Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii – The name of US Pacific Command has changed, but the mission of US Indo-Pacific Command will remain the same, command officials said at the change of command here on Wednesday (May 30).
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the name change during his remarks at the ceremony. “In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command to the US Indo-Pacific Command,” the secretary said, adding, “Over many decades, this command has repeatedly adapted to changing circumstance and today carries that legacy forward as America focuses west.”
‘From Bollywood to Hollywood’
The command stretches “from Bollywood to Hollywood, and from penguins to polar bears,” Mattis said, and it plays an important part in America’s National Defense Strategy. “The 2018 National Defense Strategy – the first of its kind in a decade – acknowledges Pacific challenges and signals America’s resolve and lasting commitment to the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
The region has benefitted greatly from the international order put in place at the end of World War II, the secretary said. Most nations in the region recognize the benefits of the current order, he added, which has raised quality of life across the region.
US Indo-Pacific Command seeks to strengthen the bonds across the region and is a cornerstone of “a region open to investment and free, fair and reciprocal trade, not bound by any nation’s predatory economics or threat of coercion, for the Indo-Pacific has many belts and many roads,” Mattis said, alluding to China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy for the region.
The command will give US diplomats the security anchor they need to negotiate with all nations in the region, Mattis said, adding that America will continue to work with allies and seek to strengthen bonds and build new ones in the region. Diplomats will continue to work for peace, but will do so “from a position of strength,” he said.
“Relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability,” the secretary said. We stand by our partners and support their sovereign decisions, because all nations, large and small, are essential to the region if we are to sustain stability in ocean areas critical to global peace.”
Commitment to International Order
With Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. handing over the reins to Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson, the command has changed its name, but both men stressed the command will continue the mission of security and stability in the region from the coast of Africa to the coast of California and all points between.
Upon assuming command, Davidson stressed that for more than 70 years, the Indo-Pacific region has been largely peaceful. “This was made possible by two things: the commitment of free nations to the free and open international order, and underwritten by the credibility of the combat power within US Pacific Command,” he said.
China and Russia must remain the priority, he said, but other actors – North Korea, violent extremism, and Iran – must be considered.
“China continues to improve both the size and the capability of its armed forces in hopes to supplant the US as the security partner of choice, not just in the Indo-Pacific region, but across the globe and on its own terms,” the admiral said.
He noted that Russia continues to modernize its military in all domains and seeks explicitly to undermine the international order and US security guarantees.
Work Must Continue
Indo-Pacific Command must continue to work with allies and partners throughout the region, Davidson said, and it must deliver the readiness necessary to ensure the freedom of the seas and skies while producing a more lethal, integrated and interoperable combat force.
The command also must be poised and ready to defeat any adversary should deterrence fail, he said.
“Lastly, I want to emphasize that our relationships matter,” Davidson said. “To our allies here in the Indo-Pacific, you will have no better ally. To our partners, I look forward to advancing our partnership in a way that serves our mutual interests. To our friends, our friendship is rock solid. We must continue to work together. Peace and prosperity in the Indo Pacific relies directly on these bonds.”
Harris had served as the Pacom commander since 2015, moving into the position after his service as the commander US Pacific Fleet. He has been nominated to serve as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea and is retiring from the Navy after a 40-year career.
Harris used the bully pulpit of the change–of-command ceremony to warn of the challenges in the region.
“When I took this podium in 2015, I said there was no shortage of challenges that confront us: from North Korea to China to Russia to terrorism,” he said. He reiterated the challenges that Davidson inherits. “North Korea remains our most imminent threat,” Harris said. “And a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable.”
China remains America’s biggest long-term challenge, he said. “Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States, and our allies and partners, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia,” he said. “We should cooperate with Beijing where we can, but stand ready to confront them when we must.”
Wake-Up Call on Terrorism
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and groups like it are in the Indo-Pacific region, the admiral warned, and the terror attacks in the Philippines last year were a wake-up call for defense and security leaders across the region.
Russia also has a presence in the region, and “Moscow remains the spoiler in the Indo-Pacific today,” Harris said.
All this means that great power competition is back, he said. “I believe we are approaching an inflection point in history,” the admiral said. “Freedom and justice hang in the balance, and the scale won’t tip of its own accord simply because we wish it would.”
It is clear, Harris said, that a competition between free and repressive orders is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Sustaining favorable balances of power will require strong commitment and close cooperation with our allies and partners to defend freedom, deter war and maintain the rules-based order that underwrites a free and open international society,” he said.
Hawaii, the Focus
Hawaii truly was the crossroads of the Pacific today, as representatives from Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, New Zealand, Canada, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Nepal attended the change-of-command ceremony on the water in Pearl Harbor.
In the background were the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri, signifying the alpha and omega of America’s commitment to the region during World War II. Since the end of that war, Pacom has been instrumental in maintaining security and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific region.