Defense Department News

Pacom Commander Outlines Regional Challenges

Feb. 22, 2017 | BY Karen Parrish

America must continue to develop innovative capabilities if it is to remain “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,” the commander of U.S. Pacific Command said yesterday at a conference in San Diego.

Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. spoke at the West 2017 Naval Conference hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International and the U.S. Naval Institute.

‘Freedom Hangs in the Balance’

“Freedom, justice, and a rules-based international order hang in the balance. And the scale won’t tip of its own accord, or simply because good people wish it so,” he said.

VIDEO | 00:10 | Pacom Commander Discusses Region

The admiral identified the major threats to stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. “Our opportunities out here are abundant, but the path is burdened by four considerable challenges: North Korea, China, Russia and ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group.

As the counter-ISIS coalition pressures the terrorist group in the Middle East and Africa, Harris said, “Some of those same fighters will likely repatriate to their home countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”

North Korea Poses Challenges

Meanwhile, Harris said, nuclear warheads and ballistic missile technologies in the hands of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “a recipe for disaster.”

“Vicious, vindictive and volatile dictators are nothing new in the long, dark history of mankind,” the admiral added, “but what is new is a vicious, volatile and vindictive dictator with his finger on a nuclear trigger.”

The United States must remain vigilant against the North Korean threat as well as a “revanchist” Russia and an “increasingly assertive” China, Harris said, adding that neither country seems to respect the international agreements they’ve signed. Moscow and Beijing have choices to make between disregarding or supporting rules-based security, he added.

VIDEO | 00:15 | Admiral Notes Asia-Pacific Challenges

“No one, including me, wants conflict. … [But] we won’t allow the shared domains to be closed down unilaterally,” he said.

Harris noted that one message he’s delivered repeatedly is his determination to “cooperate where we can, but … be ready to confront where we must.”

Promising Areas Ahead

The admiral said that rather than being a starry-eyed optimist, he looks “through a lens darkly.”

He added, “We must take advantage of cutting-edge technologies to outpace our adversaries. We must make real efforts to reap real advantages in artificial intelligence.”

Promising areas of research and development lie ahead, Harris said. While some of his goals may be lofty, he told the audience, he keeps in mind the phrase “innovate or die.”

(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @DoDNewsKParrish)