Role of United States in the Asia-Pacific Security Landscape
in the 21st Century
Dennis C. Blair
Chairman of the Board and CEO, Sasakawa USA;
Former Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command
June 18, 2015
MP3 Audio Recording by the US Senate Recording Studio.
Dennis C. Blair's presentation and Q & A discussion, introduced by Min Gu Jang
[Editor's note: The text was transcribed by David Lee, ICAS Intern.
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, the meeting will commence very shortly. Please be seated.
Please be seated.
[Small talk before panel officially begins]
Moderator: Okay, right after your presentation follows Q & A.
Moderator: Okay please be seated. And Dave, please close the door. Dennis?
[Logistical issues and reseating]
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, the proceeding will commence. One of my juniors bench, he's
only a tenth grader. We're building our bench.
Admiral Dennis C. Blair: That's good.
Moderator: Okay, tenth grader. Jang Min, please introduce the Admiral. Please.
Jang Min: Thank you Dr. Kim for this opportunity to introduce Admiral Blair, our second
featured speaker. So. Admiral Dennis Blair, chairman of the board and CEO of Sasakawa USA,
is a renowned expert on Asia-Pacific policy and issues. Also, he is on the boards for the Freed
House, the National Bureau of Asian Research, and the National Committee on US-China
Relations. As Director of National intelligence, from January 2009 to May 2010, he led sixteen
national intelligence agencies, managed a budget of $50 billion and provided intelligence support
to the President, Congress and operations in the field. Dennis was president and chief executive
officer for the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development
center from 2003 to 2006. During his 34-year Navy career, he served on guided missile
destroyers in both the Atlnatic and Pacific fleets and commanded the Kitty Hawk Battle Group.
Ashore, Dennis served as Director of the Joint Staff and held budget and policy positions on the
National Security Council and several major Navy staffs. Prior to retiring from the Navy in 2002,
he served as Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Command, the largest of the combatant
commands. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, he earned a master's degree from Oxford
University as a Rhodes scholar, and was a White House fellow at the Department of Housing and
Urban Development. Dennis has been awarded four Defense Distinguished Service medals, three
National Intelligence Distinguished Service medals, and has received decorations from the
governments of Japan, Thailand, Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Ladies and
gentlemen, let's welcome Admiral Blair.
Admiral Blair: Okay.
Admiral Blair: So it's much more pleasant to be here for this group than it is to testify but...
Admiral Blair: When you're facing the other direction, so I take full advantage. Let me state my
prejudices up front. I believe that the Asia-Pacific region, increasingly the most economically
powerful and most dynamic region of the world, can have a happy ending here. We can develop
a peaceful way to the benefit of all the countries that are geographically located there and to the
benefit of the United States, which is so deeply entwined in me, in the region. And my efforts,
both when I was on active duty in the Navy as the director of National Intelligence and then
since I've been retired, has been to try to understand what's going on Asia and do what I can to
work out ways that problems between countries can be solved; that the common challenges can
be addressed; and that progress can be continued to be made, as most spectacularly has been
made since World War II.
I'd to take just a few minutes to just take us back and review the history of the region, because
we tend often to get bound up in the tactical details of what happened yesterday on this island or
what happened on this trade dispute and so on. And I think it's worth just taking a step back from
East Asia and just reminding ourselves what has happened there since the last 70 years. And
certainly this last anniversary reminds us of it. But if you cast your mind back to the summer of
1945 when the war ended... First, of course, Asia was absolutely devastated, having been fought
over for a good 15 years or so beforehand. My father was on an American cruiser in Tokyo Bay,
tied up not far from the Missouri where the surrender document was signed. And we have a
journal in the family from when he went to shore at Yokosuka and went on up north into Tokyo.
And he says that as you look over the Kanto plain, the urban area of Japan, the only thing left
standing I could see were safes: steel safes. They were the only thing that had survived the
devastation of the war in that country. And it was a similar story in the other parts of Asia - the
other parts of Asia that had been fought over so savagely. And it was not just the - it was not just
the physical devastation and the human suffering of war, but the war left a huge number of
simmering, unresolved problems that were going to have to be worked out in future years. It
settled one problem. Japanese military aggression was stopped, but it left a whole number of
problems in its wake. And as you take them from North to South that left a divided Korean
Peninsula with the Russians having invaded the Northern half of it with the Southern half of it -
under American control. And I understand in your previous panel, you talked in detail about
where that situation still lies today. As I said, Japan flat on its back economically, with two
million soldiers overseas in China and all of Southeast Asia; China itself still in the midst of a
Civil War between the Koumintang on the one hand and the Communist forces on the other hand.
And in Southeast Asia, where the previous colonial powers had been driven out, there'd been
Japanese intermediate occupation for some of the areas, and then the liberation sentiment and
movements from everywhere in Indonesia up through Burma, and the desires of some of the
colonial powers to reassert - reassert their rule. So not only was an innate area flat on its back,
but there were a huge number of unresolved problems that had to be worked out.
