Department of Defense Press Briefing by Admiral Locklear in the Pentagon Briefing Room
STAFF: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Capt. Chris Sims, the PAO for U.S. PACOM. Admiral Locklear will give a quick opening statement today and then we'll open it up to questions. I'll call on you for questions. Please identify yourself, and then we'll move ahead with getting those answers for you. Thank you. Sir.
ADMIRAL SAMUEL J. LOCKLEAR: Well, good morning and aloha. I'm glad to be here with you today to talk about the PACOM area of responsibility. I try to stop in when I'm in town and see you folks occasionally. But since we talked last I've continued to travel extensively throughout the AOR, we continue to conduct all of our engagement, our exercises, and those things that are contributing to our overall rebalance of the Asia Pacific.
The SECDEF came to Hawaii and hosted an ASEAN Ministers' Meeting, which was an excellent opportunity to build upon the friendships and to strengthen our bilateral relationship with the ASEAN member nations. And we followed that up very shortly with a Rim of the Pacific exercise which is the world's largest naval exercise that has over 22 countries participating as we speak. And that exercise should end later this week. It wraps up on Friday, and I'm glad to say that so far it's been an excellent training opportunity for all the nations that were involved.
And we continue to work hand-in-hand with our allies and partners to help ensure stability and security across the Indo-Asia Pacific. And our relationships, I think, have never been stronger. And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.
Q: Admiral, Bob Burns with Associated Press. Question for you about North Korea and proliferation. Both the U.S. House and the United Nations this week have taken action to strengthen sanctions against North Korea in connection with weapons proliferation. Are you losing ground on North Korean proliferation, whether it be nuclear or other weapons? And how will next week's exercise, counterproliferation exercise fit into that picture of trying to counter that?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah, well, I wouldn't characterize it as us losing ground. Of course, we concentrate very closely on all activities out of North Korea, including their proliferation activities. I read the reports of the most recent allegations and will certainly be looking closely at that.
But we have a growing interest among nations in the region and throughout the world and participating in our -- in our proliferation -- counterproliferation exercises, and we're growing our capabilities across nations and across institutions to be able to better anticipate and to deal with this. So I think in the long run we're getting better.
That said, the proliferation of activities of North Korea, their desire for nuclear missiles and nuclear capabilities, as we've said over and over again, are highly threatening to the global security environment and denuclearization of North Korea is an essential part of the way ahead in that part of -- this part of the world.
Q: How about next week's exercise? How does that fit into the picture, that counterproliferation exercise?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, the next week's exercise is just one that we've had scheduled for a while, so this particular event that's playing out in the press now will just re-emphasize to us the importance of getting it right during our exercises.
Q: Admiral, I'm Phil Ewing with Politico. I wanted to ask you about your perspective as the COCOM on the potential changes in Japan's constitution and the way it could change its outlook on its military and defense practices going forward. How does that change the way you plan to think about the Western Pacific, you know, going forward?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, as you know, we welcome the opportunity for the people of Japan and their government to re-look at this particular issue. And we're very proud and I'm proud that they're doing it in such an open way that's -- so the rest of the world can understand it and understand it in a way that -- that limits the amount of anxiousness that might occur in the region that we're in because of some of the historical issues surrounding it.
All that said, it's important from a military perspective, because we have a very vibrant alliance and that alliance has always got to be looking forward. It's got to look into the next -- into this century and deep into the future, rather than looking into the past. And we believe that Japan is at a position militarily where it has a competent, credible self-defense force that should have the ability to have a broader role in security issues that are important to Japan, as well as to the alliance. So we're supportive of the decisions and the way ahead that's being articulated as we understand it today from Japan.
Q: Can you tell us how -- how it changes your outlook in terms of specific missions or specific things that PACOM does that you might not have to do or you'll do more of because the Japanese will also be doing more of them?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, we can have a long, long discussion about the eaches of how it might -- how it might impact this or that particular event. I would say that, you know, we're in the process of looking at our strategic defense planning guidance, which is the document that basically between the two nations lays out what we will do with each other and for each other in the alliance and what military support we'll have.
