Northcom Commander Wants More Military Exercises with China

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

SAN DIEGO — As tensions rise in the Asia-Pacific, the U.S. military should continue to engage in cooperative operations and exercises with China, the leader of U.S. Northern Command said Feb. 10.

“Today’s security environment is complicated by crises around the world,” said Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northcom said.

The United States must grapple with significant threats to the nation and its allies from countries such as China, Russia and North Korea as well tensions in the Middle East, he said during a speech at the AFCEA West Conference.

China is an ongoing concern, Gortney said. The country is growing its military and investing in technology that could threaten the United States. He advocated for more military-to-military engagements.

In order to help boost diplomatic ties with China is it important that United States engage with the country’s Navy in military exercises, he noted. Not only can the United States learn from China, it can also project power. 

“Visible and open exercises allow potential opponents around the world to see our capability and say to themselves, ‘Today is not the day to challenge the United States military,’” Gortney said.
China sent four ships and some 1,100 sailors to the Rim of the Pacific exercise last June in Hawaii. The annual gathering featured the navies from 23 Asia-Pacific nations, including many of China's regional rivals. 

“China is using diplomatic and economic means to deny the United States physical and political access around the world,” Gortney said. “They’re expanding their military both quantitatively and qualitatively at an astounding rate.”

U.S. space assets are vulnerable as China invests in “disruptive and destructive countermeasure” capabilities such as anti-satellite missiles and jamming technologies, he noted.

Further, China is also in an ongoing dispute with Japan over territorial claims to the Senkaku Islands, Gortney said. Both countries claim sovereignty over the islands and tensions have escalated recently.

“Their territorial claims and actions to back up their claims continue to cause our neighbors and allies great angst. The potential here for miscalculation is very high, particularly in the South China Sea,” he said.

Additionally, Russia is of great concern, he said. The ongoing and violent conflict between pro-Russian separatist forces and Ukraine over the annexation of Crimea caught the world off guard in 2014, he said. Further, Russia is investing more money into military platforms. 

North Korea is also becoming increasingly volatile, especially under the rule of Kim Jong-un, who became the country's supreme leader in 2011, Gortney said.

“North Korea had a leadership change that makes me think longingly for the predictable nature of the current leader’s father [Kim Jong-il],” he said.

North Korea is widely believed to have orchestrated an enormous cyber attack on Sony Pictures last year that saw reams of data stolen and subsequently leaked, including movie scripts and private emails.

As U.S. combat missions in Afghanistan come to an end, the Middle East is still volatile, Gortney said. The Taliban is regrouping in the country and the Islamic State is a major threat in Syria and Iraq, he said.

These threats come as the United States pares back its Defense Department spending. Reduced military funding is the norm at the end of wars, but likewise there is usually a period of peace at the conclusion of them. That is not the case today, Gortney said.

“Coming out of major wars, we have always entered a more secure international security environment than when we went to war,” he said. “That’s why you go to war. This time, however, … the international security environment is clearly not better than when we started.” That will require the the United States to invest sufficient funds into its military, he said.

Topics: International

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