The 1950s were sort of the era of working out the problems in the Central and Northern part of
East-Asia. There were a lot of confrontations between Taiwan and China that the United States
was heavily involved in. And then the Korean War, of course. Although the Cold War was
centered in Europe with NATO, the confrontation - the actual fighting was in fact over in Asia,
and the Korean War was the first of those. And when all the dust had settled at the end of the 50s,
the Korean peninsula was even more heavily divided and forces - military forces in place there
with really no movement of boundaries since the - since five years or eight years previously, it
was pretty clear that the KMT power was simply confined to Taiwan, communist Mao and his
people in charge of the mainland, an anomalous diplomatic situation in which Taiwan still
represented China in the United Nations and was officially recognized by many governments.
But nonetheless, things had settled down somewhat. And then in the 60s, the focus moved to
Southeast Asia. There had been, of course, a lot of activity in the 50s in Indonesia when the
Indonesians pushed the Dutch rule out. But the wars of the 60s and 70s in Southeast Asia, the
dying shocks of anti-colonial wars, overlaid with Cold War. Heavy American involvement in
Vietnam and then many internal civil wars. And that all finally came to an end in about 1975
when the United States finally left Vietnam. The other associated wars in Cambodia, Laos, and
so on, had wound down by that time. And it was in about 1975 that the shape of today's Asia
really came into focus, and for the next forty years now, the end of those wars, the boundaries
having been pretty well settled in that part of the world - very... very strong American military
superiority, an American policy of open markets really set the stage for the really tremendous
growth in Asia that we've seen in the last 40 years. Economically is the most obviously, in which
a series of countries: Korea, Japan, the Asian Tigers, and then finally China, followed the same
path of welcoming foreign investments, exports into the Western markets particularly, the United
States economic - economic development taking off, become extremely rapid. And then in many
countries, a political change going along with that, certainly in Korea where an authoritarian
military supported regime, and South Korea was changed; much of the same phenomenon in
Taiwan; tremendous development in Southeast Asia in many countries, political changes in
places like Indonesia, late in the period when the Suharto regime ended. And then notably, China
beginning to follow that same path in about 1990 when Deng Xiaoping, looking around him at
what had happened in smaller countries, decided to try the same path for China with spectacular
results that we have seen.
So I think it - I think it's just wondering reminding ourselves how far Asia has come; how much
it's been able to overcome: the devastation and the legacy of war that afflicted it for so many
years as we try to think about what happens when it goes forward. So what should we be mindful
of? What should we keep our eye on as Asia is moving forward? Underlying all of the national
security and the political developments, of course as - is economic development. What I'm
trying to watch these days is the wrenching economic transformations that are occurring in the
major countries in the region. China, Japan, the United States; if you look at all three countries,
the economic models that they ran on very successfully up until very recently, have now all but
run their course, and all three countries have come to the realization that they have to make big
changes if they're going to continue. China previously had this export driven infrastructure,
investment state, directed economic growth that produced spectacular GDP results but produced
some pretty bad side effects from the - from the spoliation of the environment, whether it was
the air, the water, the land, that basically ran out of steam from an economic point of view. And
in the third plenum following the change - the latest change in government back in 2012, China
committed itself to a whole new economic model: more market forces, more consumer driven
rather than export investment and infrastructure investment; driven more services, cleaner, less
of a breakneck GDP - GDP growth. And that's the blueprint that China has laid out for itself.
Japan, after wallowing for about 20 years economically, has now committed itself under its new
Prime Minister, to a series of pretty radical changes like the Japan ink system, which was so
successful for so long. And the third arrow of Abenomics is trying to cause structural changes in
the Japanese economy, to get it going again. And these involve things like combatting the
declining number of workers by bringing more women into the workforce, opening immigration,
providing for more labor mobility, to get a handle on the debt to budget ratio, which is becoming
unmanageable - or will soon in the future. And a whole series of wrenching changes for Japan if
it is to continue - if it is to regain its growth. And here in the United States, of course we had the
worst recession since the Great recession back in 2007. In theory, we have grown out of it, but it
sure doesn't feel like it to a lot of people. And there are a lot of things that the United States has
to do if it is to resume a sustainable growth.
So, I think the real - I think the real competition in Asia will be who, which countries does this
most successfully. Who wins? Who is able to achieve the goals that they set out for themselves
in terms of changing their economy? And it's hard to say. I don't know where I'd place my
money right now, because in all three countries, of course there are very large forces which are
invested in the way business is done now, and resist the changes that are being urged on them.
