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Erosion of U.S. Strength in Indo-Pacific Is Dangerous to All, Commander Says

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The greatest danger facing the United States in the Indo-Pacific region is the erosion of conventional deterrence capabilities, Navy Adm. Philip Davidson told the Senate Armed Service Committee this morning.

Davidson leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and his primary worry is the People's Republic of China.

Airmen pop smoke and helicopter raises casualty in a litter in a simulation exercise.
Dragon Shield
Airmen evacuate a simulated casualty as part of Exercise Dragon Shield in Guam, Jan. 13, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Brooks
VIRIN: 210113-F-SX156-2080M

Since the 1990s, successive U.S. administrations have emphasized the importance of the Indo-Pacific region. Davidson called it "the most consequential region for America's future," and more and more defense resources are pouring into the United States military's priority theater. 

"The region itself contains four of the five priority security challenges identified by the Department of Defense: China, Russia, North Korea and violent extremist organizations," Davidson said. "The Indo-Pacific region also experiences frequent, natural and manmade disasters, the negative impacts of climate change, rapid population growth, drug and human trafficking and of course, disease and pandemics."

The region accounts for 60 percent of the world's current gross domestic product, and contributes more than two-thirds to the present global economic growth. "In 10 years, the region will host two-thirds of the world's population and two-thirds of the global economy," Davidson said. 

The United States promotes the current free and open Indo-Pacific region that has allowed all nations — including China — to prosper. Moving forward, the United States remains committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade. The United States wants all nations to have access to global markets. The American position also fosters good governance, human rights and civil liberties. 

Soldiers leap over barriers in the jungle.
Jungle 5K
Artillery soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division participate in the Jungle 5k run at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Feb. 16, 2021.
Photo By: Army Spc. Jessica Scott
VIRIN: 210216-A-PO701-438

"In stark contrast to our free and open vision, the Communist Party of China promotes a closed and an authoritarian system through internal oppression and external aggression," the admiral said. "China's pernicious approach to the region includes a whole-of-party effort to coerce, corrupt and collapse governments, businesses, organizations and the people of the Indo-Pacific," he said. 

On the security side, China is investing heavily in building the Peoples' Liberation Army and has learned from the United States the efficacy of joint warfare. "The military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the United States and our allies," Davidson said. "With this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response. The greatest danger the United States and our allies face in the region is the erosion of conventional deterrence vis-à-vis the People's Republic of China."

If this imbalance continues Chinese leaders could be "emboldened to continue to take action to supplant the established rules-based international order and values represented in our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific," he said. "Our deterrence posture in the Indo-Pacific must demonstrate the capability, the capacity and the will to convince Beijing unequivocally, the costs of achieving their objectives by the use of military force are simply too high. Indeed, we must be doing everything possible to deter conflict: Our number one job is to keep the peace. But we absolutely must be prepared to fight and win should competition turn to conflict."

Davidson highlighted the Pacific Defense Initiative saying this will provide the foundation for establishing a forward-deployed, defense-in-depth posture that defends the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, while it deters aggression and provides flexible response options should deterrence fail. 

Two aircraft carriers sail in formation in the Pacific.
Dual Carrier Ops
The aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt move in formation during dual carrier operations in the Indo-Pacific, Feb. 9, 2021.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Logan C. Kellums
VIRIN: 210209-N-OW019-0032

Building allies and partners in the region is tremendously important. He specifically highlighted the potential power of what many are calling the Quad: India, Japan, Australia and the United States. "That's a diamond of democracies," he said. 

The Quad could be much more than simply a defense or security arrangement, the admiral said. The Quad nations could address "the global economy, critical technologies like telecommunications and 5G, and collaboration on the international order," Davidson said. "I have great hope that our ministerial-level meetings with the Quad … will build into something much bigger for the sake of the globe."

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