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Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III: The Asia Pacific 'Patchwork Quilt'

'We cannot fail to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific'

Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III in Washington, DC on December 6, 2012.

Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III in Washington, DC on December 6, 2012.

'We cannot fail to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific'

Following is the complete text of remarks delivered by Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III at Asia Society's event in Washington, DC on December 6, 2012.

Thank you for that kind introduction.

And a special thanks to the Asia Society for the opportunity to speak to this really distinguished group. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while and to getting questions from you. It is an honor to share my thoughts with this remarkable organization, whose education, outreach, and engagement is important to the future of this vital Asia Pacific.

I’ve been in command of U.S. Pacific Command for about nine months now… and during that time I have grown in my appreciation of its diverse complexity.

If you notice, I’m not referring to the Asia-Pacific as a “region”… because in many ways this tends to over-simplify and under-represent the size, complexity, and diversity of the opportunities as well as the significant security challenges that we face and we’ll ultimately continue to face in the Asia-Pacific.

The Asia-Pacific has been described as stretching from “Hollywood to Bollywood” and that’s really the area of my focus, from California to India. It encompasses over half the earth’s surface and well more than half of its population... the Pacific Ocean itself is the largest physical feature on the planet. If all the world’s landmasses were placed in the Pacific, there would still be room left over for an additional Africa, Canada, United States, and Mexico. So that gives you an idea of the size of it — it’s like taking a ship from San Diego to Hawaii or Norfolk to England.

It is incredibly culturally, socially, economically, and geo-politically diverse. The many nations who associate themselves here include two of the three largest economies, and that doesn’t appear to be going to change anytime soon, and seven of the ten smallest; the two most populous nations, the world’s largest democracy; the largest Muslim-majority nation; and the smallest republic in the world.  

Asia is the engine that drives the global economy. Last year alone, there was over eight trillion dollars of two-way trade… nine of the world’s ten largest ports are here. The sea lanes here are the busiest in the world, through which pass over 50% of all the world's container cargo every minute and over 70% of ship-borne energy flows through there as well…

By any meaningful measure, the Asia Pacific is the most militarized area in the world with seven of the world’s ten largest standing militaries, the world’s largest and most sophisticated navies, and five of the world’s declared nuclear nations.  

All these aspects, when you take them together, result in a unique strategic complexity.

And of course this complexity is magnified by a wide, diverse group of challenges… challenges that can significantly stress the security environment.

  • Climate change — where increasingly severe weather patterns and rising sea levels will threaten our peoples and even threaten the loss of entire nations… and of course the inevitable earthquakes and tsunamis will continue to challenge all of us in a very unpredictable way as our planet ages.  Just as today our friends and partners in the Philippines are dealing with the challenges of the most recent super typhoon.
  • Transnational non-state threats including pandemics, pirates, terrorists and criminal organizations will continue to challenge us… as will drugs and human trafficking, and of course the continued proliferation of WMD.
  • Historic and emerging border and territorial disputes will no doubt continue… access and freedom of action in the shared domains of sea, space and cyberspace will be increasingly challenged.
  • Competition for water, food, and energy will grow.
  • Instability on the Korean peninsula will persist, I’m dealing with that today, and the progressive nuclearization, along with advanced missile technology, of the North Korean regime will threaten the regional and global security environment now and potentially into the future.
  • And of course how the rise of China and India as global economic powers and regional military powers emerge, and how they integrate into an established, generally peaceful and stable security environment... which I would note in modern times has been underpinned by U.S. military presence, this will be key.
  • And adding to the picture a recognition that no single governance mechanism exists in the Asia Pacific to manage our relationships and when needed provide a framework for conflict resolution. There is no Pacific NATO. Will there be someday? I don’t know. I’m not clairvoyant.

But what exists instead is a “patchwork quilt” of interwoven security relations.  Now for those of you who didn’t grow up in the deep American South like I did, a patchwork quilt is basically several different pieces of cloth of varying size, color, and texture that are roughly stitched together in a somewhat disorganized looking blanket…or quilt…

Our patchwork-quilt relationships in the Asia Pacific have been shaped by history, shared interest, and increasingly driven by our economic interconnectedness. They range from historic bilateral alliances to mature and emerging multilateral forums that focus on converging interests and security concerns… with those same relationships often struggling to be effective when their member states’ interests diverge.

And as nations become more internally secure, which they are, they will inevitably shift military resources from internal to external security matters as they seek to preserve their own access to the global domains.

Consequently, the patchwork quilt is underpinned by a shifting tide of military resources as prospering nations by necessity spend more on military hardware, while others downsize.

So for me, there are really two serious questions I have to contemplate as the Pacific Command commander. First, in this extremely diverse and complex environment, that must rely on a patchwork quilt of security relationships to ensure relative peace, can we together create an Asia Pacific security environment that is resilient enough to withstand the shocks and the aftershocks of potentially destabilizing events that are inevitable in this complex environment, all the while maintaining relative peace and stability?

And, second, what is the nature of the United States’ enduring role in this patchwork quilt?

As to the first question, I’ll admit upfront that I don’t know the answer… but I do know my children and grandchildren are counting on us to try.

As for the second question, please permit me to comment briefly on how I see the U.S. role, specifically the U.S. military role in the Asia Pacific as we go forward.

As I assumed command of PACOM, I was fortunate to receive clear and concise guidance from President Obama, providing the strategic underpinning and the priorities for how, after a decade of war in the Middle East, we will, by necessity, rebalance to the Asia Pacific.

The rebalance draws on the strengths of the entire U.S. government, including policy, diplomacy, trade and of course, where I am mostly focused, security.