And they have very powerful tools in all three countries to make that resistance successful. So
consequently the state owned enterprises in China are pushing back against the diminution of
their power and an influence in Japan. The big Keidanren companies are giving - certainly
giving oral support to the government, but behind the scenes they don't seem to be
enthusiastically changing their ways. And here in the United States, the system that we
developed in this building of protecting companies, which our doing business the way we way to
do is certainly stymying a lot of things. I would say that the changes that have come after the
latest recession that Doug, Frank, Bill, and so on are not fundamental changes and they're being
pretty heavily resisted by those who are invested in the current system. So none of the three
countries has an easy path in actually achieving these lofty economic goals that they've set for
themselves. But the country that successfully makes that transition is the country that's going to
move out and have the wherewithal to extend its power in other ways.
What about the security situation in East Asia?
The serious situation in recent years
seems to have become a maritime affair, not a land - land, ground forces affair. China has
virtually settled its land borders with most of its neighbors; it still has some disputes with India,
but it pretty much has a conscious policy of settling with Russia and some of its essential Asian
neighbors. But it's really in - it's really in the sea around East Asia that you see a number of
problems stretching from the northern territories disputed between Japan and Russia, all the way
down to the South China Sea that we read a lot about today in the Spratly's, and even further
south. And there seem to be sort of three categories that these island disputes have fallen into.
Some of them are in the "okay, we disagree but we're not going to fight about it" category. And I
think the northern territories certainly fall into that territory. Japan does not give up its claims to
the island. Russia does not give up - give up its possession or its claims, but it just doesn't seem
that they're going to start fighting about them. The other category is sort of a deterrence armed
standoff, and this is certainly has been true in Taiwan for years; the Chinese claimed Taiwan; the
Taiwanese say its theirs; the United States that the status of the islands is not going to be changed
by force; all three countries have put military might plans behind what they - behind their
policies. And it's so high risk for the aggressor, China in this case, that they figure it's not worth
trying it and instead doing other things. And we all of these developments between China and
Taiwan in recent years in finances, in economics, in commercial, in transportation. So there's a
sort of standoff in Taiwan. The Senkakus, for a while seemed like it was in the "we're not going
to fight about it" category, but all of a sudden in 2011 and 2012, things heated up in that area and
there looked like there could be some fighting about it. A series of actions taken by Japan with
support from the United States; Japan said it would defend the islands if China were to land on
them. Japan would go and throw the Chinese off. They did some extensive planning and devoted
forces to it, retrained a ground self-defense force regiment to be able to do that. The United
States stood next to Japan at various levels, including most recently the President, who said that
we would support their administration of the island. And that's sort of moved the Senkakus to
this stalemated situation. And Korea, a half island, a peninsula, has been in a stalemate for as
long as anything. So that's been sort of the second way to solve these.
Meanwhile down in the South China Sea, neither of these things has happened. Back what I was,
I think back in 2002, this declaration to agree on a code of conduct - it was sort of a preliminary
code of conduct agreement - was signed at fairly high levels by all of the five countries that
contend, have been contending claims there. It had all the right words in it about - these will be
solved peacefully by diplomatic agreement. Force will not be used. And it seemed that those
islands were going into the "not going to fight about it" category. But in recent years, due to a
series of moves, and there's certainly a lot of dispute about who started the dispute in the South
China Sea - there's no dispute about who's doing the most activity now, which is China by a
longshot. So those islands have come back into play. What I would - what I would say, and I'll
finish up with this and we can turn to questions, was that in my experience, if you want to have
disputes in a region, islands are a pretty good one to have. They're a lot better than ground-force
disputes because whether island disputes are handled or not really depends on the attitudes of the
government's concern. They can pretty well call how they want it to be done. When you have
armies going back and forth, lots of civilians are killed, land is taken, pictures are taken.
Patriotism, nationalisms, xenophobia, are all deeply inflamed and it's very difficult to control.
When there's an incident on an island or in the air, it pretty well depends on what the attitude of
the government is as how it's going to be handled. When I was out in the Pacific, the EP3
incident occurred, which was an incident in the air that involved loss of life on the Chinese side,
almost loss of life on the US side, but it did not. And it was quite clear to me that eventually, this
was going to be handled and eventually it turned out to be 11 days in those times, which is an
eternity in CNN. But when you think about it, it's not that long. And after a number of actions
were taken, that was resolved. And I think the same sort of thing is true of incidents that went on
in the South China Sea. So I don't - I'm not one of those who thinks that there's going to be a
war over - breaking out that will involve a major conflict. The activities that have been taken by
all the countries there, and including China, have been really at the sub-military level. It has been
using administrative declarations, commercial items like drilling rigs or dredging, coastguard
enforcement rather than military enforcements, navies and air forces kept over the horizon. And
this could change if - certainly if these latest islands that China is - that China is building
becomes military outputs. That changes the situation into a military confrontation, but so far it
seems that China and the other countries have wanted to keep the confrontation there at the sub-
military level, to keep it contained diplomatically, and to try to work through it that way.
