By Terri Moon Cronk
North Korea remains the most immediate threat to the security of the United States and its allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednsdday.
Addressing security challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the commander noted how North Korea threatened Australia in the past week with a nuclear strike.
“[It’s] a powerful reminder to the entire international community that North Korea’s missiles point in every direction,” Harris said. “The only nation to have tested nuclear devices in this century, North Korea has vigorously pursued an aggressive weapons test schedule with more than 60 listed missile events in recent years.”
Sense of Urgency
With every test, Kim Jong Un moves closer to his stated goal of a pre-emptive nuclear strike capability against American cities, and he’s not afraid to fail in public, the admiral said.
“Defending our homeland is my top priority, so I must assume that Kim Jong Un’s nuclear claims are true; I know his aspirations certainly are. And that should provide all of us a sense of urgency to ensure Pacom and U.S. Forces Korea are prepared to fight tonight with the best technology on the planet,” he said.
Threats from North Korea are why the United States has deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to South Korea, put the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group back on patrol in Northeast Asia and introduced the newest and best military platforms in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the admiral said.
And they are also why the U.S. is emphasizing trilateral cooperation between Japan, South Korea and calling on China to exert its “considerable economic influence to stop Pyongyang’s unprecedented weapons testing,” Harris said.
“As [President Donald J. Trump] and [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] have made clear, all options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees,” the commander said.
The admiral named Russia, China and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as the other global and regional threats, but emphasized U.S. regional partnerships.
“We’ve strengthened America’s network of alliances and partnerships, working with like-minded partners on shared security threats like North Korea and ISIS. It’s a key component to our regional strategy,” he said.
Harris said he continues to rely on Australia for its advanced military capabilities and global operations leadership, and noted that last week’s trips by Vice President Mike Pence and Mattis to Northeast Asia emphasized U.S. alliances with South Korea and Japan.
The United States has also advanced its partnerships with regional powers such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, Harris said. Such partnerships, he said, reinforce “the rules-based security order that has helped underwrite peace and prosperity throughout the region for decades.”
But more work remains to be done, he cautioned.
“We must be ready to confront all challenges from a position of strength and with credible combat power,” Harris told legislators.
He added, “So I ask this committee to support continued investment to improve our military capabilities. I need weapons systems of increased lethality, precision, speed and range that are networked and cost-effective [without] restricting ourselves with funding uncertainties [that] reduce our warfighting readiness. So I urge the congress to repeal sequestration and improve the proposed Defense Department budget.”