A rebalance that must be resourced by a U.S. military that will transform to be more agile, more efficient, more technologically advanced, more lethal, and ultimately a military better suited to the task of securing U.S. interests around the globe.

There has been significant speculation and skepticism about the U.S. rebalance. For instance: Is it achievable and can we sustain it? And some question if it is merely a containment strategy in disguise. It is not. The rebalance is based on a strategy of collaboration, not containment… and focuses on three major elements:

  1. Strengthening relationships with both our allies and historic and emerging partners;
  2. Adjusting our military posture and presence, and;
  3. Employing new concepts, capabilities and capacities… to ensure we continue to effectively and efficiently contribute to the security environment and protect U.S. national interests.

The cornerstone of our rebalance effort will be to modernize and strengthen our five Pacific treaty alliances, and that work has begun in earnest. Now some have opined that these alliances are relics of the post-World War II — Cold War security structure, and that they are ill-suited for the challenges of tomorrow’s security environment. From where I sit, this is not correct.

From the military commander’s perspective, I can tell you that these alliances bring with them years of mutual trust, understanding, respect, considerable interoperability and information sharing, and a common view of the regional security landscapes and challenges… and one thing that is often missed is that they provide a good base from which multilateral relationships can grow — all of which will continue to underpin U.S. security objectives in the Asia Pacific for decades to come.

But it is also important that we continue to develop and expand bilateral partnerships beyond our treaty allies with whom we have shared security interests…

In October I made my first trip to India, where I witnessed firsthand the invaluable perspective of the world’s largest democracy and one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies. Our two nations share and embrace the same values: a love of freedom and an entrepreneurial spirit that fuels the potential of the global economy. Going forward, as I’ve been directed, PACOM will increase its efforts to nurture our strategic partnership and expand engagement with India as well as support her leadership role in the Indian Ocean and South Asia. We will improve our interoperability.

And while modernizing and strengthening our bilateral relationships, we will also strengthen our commitment to multilateral forums such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit.

In fact, President Obama just attended the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, along with visits to Thailand and Burma. And in the coming weeks, I will visit Indonesia, who hosts APEC in 2013, and recently joined us at the Kokoda Trilogy Summit in Australia. I will also travel to Brunei, who will become the new chair of ASEAN at the beginning of the year.  

There can be no mistaking the level of United States commitment to the Asia Pacific.

We will also continue to pursue a lasting, meaningful mil-to-mil relationship with China. I get asked about this a lot, and I’m sure you’ll want to talk about it as well. Since I took command, I have traveled to China twice, once for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Secretary Clinton, and once for a military-to-military engagement, the first for a PACOM commander in three years, and I have hosted reciprocal visits at my headquarters in Hawaii.

Our two countries have a strong stake in regional peace and stability and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship. We are hoping to look past our differences and to focus our relationship on our converging interests — such as counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, protecting sea lines of communication, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response, just to name a few.

We will continue to pursue a military-to-military relationship that is healthy, stable, resilient, and enduring, and look for opportunities to increase our cooperation and encourage mutual understanding and trust, while at the same time avoiding and managing miscalculation.

Today there are nearly 350,000 U.S. military personnel serving forward in the Asia Pacific and with them nearly 70,000 family members… all of whom continue to demonstrate our U.S. commitment to our allies and partners.

Persistent, forward presence of our people and their equipment enables our forces to work daily, side-by-side with our partners to quickly respond to current and future challenges. Based on the vast geography, common needs, and challenges, as we go forward, I believe this presence remains a necessity.

As part of the rebalance, with the support of our allies and partners, we are working towards a force posture that is geographically distributed… so that our forces remain relevantly deployed for the 21st century.

A force that must be operationally resilient… in order to be ready to respond in crisis or to aid those affected by humanitarian or natural disasters/

And the force must also be politically sustainable.

Keys to success will be innovative access agreements, increased exercises, rotational presence, and efficient force posture initiatives that maximize every dollar we have to spend.

For instance, I’m looking inward at my staff to create a headquarters that’s agile and adaptable in the day-to-day environment, and can quickly transform to the focal point during exercise or contingency.

We will also be placing our most capable forces forward in the Asia Pacific… to ensure we successfully operate with our allies and partners across a wide range of operations as we collectively work for peace and stability.

At the top of the list… our most advanced ships and submarines, fifth-generation aircraft including Joint Strike Fighters and P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, the very best air and missile defense technologies we can produce, our most proficient ISR assets, an adaptable and responsive joint and coalition command and control architecture, and of course, the most highly trained soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in the world.

In the coming weeks and months, as PACOM continues to execute the rebalance, I will highlight developing initiatives involving innovative concepts, capabilities, and note to our leadership the areas where we need more capacities. These efforts are not necessarily led by the military; sometimes I’m a supporting commander. They require partnering with our allies and friends, as well as other agencies of the government and the private and civil sectors in areas such as energy, information assurance, and disaster risk reduction. All focused on contributing to a more resilient and prosperous Asia Pacific.

So to conclude, I admit I didn’t answer the first question I put before you all today — whether or not the patchwork quilt that is the Asia Pacific security environment can keep the peace… so our children and grandchildren can benefit from our having gotten it right.

What I can confidently say, however, is that the second question, concerning the U.S.’s enduring role, will always be informed by the imperative that we cannot fail to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific.

Through the tumultuous years of the last century, America’s military served as the single most stabilizing factor in the Asia Pacific security environment — and I believe this will continue.

America is a Pacific power… and PACOM looks forward to the hard work ahead to allow us to do our part to keep a dynamic Asia Pacific hopeful, peaceful, and secure for decades to come.

I appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts with all of you and I look forward to your questions.

Thank you.