So a broader view, a different interpretation of the -- of their constitution that might allow them to participate in -- greater in areas such as anti-piracy or ballistic missile defense or even defense of my own units, our own units, as we -- as we work together to secure the alliance will be -- will be improved with some of these changes that are being talked about.
Q: Lee Hudson with Inside the Navy. Since the Army is a large part of your command, how is Pacific Pathways being implemented in PACOM?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, it's a great question. You know, at the -- at the end of the -- or, you know, as we started to draw down out of Iraq and Afghanistan and we found that the Army was able to return to some of the historic roots in the Asia Pacific, we started looking for opportunities to get the Army more involved in what we do day-to-day in the Pacific.
As you know, in the AOR, my AOR, seven of the 10 largest armies in the world are in my AOR. And so it makes good sense for us to have a good cooperation, a good interaction between our armies, and Pacific Pathways was an opportunity by the Army to be able to use the forces that we have that are returning from the war zones back into garrison in the United States to be able to be used in more creative ways to build partnership capacity and build peace and security throughout the region. So we have a good way ahead for Pacific Pathways, and we're starting to execute the initial phases of that today.
Q: Could you give some examples of how you're executing it?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, it's basically taking the Army units that are under PACOM command -- some of those might be stationed on the West Coast of the United States -- and to putting them into various exercise cycles that allow them to be able to be more present in the AOR with key partners, with key allies, and to work on those skills that are unique to army-to-army interactions.
Q: Hi, Admiral. Jon Harper with Stars and Stripes. To what extent have you seen Chinese naval vessels or Coast Guard vessels or fishing ships harass U.S. Navy vessels in recent months?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I'd say that there's -- you know, because of the places we operate in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and in the PACOM AOR, we have frequent interactions with Chinese vessels of all kind, civilian, maritime security, military naval assets, et cetera.
I wouldn't categorize that in the past -- recent past that any of these interactions would be of a harassing type of nature. So we continue to have a very productive dialogue with our Chinese counterparts on -- particularly as it relates to maritime security forces and military forces of how we operate in a way -- professional way with each other to eliminate the possibility for miscalculation through what might be perceived as harassing activity.
Q: Admiral, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. Two related quick questions. The -- how worried are you about tensions between South Korea and Japan limiting U.S. efforts to get trilateral cooperation? And will those tensions inhibit the U.S. ability to keep the peace in the Pacific? And on a similar note, you just finished -- or there's a recent exercise with India and Japan. How important has developing a military-to-military relationship to India been with you? And what's the next step forward in that partnership?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: OK, well, let me start by talking about the second question first, which is the exercise that we do with India. As you know, we are in the process of doing our annual Malabar exercise, which is occasionally a bilateral exercise between the United States and India, and then occasionally it becomes a multinational or trilateral. This year, we're having a trilateral between India, Japan, and the United States.
This particular exercise, it goes back a number of years. It is, I think, one of the cornerstones, particularly in the maritime environment, of our ability to operate with our Indian partners. And bringing Japan in, which has been done before, I think they were -- participated in this exercise in 2007 and 2009, understand they gapped 2011 probably because of Tomodachi activity, but having Japan in there is kind of a normally accepted -- accepted thing, and it's an opportunity for us to look more holistically at the region and to bring those militaries that are capable of providing greater security perspectives into that more holistic view.
This Malabar is being done, as you know, in the Western Pacific. And so I'd give us a pretty high mark for that. And the first part of your question again, just to remind me?
Q: South Korea-Japan tensions?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah. Yes, well, the -- the -- you know, the -- the political issues between South Korea and Japan -- and as their governments and their peoples deal with them -- do have an impact on our ability to conduct a credible military-to-military engagement with each other. From the PACOM commander's perspective, from my perspective, it's very important for both the Japanese and the South Koreans to recognize that they have many mutual security interests that can be benefited by a bilateral and trilateral -- better bilateral, trilateral mil-to-mil cooperation.
