The commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command told Congress today that he is encouraged about progress with Asia’s near-term threat — North Korea — but is worried about the path China is on.
Navy Adm. Philip Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Indo-Pacific region is largely peaceful, but that is because like-minded nations are willing to work together.
Indo-Pacific Stability Good for the World
The command is the U.S. military’s largest combatant command — concerned with more than 50 percent of the globe. The stability the command has created in the region has been an enormous benefit to the world, with billions lifted out of poverty.
A free and open Indo-Pacific is good for the region, the United States and the world, Davidson said. “Today the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific resonates with our allies and partners across the region and includes economic, political and security dimensions,” he said. “And it demonstrates our commitment to a safe, secure and prosperous region that benefits all nations, large and small.”
The international rules-based environment that has grown up since the end of World War II is in danger. China — which has benefited most from the free and stable region — is challenging the status quo.
China Seeks New Order
“China represents our greatest long-term strategic threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to the United States,” Davidson said. “Those who believe this is reflective of an intensifying competition between an established power in the United States and a rising power in China are not seeing the whole picture.”
China represents a “fundamental divergence in values” that leads to two incompatible visions of the future, the admiral said. “Through fear and coercion, Beijing is working to expand its form of ideology in order to bend, break and replace the existing rules-based international order,” he said. “In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new order, one with Chinese characteristics led by China, an outcome that displaces the stability and peace of the Indo-Pacific that has endured for over 70 years.”
Russia also concerns Davidson and he said the nation is always seeking to be a spoiler in the Indo-Pacific. “Moscow regularly plays the role of spoiler seeking to undermine U.S. interest and impose additional cost on the United States and our allies whenever and wherever possible,” he said.
Optimism on Korean Peninsula
Davidson is guardedly optimistic about North Korea. The admiral said the country remains his most immediate concern, but that he is “optimistic about the upcoming U.S.-North Korea Summit later this month as we work toward identifying a path to final fully verifiable denuclearization.”
The command’s combat readiness and combined lethality are the best deterrence against any threat from North Korea, he said. Davidson told the senators that he will emphasize military readiness in the region while simultaneously supporting the State Department-led pressure campaign.
The U.S.-South Korean alliance has become the linchpin of peace and security in Northeast Asia and for the long term in the Indo-Pacific region. It “demonstrates what great democracies can accomplish when we work together,” he said.
The admiral said that the Indo-Pacific remains the most disaster-prone region in the world. The region is also called the Ring of Fire, with volcanoes and earthquakes being the result of various plates grinding into each other. “The UN estimates economic losses in the region due to disasters could exceed $160 billion annually by 2030, and many countries across the region lack sufficient capability and the capacity to manage natural and man-made disasters,” Davidson said.
Peace Through Deterrence
The command’s ability to prevail in armed conflict is the foundation of combat-credible deterrence, the admiral said. “By fielding and maintaining a joint force ready to fight and win we reduce the likelihood that any adversary will resort to military aggression to challenge or undermine the rules-based international order,” he said. “This deterrence is absolutely necessary to prevent conflict but deterrence alone cannot ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Adversaries pursue their objectives in the grey area between peace and war. China and Russia use fear and coercive actions across all instruments of national power to revise the rules-based international order without resorting to armed conflict, Davidson said.
“Alongside like-minded allies and partners, U.S. Indo-Pacom and the whole of the U.S. government we must compete in the gray zone between peace and war to win before fighting,” he said. “These deliberate actions will ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific against those maligned actors who seek to accomplish their political objectives short of armed conflict.”