WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2012 — Japan, South Korea and other traditional allies will remain the bedrock of U.S. strategy in the Pacific even as the nation reaches out to others, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead U.S. Pacific Command said during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing today.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, currently the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command will succeed Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard at Pacom if the Senate approves his nomination.
The United States needs to remain in the Asia-Pacific region, Locklear said, noting that since World War II, the American military has provided the security that has allowed Asian nations to prosper.
“Our security posture in that … part of the world has underpinned … much of the progress that’s been made not only in military area, but in all areas of progress with our allies, our partners and, in some ways, China,” he said.
China is the largest economy in the area and is important to the United States in numerous respects, Locklear said. He wants to strengthen the ties between the Chinese and American militaries, he added, envisioning a partnership with China that would be “cooperative, but competitive.”
“We are an Asian power. “We’re a Pacific power. We’re a global power,” he said. “We have interest in that part of the world. And I believe that the Chinese and other people in that part of the world need to recognize that we do have U.S. national interests there, and we have the interests of strong allies there.”
Greater cooperation between the Chinese and American militaries would serve to reduce tensions and give greater clarity and greater transparency to relations, the admiral said.
“It will be my plan to … improve our mil-to-mil relationships with a recognition that there are things we won’t agree on — that greater transparency is good for all of us to avoid miscalculation,” he added.
In the end, Locklear said, the objective in Asia is a secure, stable environment that allows nations to grow and prosper in peace.
One area of contention with China is competing interests in the South China Sea. The region is an important sea line of communication, the admiral said, and any settlement in the region must be done peacefully and within the rule of law.
To that end, Locklear told the senators, he supports the Senate ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty and believes the United States should be a member of the United Nations initiative.
“It allows us a better mechanism to be able to have a legal discussion that prevents us from having miscalculated events,” he said. “Overall, it provides us a framework for a better future security.”
The admiral said he is concerned about the stability of the Korean peninsula. “It’s in our best interests to ensure that we maintain a strong deterrent there,” he said. Kim Jong Un has just assumed power in North Korea, and the United States and its allies are watching the transition carefully, he said.
“Day by day, so far, so good,” he added. “But it’s yet to be determined how this will play out in the mid-to-long term.”
Locklear said he believes North Korea has changed over the past decades, noting that the North Koreans are using more asymmetric activities to provoke the South and its allies.
“I am very much concerned, and we should certainly stay vigilant,” he said. “And if confirmed, I will assure you it will be one of my highest priorities.”
Training local forces to handle security in their own countries underpins the new U.S. defense strategy guidance, Locklear said, promising to work with allies and partners on counterterrorism operations. These operations are critical “to not only their security, but our security,” he added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)