They have a common concern, huge common concern with North Korea, and that we encourage them to -- both Japan and South Korea to work together to overcome their political difficulties so that we can work to provide a better security environment in this region.
Q: Phil Stewart with Reuters. To what extent is U.S. law inhibiting you from deepening cooperation with China that you'd like to kind of pursue? What kind of limitations are there? And also, what kind of cooperation is China asking the United States for right now that you're not able to provide?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah. Well, the law is NDAA 2000, which you referred to. So if you go back and look at it, it was -- it has a pretty broad guidance to the secretary of defense on -- and gives him broad approval for activities that have to do with China. And it was put into place at a time, I think, when we were particularly concerned about, you know, what we may be teaching China through our activities with them.
But there is a leeway in there that he can take recommendations from me and recommendations from the chairman on where to go. And I think he's done that on a number of occasions that allowed us to -- in recent times to be able to open our dialogue and our interaction with the PLA forces in a greater way.
To date, I would say that they have -- the NDAA 2000 has not been a significant restriction to how we operate with each other, because the things that we operate in together have not been at a level that would make you kind of trip the level of a high-concerning NDAA 2000.
It is brought to us by the Chinese as an issue for them. They believe that it unfairly singles them out and -- among other nations and they believe that if we're to have a viable relationship between two powers, the United States and China, that this is an impediment that they would like to have addressed at some point in time. But at this point in time, it has not caused us to do anything that we wanted to do, because most things fell below the threshold of NDAA 2000.
Q: (OFF-MIC) follow-up question between tensions in Japan, South Korea. Could you elaborate a little bit more, what kind of area (OFF-MIC) do you think the trilateral cooperation is critical? Is that the contingency or information-sharing?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yes, well, I think, first of all, it's information-sharing. Just in the area of ballistic missile defense, when you look at the -- how complicated a military science ballistic missile defense is, to have both nations -- both Japan and Korea -- South Korea who have very credible missile defense capabilities that are not able to communicate with each other because of information-sharing restrictions that are of a political nature, not of a military nature, degrade their ability to defend their own airspace, their own nations. It's a fact, and they understand that.
So it's important, I think, that we keep articulating to the people of Japan and South Korea that -- from a military perspective, we understand the serious issues that -- political issues and social issues that have to be overcome. But they are -- must be recognized that they are an impediment to your security.
Q: Hi, Alex (OFF-MIC) with NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I had a question about reports of a Chinese monitoring ship off of -- in international waters, but outside of RIMPAC. I was wondering if you're concerned about this Chinese monitoring ship, particularly because China was part of RIMPAC this year? Do you think this affects cohesion between the U.S., China and any other participating nations there? And will this affect China's participation in the future to this type of trip? Thank you.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah, well, the question was about the -- they call it the AGI, the ship that's currently in the economic zone of the United States off of Hawaii, monitoring the activities of RIMPAC. The good news about this is that it's a recognition, I think, or an acceptance by the Chinese of what we've been saying to them for some time, is that military operations and survey operations in another country's EEZs, where you have national -- your own national security interest, are within international law and are acceptable. And this is a fundamental right that nations have.
And so we have reiterated that to all the nations that are in RIMPAC, as well as the Chinese, that this is within the law and it's their right to do it, and as long as they do it in a non-intrusive in a way that doesn't interfere, that it's -- that it's OK by the law.
It is a little odd that you'd come for the first time to an exercise where I quite have observed and quite believe that this is an opportunity and the Chinese recognize it's an opportunity for them to interact on a broad scale with 22 nations, some of them that they have disagreements with in other areas. And it's an opportunity to build trust and confidence, and that's happening.
The introduction of the AGI kind of made it look a little odd, but it hasn't stopped the exercise and it hasn't created any difficulties in the exercise. And I guess on the other good side, it gives the Chinese the opportunity to see how their own ships are doing, so which I understand is pretty good.