So where do we go when in the future. I'd say number 1, don't forget where you came in the past.
Remember the devastation that existed 70 years ago. And let's not be wildly nationalistic and
violent about going back and fighting each other again. We tried that in Asia. It wasn't very
pretty for anybody, and we can do a lot better if we have our rivalries and contests without
military force being used. There also are a huge number of common challenges that we all face.
I've sort of had this fantasy that our successors fifty years from now will be sitting around here
with the water level having risen 10 feet all of the countries saying "Now what were those island
disputes all about?" And then as devastation is wreaked on the world because of our inability to
get a grip on the carbon that we burn and the rising temperatures, that that brings the war on.
Having to deal with the huge number of citizens in Asia, who are still very poor - it's interesting
that China has more people below its own poverty line now than it had in 1989, when Deng
Xiaoping began his reforms. It's a different poverty, but it ain't pretty. Like 2 dollars a day,
instead of 1 dollar a day per person. But China still has a huge internal problem it has to deal
with, and as you go into many other countries in Asia, bringing their populations out of poverty
is still huge. And that's something that can only be done by economic growth all over the region.
So there are huge problems that we all still face. I hope people don't get too carried away in
chest-thumping will military confrontation in that part of the world. And that's really what those
of us who work on the region, who have had leadership in the past, have been really trying to do.
Let me stop it there if I could.
Moderator: Okay, thank you very much, Admiral. Now, Joe?
Joseph Bosco: Thank you, Admiral. It's truly an honor to be on this panel with you. You're a
national hero. I noticed there are six of us, and one of you, and you still have us outnumbered.
Panelist 1: If Joe Bosco says that, you better get ready.
Joseph Bosco: Given the context of the maritime situation in the South China Sea, I note
historically that when - on several occasions, China has stirred things up in the Taiwan strait, the
US felt it necessary to send aircraft carriers either through or around the area. Most recently,
Admiral Keating sent the men after they canceled a trip to Hong - to the port in Hong Kong. And
he made - and China objected, and he made the statement that "we don't need China's
permission to go through the Taiwan strait. It's international waterways." Then when China
declared the air defense identification zone a couple of years ago, the US sent B52s through the
air to show, to assert our rights of overflight. But now with the island building, it seems to me,
unless I've missed something in the news recently, we have yet to assert our freedom of
navigation rights through those waters. And I'm wondering if there's a dangerous precedent
being set here. Even if China does nothing further to expand the island building, if we accept as a
status quo what they've already, and that those they have sovereignty rights over the air space
and water, is that something we have to worry about in the future?
Admiral Blair: I think that the United States was a little sloppy in its thinking and its policy
decorations for quite a while. Our standard response to questions about the South China Sea was
along the lines of "we don't take any position on the sovereignty disputes, but we insist on
freedom of navigation." The Chinese would "oh, freedom of navigation? You mean those
thousands of ships a day that goes up into our ports? Of course we're not going to interfere with
that. What's your problem?" And the United States was not clear that what we mean by freedom
of navigation is the ability to move whatever forces, military forces as well as others, throughout
anything that's more than twelve miles away from an agreed coastline of another country. I think
we've finally woken up to that. Lying under that though is that China - China really has a sort of
a landsman's view of water. It's that blue stuff on the chart, and if you're a soldier or a person
who didn't grow up as sea, you think of that basically as a defensive barrier. And your job is to
make sure that that's heavily defended. The American understanding and the understanding of
maritime countries is that's an area that anybody can go in in accordance with international law.
So the Chinese quite openly declare that they want a defensive maritime barrier that leads out to
what they call the first island chain, which is Japan and to a lesser extent, the second island chain
which goes out to Guam. And they are trying to push within the UN maritime bodies the idea
that the rights of literal states out to that area include things like no reconnaissance flights or ship
operations by other countries, prior notification for exercises. You'll remember when we sent the
George Washington last summer up to - up off of North Korea to send a little signal to North
Korea that China had objected. So I think there is a fundamental struggle going on between
understandings of what constitutes high seas and what countries can do in that. And I agree with
you that the United States needs to assert that both by policy and by action. I think that Secretary
Carter has recently made that more clear in what he said. But it also has to be followed up by
action. Although as I said before, I don't think the United States should immediately militarize
this confrontation, but I think that asserting high seas freedom should be a part of it.
Moderator: Thank you. Dave?
David Maxwell: Thank you, sir. I would second your remarks on the importance of history. I
think we often overlook that. So I agree that we should always be considering history as we think
about security in the region. I'd like to take advantage of your expertise in Asia. I think there are
few senior leaders that have the political intelligence and security experience in Asia, and
context with senior leaders. Many of us in this room focus on Korean unification, and we believe
that the only way to end the nuclear program, to stop the suffering of the Korean people who live
in the North, as well as bring security and stability through the region, is through unification.
