Asia-Pacific freedom tested: US admiral

By Peter Mitchell, AAP US Correspondent Australian Associated Press

One of America’s top military commanders has painted a bleak picture of the Asia-Pacific, declaring freedom, justice and the rules-based international order hang in the balance.

Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, told a conference in San Diego the path to stability in the region faces four considerable challenges: North Korea, China, Russia and Islamic State.

He warned the US would “co-operate where we can, but we’ll be ready to confront where we must”.

“We’re approaching an inflection point in history,” Admiral Harris said in his keynote speech on Tuesday at the WEST 2017 Conference.

“We’re certainly not approaching anything resembling the end of history.

“Freedom, justice and the rules-based international order hang in the balance and the scale won’t tip of its own accord or simply because good people wish it so.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with nuclear warheads and missile technology is “a recipe for disaster”.

“Vicious, vindictive, and volatile dictators are nothing new in the long, dark history of mankind, but what is new is a vicious, volatile, and vindictive dictator with his fingers on a nuclear trigger,” Admiral Harris said.

A revanchist Russia and an increasingly assertive China do not “seem to respect the very international agreements they’ve signed on for” and both Moscow and Beijing have choices to make.

Pointing to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the admiral said he would not allow shared domains to be closed down.

“They can choose to disregard the rules-based security order that has served all nations – including them – so well for decades or they can contribute to it as responsible stakeholders,” Admiral Harris said.

“I hope for the latter, but I have to be prepared for the former.”

While coalition forces have had success taking territory from Islamic State in the Middle-East and North Africa, the admiral warned some of the terror group’s fighters who survive will likely return to their home countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

“What’s worse is they’ll be radicalised and weaponised,” he said.

“So we must eradicate this disease before it metastasises.”

Working with allies and continuing to develop innovative capabilities will ensure America’s beacon of light continues to shine and allow good to overcome evil, he said.

“Our country must maintain credible combat power, in concert with like-minded allies and partners, to preserve unimpeded access to all the shared domains – sea, air, land, space, and cyber,” he said.

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