PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat

By Stew Magnuson
Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, Pacific Command commander, raised eyebrows and invited some criticism when he said on Capitol Hill last year that climate change was the number one long-term threat in the Asia-Pacific.
When asked March 6 if that were still the case, Locklear said, “I haven’t changed my position.”
As a military leader, it is not his role to debate political issues, he said during a question and answer session at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. “All I do is report what I see.”
“This is a pretty aggressive area of the world for natural disasters,” he said. Eighty percent of all the catastrophes in the world happen in the PACOM area of operations, which encompasses 36 nations and about half of the world’s surface.
Only 17 percent of PACOM’s region is land mass and six of every 10 people in the world live there, he added. And more of these populations are moving closer to shorelines in search of economic opportunity, he said.
“The implications for any climate change, or any change in the weather pattern or sea level change, are much more dramatic for the mass amount of population,” which are moving closer to the littorals, he said.
Locklear tells junior commanders when they join PACOM that they may not engage in a conflict with another military during their tenure, but they will inevitably have a natural disaster to contend with, and they will have to assist or manage the consequences.
“That has been true every year,” he said.
His area of operation stops short of the Arctic, but he has given some thought to the future of the region as ice melts and opens the area for sea lanes.
It’s all about dollars and “sense,” he said. It is easier and less expensive for shippers to go over the top of the world than around the middle. There are areas rich in petroleum reserves, and as fisheries collapse around the world, there will be more enterprises heading there in search of a new “protein supply.”
“I think the global economy will drive activity in the Arctic,” he said.
“We have to posture ourselves for peace. But you don’t get that peace unless you sense what’s in the area, know what’s going on and you have the ability to protect your own national interests,” he said.
Most the questions directed at the commander centered on China.
“Generally, the U.S. relationship with China, across many aspects, is cooperative, but competitive,” he said. Military-to-military engagement between the United States and China is steadily improving, and he plans on visiting there a “couple” more times this year.
The Chinese navy has also been invited to participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii this year.
“It’s a big deal. It will be historic for them to come there and do that,” Locklear said. They arrive with three or four ships in a U.S.-led exercise where some 20 other nations participate.
“Some of them they are not particularly getting along well with right now,” he added.  
Territorial disputes between China and its neighbors are another possible threat to the region, he said. China’s military and navy are growing, he said, which is not surprising for an emerging nation with global economic interests.
But if that military “is used to coerce their neighbors into giving up a legal process … of determining the legitimacy of territorial claims, then that would be a problem,” he said.
China and Japan are disputing sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which may have petroleum resources. The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Policy, Energy, Climate Change

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