America’s Pacific commander offers a military warning.Editorial, WALL STREET JOURNAL
25 February 2016
Rarely is a Congressional hearing as clarifying as Tuesday’s appearance of U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Every lawmaker and presidential candidate should study the transcript, but here is a primer.
“I believe China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that,” Admiral Harris told the panel. “China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea” – despite President Xi Jinping’s claims to the contrary – “and you’d have to believe in a flat earth to believe otherwise.” Citing new radar, surface-to-air missiles and runways on disputed islands, some of which were underwater rocks before Chinese dredgers showed up about two years ago, the admiral said Beijing is changing “the operational landscape in the South China Sea.” More than $5 trillion in global trade transits those waters annually.
Last March Admiral Harris warned that China is creating a “great wall of sand.” He became Pacific commander in May and began pushing for regular “freedom of navigation” patrols to challenge China’s lawless claims to international waters. The U.S. conducted its first such patrol in October, with a second last month.
Senator John McCain used the hearing to suggest that the Navy base a second aircraft carrier in Japan. He also joined fellow Republicans Tom Cotton and Dan Sullivan in noting that the Obama Administration hasn’t clarified if it would defend the Philippines, a treaty ally, if its forces are attacked by China in disputed areas such as Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys. China eased some of its pressure on Japan over the Senkaku Islands after the U.S. provided defense assurances to Tokyo in 2014.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy says it can meet only 62% of commanders’ requests for deployments of attack submarines. Admiral Harris also cited the need for longer-range systems, enhanced missile defenses, more modern torpedoes and naval mines and more. “When I started flying P-3s back in the late ’70s, we had the Harpoon missile, and that’s the same missile we have today,” he said. “We need to have increased lethality and reach and speed.”
Mr. McCain captured the stakes of all this. “China’s increasingly assertive pattern of behavior calls into serious question whether China’s rise will in fact be peaceful,” he said. “Despite U.S. efforts to rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, U.S. policy has failed to adapt to the scale and velocity of the challenge we face.”