Although there are those who think we shouldn't talk about it because countries like Japan and
China may not believe it is in their issue. And I wondered if you could speculate - as I know it
would only be speculation - on how Japan and China view Korean unification, and what perhaps
we should consider in terms of their views on unification and how to gain support for Korean
unification from, and I'm talking about a ROK and US alliance perspective.
Admiral Blair: I agree with you, Dave. I think when the, you know, when the archives are
opened and the historians get in there and look at this North Korean regime, that's going to be
down there at the worst, you know, right - right ranking with the Gulags and the extermination,
concentration camps, and all of those tragedies of history that were inflicted brutal dictator on its
own people. So I think the humanitarian scale is - we ought to keep that in mind. We shouldn't
get too dry and geopolitical about North Korea. China, I think has a very practical policy towards
North Korea. Until they can see a clear path to something better, they sort of stick with where
they are. So I think if China felt that it had a magic wand and could transform North Korea into a
little mini version of China itself, authoritarian rule, not as brutal as North Korea, but a lot more
stable, they would like to do that. But I don't think they see an easy way for that to happen, and
they think that if you start a process of change, it could evolve into lose, loose nuclear weapons,
refugees flow across the Yalu - and their position is "why do I - why do I want to go down that
road?" I think that Japan - most Japanese would favor a reunified peninsula because it would
solve the several unique, but very important problems to Japan. The Japanese who have been
abducted there and disappeared, they would find out what happened to them and what they did. It
would remove a nuclear and missile threat to Japan. So I think they would be in favor of it. So I
think that China and Japan are not obstacles to Korean unification. I think everybody in the
United States, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, has not figured out how to cause this thing to
happen in a way that might not have a whole lot of chaos and violence involved in it.
Moderator: Thank you. Larry?
Larry Niksch: Thank you your comments, Admiral Blair. Three questions, quickly. I understand
that next month, the legislation will come up in the Japanese Diet to transform Japanese defense
policy into what the government is terming "collective self-defense," which would broadly
provide for Japan, rendering more direct assistance to the United States, possibly to some other
countries that are allied with the United States. A couple of questions in that connection,
assuming the legislation goes through. First, what impact do you believe that this new Japanese
defense policy would have or could have on Japan's security role on the Korean peninsula?
Secondly, there are reports in the Japanese press that the US and Japanese governments are
discussing under collective self-defense, Japan beginning to institute air patrols over the South
China Sea. And the Manila Press is reporting that Japan and the Philippines are discussing
concluding a visiting forces agreement that would allow the Japan self-defense forces to visit the
Philippines for training and other coordination with the armed forces of the Philippines. Can you
comment on these kinds of reports that are emerging? Secondly, you mentioned the US
neutrality policy on the sovereignty claim that is kind of a standard policy towards all of these
island disputes. Now, Philippines has filed suit with the Law of the Sea Tribunal in the Hague,
challenging China's claims to islands in Spratly's as well as the famous 9 dash line, that the
Chinese portray on all of their maps, claiming nearly the entire South China Sea. Now the
Tribunal is going to have to rule whether to accept the Philippines suit, but assuming that it does,
and it comes out probably next year with a ruling, if as many legal experts perceive, the ruling
likely would come down primarily on the Philippines side. China has refused to participate -
Admiral Blair: Right.
Larry Niksch: ...In this lawsuit. If the Tribunal should rule primarily in favor of the Philippines,
how do you think the US should react in terms of the effects of this on the neutrality, vis a vi,
claims policy of the US? Should the US stick to neutrality or would the US come out in force
support of an LLC Tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippine position in the South China Sea?
Moderator: Thank you, Larry.
Admiral Blair: Let's see. On Japan's role in case crisis or conflict on the Korean peninsula, from
a military point of view, because US support to Korea would be coming out of Japan primarily...