Q: (OFF-MIC) The PLA is conducting a very extensive exercises in South China Sea and East China Sea, as well as in mainland China. Are you monitoring the exercise? And what's your comment on the exercises? Thanks.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yes, well it's an announced exercise. It's called Blue Whale exercise, which the -- which the PLA navy primarily conducts I think on about an annual basis. I wouldn't know if I'm exactly correct on that. We understand it'll be about 20 ships involved and probably 20 or 30 airplanes and surveillance aircraft.
We anticipate -- they announced the closure areas of where they're going to do it within the framework or the way that exercises are done. And so the exercise is not of a concern. It's what we do. It's what militaries do, is they operate.
Will we be, you know, concerned about the type of operations they're doing? I mean, to the same degree that they're concerned about operations we do, we all kind of keep an eye on each other, but this is not an unusual exercise. This is something we have anticipated and that the PLA had announced in advance.
Q: (OFF-MIC) with Tokyo Broadcasting System. My question is on North Korea. They've been steadily kind of firing artillery and missiles into the sea. And so I'm just wondering if you've seen any advancement in the technology that they've been using, anything you've seen lately that would raise the level of concern.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I think the long-term concern with North Korea is that every time they do something that the international community has told them not to do, particularly as it relates to missile technology or nuclear technology, you have to assume that it's a step forward in technology. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't be doing it.
And it's -- so it's a demonstration to themselves they can do it. It's a demonstration to the world that they can do it. And a concern I have is that -- is that it becomes a -- you know, over and over and over again, you see it and you become somewhat numb to it, immune to it, and you start to say, well, it's not such a big deal. They just fired a couple -- another missile last week or a couple more.
But on the long-term view for North Korea, we have to continue to demand that they denuclearize and that they stop their missile program in the fashion they have it today. Will they or not? I don't know.
Q: Thank you. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. As you know, India has a new government in place right now. So from a defense perspective, what do you see, any changes in the defense relationship between India and U.S. and of the Modi government?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, congratulations on your -- getting through your elections and congratulations to the -- to the Modi administration. We look forward to -- to enhancing our mil-to-mil relationships with our -- with India. I mean, as you know, a couple of years ago, President Obama reiterated that we will need to build a long-term and better enduring, a stronger relationship with India, and that includes our mil-to-mil participation.
But it's not just about mil-to-mil. It's about whole-of-government. I think Secretary Kerry will be in Delhi, if not this week, soon, and Secretary Hagel is scheduled to go to meet his counterpart in Delhi in August. And I would hope that somewhere down the road that I would do the same thing, to meet the new -- the new team that's in place there.
You know, we have had for a number of years very good relationships between our services, between PACOM and the services there, and we have an ongoing number of exercises that seem to have worked pretty well for our growing partnership. So we look forward to the road ahead. We think it's all positive.
Q: In the short term, what do you recommend when Secretary Hagel travels to India next month?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: In the short term, what do I recommend? Well, he didn't ask me what I recommended, but I'd -- I would recommend that -- that he recognize that -- and to relay to his counterparts there that we're interested in building closer mil-to-mil relationships and they recognize that -- the new administration recognize that we already have a good basis of which to go forward on.
Q: The administration today acknowledged that the Russian government violated the INF treaty. You, I understand, were very -- very strong voice in the interagency deliberations. You were calling for a declaration of a major breach in the treaty. I want to get your sense of, how serious were the -- was the incident, was the violation, in your view? And what's the implication for your region, given that China's got hundreds of missiles within -- that aren't covered by the INF treaty that you (OFF-MIC)
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah, well, I'm going to have -- Tony, I'm going to have to punt most of that to the session after this, because I'm not -- it's obviously not in my area of responsibility, this particular thing.
Q: You were pretty strong in interagency communications on it.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, certainly, if there's been a breach of an international treaty of which we depended on for a long time, this was of concern. And I think it's of concern -- should be a concern to everyone globally. I mean, we -- we rely on a -- these treaties to be able to put boundaries on our strategic forces and the way that those strategic forces are used as a key deterrent in a stabilizing way across the globe. So anything that puts instability in that and that is not good for the rest of the world is something we have to look at very carefully.
