the globe.
“And we have done all this against the backdrop of continued fiscal and resource uncertainty, and the resultant diminishing readiness and availability of our joint force,” he said.
A day after North Korea tested a long-range rocket and China reported plans to increase military spending by 12 percent, Locklear testified that “those things all make a security environment that’s more complex,” and he called North Korea “very unpredictable and increasingly dangerous.”
A tighter fiscal environment, he said, has led to readiness levels that he considers unacceptable should the United States or its allies be threatened. Forces either are not ready or have been deployed elsewhere in the world, he explained.
“From my assessment, the global demand on maritime forces in general, which include our aircraft carrier force, far exceed what the Navy is able to resource,” Locklear said. U.S. naval assets are now tasked with patrolling a much greater portion of the globe, he added, and that will only increase.
“When I was a young officer, I never considered that we would be contemplating operations in the Antarctic, but that will come, probably in the very near future,” the admiral said. “I couldn’t have found the Horn of Africa on a chart, or wasn’t familiar with it. But now we operate routinely there.”
The added responsibilities come at a time when Asian nations are building “ever more aggressive” and high-end military capabilities, while regional disputes are on the rise, Locklear told the panel. At the same time, he said, the United States has no plans to build new bases overseas, but will instead look to partner with allies such as the Philippines to reach base access agreements.
“I would have never anticipated that there would be the kind of tensions in the vast South China Sea over territorial rights and fishing rights, or in the East China Sea,” Locklear told the panel -- issues he said the United States is watching very carefully, but ultimately have to be settled through arbitration, rather than coercion.
Locklear said China’s expanding military budget should not come as a surprise, but a lack of transparency regarding what the increased spending is being used for concerns him. He also wonders whether the world will see China as a net provider of security or whether Beijing will use its muscle to pursue regional claims, he added.
“We have a military-to-military relationship, which is slow but steady,” Locklear said, “and we are making progress in breaking down the barriers.”