that's where you first move and then you move to Korea and on, the more that Japan can do to
defend that base and to move its defense forwards so that they help with the defense, and you can
use US and Republic of Korea forces for other things, the better. So more is better in terms of
defense of tasks that the Japanese self-defense forces could undertake. And right now, there's a
lot of political sensitivity with Korea in terms of even talking about that. But things tend to
change when the bullets start flying, so hopefully if something came like that, the United States,
Japan, and Korea, could fairly quickly make some sense of military decisions and how we split
up the chores and get the common job done of defeating North Korea. On the question of the
Japan operating with the Philippines under a visiting forces agreement, you know, you can make
high Bismarckian political judgements about that: Japan trying to encircle China, improve its
position geographically. But I think basically, for Japan to operate with more armed forces, to
learn about what it's like to be involved in greater common military tasks, the better. I think
those - if there are exercises like that, they would be things like humanitarian relief, and peace
keeping and so on, and I would be in favor about that. Tough question on how the US should
react if the Philippines if - you know we all hope that the Philippines would win because the
Chinese claim is ridiculous. As I said before, this is like the United States claiming all of the
Caribbean based on a map made by the Confederacy during the Civil War. That's sort of the -
that's sort of what we have with the Chinese 9 dash line, which is not going to stand up in any
serious court. So I would think that the United States would support the rejection of the Chinese
claim. That would be good. I don't think that would automatically translate to the United States
accepts everything that the Philippines say, that they - that they say they claim. And I think what
the region really is a multilateral, either set of compromises, or judication in which the
conflicting claims are worked out. And that's the sort of thing I think the United States could
support. It would be complicated in the Spratly's, because as you know, there are a hundred
features there. About half of them are occupied in one form or another. You're not going to be
able to draw nice lines, with Malaysia's islands over here, and the Philippines here, and China
there. It's going to be a mixing up. There ought to be a, I would say, a joint development area
around them in which the fishing and the - whatever hydrocarbons there are shared. So I think
that's kind of an imaginative solution that the United States could stay behind, but I would have
no problem in the United States rejecting China's claim based on what the maritime court said.
Moderator: Thank you. Don? I thought you were sleeping.
Donald Kirk: Almost. Jetlagged... What impact is the...
Moderator: Could you speak louder?
Donald Kirk: Yeah. What impact is the withdrawal of US forces from Okinawa - that is the
relocation or repositioning of US forces on Okinawa, particularly the marines, and the
withdrawal and scaling down in US strength in South Korea - the withdrawal from Yongsan to a
headquarters south, and the withdrawals of troops from Camp Casey to south of Seoul... What
impact is this having on US preparedness? And if anything really does happen, how willing, how
interested, how capable is the US really of responding, especially while involved in other parts of
the world, notably the Middle East?
Admiral Blair: I think that both the realignment within Korea, getting out of those camps of the
1950s down into a concentration around Camp Humphreys is a good thing. It - from a military
point of view, those camps in fact make it harder to maintain your combat readiness, and they -
because there's so in the midst of Korea, we had these situations like the one in which one of our
armored vehicles ran over and killed a young Korean. So there were tremendous disadvantages
to them also in terms of sustainment. And with the short distances in Korea, the terrain, we're not
any less capable of handling a North Korean attack than we were before. So I think that's a good
thing there. In Okinawa, I've long advocated a realignment of the forces there to get our - to get
our troops out of the populated south and further north on Okinawa, where are there fewer hours.
You know, it's interesting. There were - the island of Oahu in Hawaii is about the same size of
Okinawa, has about the same number of troops. But they aren't in Waikiki. And they aren't in
downtown Honolulu. In Okinawa, the bases are right in the populated southern parts of the island.
We've got to move them around. The maneuvering space is very constricted in Okinawa for
training, so the expansion into Guam, in which we have a lot more space for combined arms
maneuver, including air and maritime forces, is superior. You can get back fast. So I think both
of those are good moves, and I don't think they detract from the American ability to support its
Dennis Halpin: Well Admiral Blair, thank you for your presentation. Now you're an Admiral,
and I'm just Dennis, so I was glad to hear you said you weren't concerned that island disputes
would lead to war as on land like during the Cold War. But I am in the midst of reading Robert
Caplan's book Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of the Pacific, so I had a few
questions he raises there. One as he points, he - his thesis is that the US rose to global power
after the Civil War by assuming control of the Caribbean Sea, and then Teddy Roosevelt digging
the Panama Canal and controlling commerce. Of course, our control or whatever in the
Caribbean did begin in a war over an island, Cuba. The Maine, now some people say that even
some American might have blown up the Maine to provoke the war, but anyway that's his theory.
I also wondered, as you described during the Cold War, the Reagan era, we were concerned
mainly about mad mutually assured destruction nuclear missiles or a land war in Germany, on
the continent. Yet at that time, Kaplan points out, the US navy had a fleet of 600 warships. And
now we have less than 300. So my question, as you pointed out, as naval power is becoming
more important - Asia is becoming the center of commerce in the world and their naval power is
becoming more important - why does the US have the navy that is half the size as in the Reagan
era when we probably didn't need as big a navy because we were going to fight a land war in
Germany or else blow each other up with missiles? And the other theory - Kaplan points out
about all the - As Europe is reducing defense expenditures, defense expenditures have doubled
in Asia: that not China, which he says is building 4 times the submarines we are right now, the
US. But every other country from South Korea to the Philippines to Singapore are buying ships;
they're all floating around in the South China Sea; it would seem they could have some sort of
conflict just with all of those ships there. And my question is: is he basically right that - China,
to become a global power, would project into the South China Sea? And if they controlled
freedom of commerce in the South China Sea because of the flow - the Indian Ocean and the
South China Sea - the flow of natural resources and commerce, they would really have a
stranglehold on Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. So... counter... Kaplan has certain issues he
raises in the book that seem not totally, but somewhat to raise questions about your thesis that
everything will be peaceful over these island disputes... I mean what about the decline of the US,
the fact that we guaranteed freedom of navigation like the British in the 19th century, and we
can't anymore, and that all of these nations in Asia are building ships in the South China Sea,
and China's projecting itself outward there.