Q: And can I -- Russia, the Russian navy, any -- is there any ripple effect from the Ukraine-U.S.-Russia tensions and NATO tensions in your theater? Now, are you seeing any aggressive actions by the Russian navy? Or do you anticipate there may be some ripple effect from the Ukraine to the Pacific with the Russian navy?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, we're not seeing that right now. Of course, the Russian navy on their east coast in Northeast Asia is not robust. Doesn't mean it's not capable; it's just not robust. But we haven't seen that as of yet.
I would say that we have seen -- NORTHCOM could probably give you a better indication of this, have seen more strategic bomber type of activity that's coming in and out of our ADIZs, kind of what we used to see a number of years back, but not from a navy perspective.
Q: Wanted to go back to North Korea for one second. You mentioned every step, every test that they do might indicate some progress. There were a lot of rumors this spring about -- about a nuclear test, but nothing ever materialized. What is your assessment of North Korea's nuclear program at this point?
And then if I could just real quickly, do you have an update on the review of defense guidelines discussions? And is the timeline on that -- are you still trying to wrap that up by the end of the year with Japan?
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Review of defense guidelines, the target date is still to try to finish by the end of the year. I can't tell you if we'll make it or not, but that's the path that we've been directed to be on. And I'm confident that we're not off-course at this point in time.
So to the question of North Korea's nuclear capability, I mean, there's wide debate throughout the intelligence community about how much capability they have, the ability to weaponize it, the ability to put it into warheads and those types of things.
But as a military commander, I have to plan for the worst and I have to plan for, number one, what the North Koreans say they have, and they say they have it, and what they demonstrate they might have when they show it to us. And so from those indications, then we have to ensure that we're properly postured to protect not only our own homeland, which includes all of our territories and the state of Hawaii, where I happen to be, but also that we're able to provide defense and security for our allies and our key partners in the region.
So I take it seriously. I believe that they have continued to make steady progress in both their missile technology and in their nuclear capability and that they desire to continue to do that.
STAFF: Time for one more question.
Q: James Rosen with McClatchy. You mentioned that with the end of the Afghanistan -- the Iraq war and the drawing down of our forces in Afghanistan, that the Army will be returning to some of its historic roles in your region, the Pacific region. General Breedlove briefed us a few weeks ago here. He expressed great concern about what -- what Russia's doing in Ukraine, and things in some ways have gotten worse since then with the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines plane. Do you think that -- he suggested that the -- to some degree, the U.S. force posture in Europe might have to be re-examined in the wake of this, and I was wondering if you thought that -- if you agreed with that and that if you thought it might affect the so-called pivot to Asia.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah, well, I agree with General Breedlove that given the ongoing environment we're seeing in Europe that probably a re-look at U.S. force posture there and a NATO posture in general, having served in a previous NATO position, that having a re-look at that, given the world we see it today rather than the world we saw it maybe five years ago, is important.
The question of whether it will impact the rebalance to the Asia Pacific or not, you know, we don't kind of think in -- I don't think along those terms that it's a have or have-not. Our forces are globally deployable no matter where they're stationed. And the United States military has put a lot of time and effort into being able to get forces where we need them, when we need them, on a timeline that makes sense for us.
Now, certainly as we deal with things like sequestration and the continuing effects of that, and we look at some decreases in force structure to be able to deal with that sequestration, it puts a greater stress on the force to be able to stay forward and to stay present in the numbers that most of the COCOMs would like to have.
But, again, the rebalance to the Asia Pacific is -- first of all, it's a lot more than just about military, but a military piece of it is moving forward. We're seeing tangible evidence across all elements of the rebalance, not only in force structure, but in activities and things that we're doing, and so I think we remain on course. I don't get the sense that we're backing away from the Asia Pacific rebalance because of other events that are occurring in the rest of the world.
STAFF: Thank you, everyone.
ADM. LOCKLEAR: Thank you. Come to Hawaii.