CHICAGO — Although China still lags behind the U.S. in military firepower, an American military official, who would do the heavy lifting in the event of a U.S.-China war over China’s aggression in the South China Sea, said the United States would be using “asymmetric advantages” but would not be doing it alone.
Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., commander-in-chief of U.S. Indo-Asia Pacific Command (Pacom) based in Honolulu, Hawaii, told members and guests of the Chicago Council of Global Affairs last April 19 “an emphatic no” when asked if the Chinese military has already caught up with the U.S. in military power.
Harris said, “China is not ten-foot tall. But there is no doubt China and Russia and others are trying to close the gaps in technology and capabilities. So, we must drink from the chalice of urgency to insure that the U.S. military retains our significant asymmetric advantages. If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it is a knife fight, I will bring a gun. If it is a gunfight, I will bring an artillery, artillery of our friends and partners.”
Admiral Harris said the U.S. and the international community are facing four threats — North Korea, China, Russia and ISIS (Islamic terrorists).
Harris, who is the first U.S. Navy flyer to achieve a four-star rank, said, “We can’t turn a blind eye to this challenge, and we can’t give any state actors a pass if it purposely erodes the rules-based security order.
“In the here and now, ISIS is a threat that must be destroyed. The main focus of our coalition’s military effort and rightfully so is in the Middle East and North Africa.
In command of an area half the size of the planet with 375,000 personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Coastguard and Department of Defense civilians, Admiral Harris said, “We must eradicate this disease before it fully metastasizes in the Pacom area. But we can’t do it alone. To hold ISIS’s cancer spread, we must work together with like-minded partners in the region and across the globe. Multi-national efforts are underway to meet these challenges.”
He said Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening cooperation to fight regional piracy and kidnapping for ransom in the Sulu Sea, and all these, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Philippines terrorist group, whose leader had sworn allegiance to ISIS, is responsible for much of this activity.
The 60-year-old admiral said, “Cooperative efforts in the vast and largely ungoverned maritime area connect these three nations and their thousands of allies will help deny the terrorists maneuver space, recruit and revenue streams. This partnership along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines has renewed offensive against the group. This produced meaningful results.”
He cited the security cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia as “another high point.” Because of the cooperation between these two nations, a plot by a terrorist cell with links to ISIS to conduct an attack in Singapore was broken up by Indonesian security forces.
He said that 68 countries have joined the coalition dedicated to complete destruction of ISIS which he described as the “nemesis of humanity.”
Aside from ISIS, another immediate threat is North Korea which, he said, distinguishes itself as the only nation to have tested nuclear weapon in this century. With nuclear ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong-un, it is a recipe for disaster, he said.
“I know there is some debate about the miniaturization and other technological advances by Pyongyang. But an aggressive weapon test schedule as demonstrated by a recent missile launch moves North Korea closer to its stated goal to have a pre-emptive capability to launch nuclear missile that will reach U.S. cities like Chicago.
“Kim Jong-un is not afraid to fail in public. Defending our homeland is always my top priority. So, I must assume his nuclear claim is the truth. I know his aspirations certainly are and that should provide all of us a sense of urgency to ensure Pacom is prepared to fight tonight with the best of technology with any force in the planet.”
“We must remain ever vigilant in our efforts to defend the U.S. homeland and the homelands of our allies, South Korea and Japan. That’s why we ordered Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to South Korea, USS Carl Vinson supercarrier strike force heading to Northeast Asia. And that’s why we are bringing the newest and best military platform at Pacom to include F-35 strike fighters, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, an early warning aircraft based in Japan.”
He said other significant challenges are posed by Russia and assertive China. But Moscow and China have a choice to make. They can choose to disregard the rules-based international order, referring to the ruling of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea against China in favor of the Philippines.
“But they can contribute to it as responsible stake holders.”