Moderator: Thank you, Dennis. The Real Dennis?
Admiral Blair: Okay. You know Bob Kaplan is provocative. He's fascinating. I deeply disagree
with him on - in that thesis. The South China Sea is a big place. It's 50% larger than the
Mediterranean, so you're not - you don't have a small number of - a small number of ships in a
bathtub running into each other. China's position is - those cargos that come into the South
China Sea don't start in the South China Sea. They've started way over in, you know, the Persian
Gulfs, or come across the straits in Malacca. So China is in a dependence situation with seaborne
commerce, in fact to a much greater extent than is the United States and any country, except say
Japan and to a lesser extent Korea. The... When you look at naval interdiction of shipping and
commerce, that really doesn't come to - come into play, unless you have a great big world war.
Aside from that, unless there is a literal state that's involved and interferes with shipping the way
that Iraq and Iran did in the 80s in the gulf, the way Somali pirates try to do now, the commerce
moves through and outside countries don't mess with it much. So I have a hard time coming up
with a scenario in which China can even begin to think about exerting some sort of valve on
shipping in the South China Sea that would be to its advantage and would not - which would
harm other countries and not it. It would quite quickly turn out to be a situation in which China is
hurting itself, or else if it were expanded, China could be hurt by others. So I really do see no
future for a big battle for naval supremacy in the South China Sea, with the winner being able to
tell you which ship goes through and which doesn't. Those 300 Americans that we have now
have more combat power than the 600 that served in the Reagan era. I mean I served on them. I
know. There's a certain point, you know. You can't go down to ten. But 300 is still a pretty
healthy number, and those are a lot more capable than the ones were before, so I think we still
have enough quantity and a lot more - a lot more quality so... And then... I spend a lot of time
trying to put myself in the Chinese position to determine what steps they could take that would
hurt us, our allies, advantage them, and I've had a hard time figuring out how a naval gambit on
their part could be successful in the near term.
Moderator: Thank you. Tong?
Moderator: Could you speak louder?
For a moment, I thought I was in a history class, which I used to
Admiral Blair: Did I get it right, or did you...?
Tong Kim: It was very interesting and very comprehensive. Now I do have a few questions
regarding the topic of Asia-Pacific area. Number 1, you already covered pretty much about the,
what the essence of the problem regarding the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Because recently, I think a couple or three weeks ago, Secretary Carter said very clearly that
along with - that has been the official position of the Obama administration. That is "we want all
disputes - should be resolved peacefully and by international law." Larry already brought up the
pertinence of relevant aspects of the sea of the law - the law of the sea... UN convention of law
of the sea, which the Congress has not ratified yet. The question is if Congress ratifies it, the law
of the sea, and the US becomes a full participant in that part of international law, would it put the
United States in a better position to argue legally or support or accept the outcome of the
arbitration or some sort of Tribunal system under that convention? That's one question. Now
Ashton Carter also said the question - what they want is freedom of navigation and overflight
over these areas where Chinese and four or five different co-claimers all say that they are there,
part of the jurisdiction. Now... And Carter asked all the claimers to stop building, making, or
militarizing what they have already, he claimed. And so I don't think China is going to stop. And
their argument is it's not for - to threaten anybody. But they have no problem with freedom of
navigation. They didn't say anything about the freedom of overflights though. And recently
when US aircraft, a recon aircraft, flew over the area, in fact the Chinese Navy told the aircraft
that they were in - over their territory, their airspace. And of course, the US responded to that
they were flying over international airspace. Now... So... And also you mentioned at the
beginning what's happening last week regarding the TPP and what appeared to be a major defeat
for the Obama administration and President Obama, to conclude and - conclude a successful
negotiation on TPP. And Carter compared that, because rebalancing to Asia is not just a
, but he has to have economic support from home, and that TPP would be
equivalent in terms of efficacy to one aircraft carrier, he said. And I don't know whether the
basis for comparison, but nevertheless it showed how important this thing is: that trade multi-
lateral, twelve Pacific nation trade partnership treaties would be. Now with these things, do you
think China might think "well, they're not going to have TPP anymore, and they would conclude
that they would behave differently than they would otherwise?" Another question, I think Danny
Russel, Assistant Secretary of the State for Pacific East Area, and East-Asian Pacific, said not
too long ago South Korea should come out to speak out as a non-claimer on the disputes in the
South China Sea. And there is a concern in Seoul and also in Washington that South Korean
Government is reluctant to be fully on the side of the United States because of their concerns and
also because of their economic interests and their trade with China, and that they're not taking
any strong position. Is it your view also that South Korea is not really taking US side as an ally
as they should, and that South Korean government should also speak up on those issues as well?
Now... But... I want to touch upon a couple more issues, cyber-space security, and also climate
change. President Obama not too long ago, climate change is the number 1 security threat to the
United States, when he went to some commencement thing. And my question is how serious is
climate change as a security threat or security threat - I mean cyber-security, as a threat to the
United States' national security, when
, commander of the Pacific? Also later as
the intelligence, it's hard for the United States?
Moderator: Thank you.
Admiral Blair: Let's see. Those were an - a lot of awfully good questions deserving thoughtful
answers, but let me just give - let me just give some quick reactions because I know we're
running short here. Yes, if the United States fully ratified the law of the sea convention, and we
were a full member, we'd be in a much stronger position to make these arguments within the law
of the sea forums that exist, and we're losing ground there because we are outside and China is
leading a group of like-minded countries to try to refashion some of those interpretations in its -
in its interests. The
The point of fortifying those islands in the South China Sea, whether
it's done by Malaysia or the Philippines or the Chinese, is really at this point sort of a matter of
national pride and ambition. No country has really taken advantage of a - one of those islands or
features to do anything that increasing the national wealth or the national safety. It's really a -
it's really a sort of a sterile competition. But nonetheless, that where we seem to be rather than
making sensible rules that would find out how much natural gas is actually there and make some
scheme for dividing it up or actually setting up a coordinated international set of safety of
navigation system. So it's - It's just a region now of
sand-dredging competition rather
than serious work to develop it for the benefit of its people. It'd be nice if things could change.
The Republic of Korea government is pretty strong on its - what it sees as its own prerogatives
in its neighborhoods. So when the Chinese declare their aides that cover the Senkaku islands and
part of it covered the North Korean aides, they were pretty strong against China. They have -
when China told the Republic of Korea that it did not want a US - a certain US ground based
radar and missile defense system in Korea, Korea said "well, that's our decision. Thank you very
much." So I think - I think that sure Korea wants to trade with China. Everybody wants to trade
with China. But they - they draw a pretty good distinction between their national security
interests and their economic interests, and they're not simply going to be - going to acquiesce to
losses of what they think their sovereignty is in order to - to make another sale in - in China.
Climate change. I don't know if the people who say it's right - or it's going to happen are right,
or the people are wrong. But you know, it's kind of like my insurance, my flood insurance on my
house. I hope I never have to use it, but it's probably a good idea to spend a little money just in
case. So I kind of think we should be doing some things to make it less likely that we'll be faced
with a terrible - terrible situation. And we if do a little bit earlier, that's probably better than
doing a lot later. So I'm in favor of doing some things. And cyber-security is a tremendous - is a
tremendous threat in lots of ways. I don't buy into the concept that cyber-war between nation-
states is going to be the next form of weapons of mass destruction. I've talked with Chinese
leaders about this, and they, like most normal leaders, feel that if countries cut loose malicious
attacks on electrical sys - electrical grids, air traffic control systems, dam control systems of
another country, there'd be huge devastation. They themselves are open to it. So I think there's a
certain - without having arm control treaties, I think there's a certain common sense
understanding on the part of the leaders of countries that this is dangerous stuff that you probably
don't want to get - don't want to get involved in. So I sort of discount that. On the other hand,
we have these cyber-criminals who were - who were going after everything they can just for
profit. And in between you have, mostly Chinese - not entirely - countries that are using their
cyber prowess for what amounts to industrial espionage and the sort of - and the sort of break-
ins to the American Office of Personnel Management records that we've seen in the last couple
of - last couple of - last couple of weeks. And although these don't amount to war, these amount
to huge loss of economic revenues; they amount to a lot of concerns about hostilities and future
things. So the Chinese ought to knock it off. The reason they don't is that there are no penalties
to do so, so they keep on doing it. And we need to find some better ways to - to - to cause
penalties for this kind of behavior.
Moderator: Peter. You came late, so why don't you ask a question?
Peter Huessy: Thank you. I'm Peter Huessy with the Air Force Association and the American -
American Foreign Policy Counsel and well as my own business, Geostrategic Analysis. Let me
make a proposal and get Admiral Blair's response, but also if I could make a comment about
global warming and achieving the Kyoto standards my governor - former governor in the state
of Maryland has said that let's have clean - totally clean economy by 2050. Let's look at some
numbers. If China and India use energy at the rate of the Czech Republic, or the Republic of
Korea, which is about 4000 kilos of coal equivalent, compared to the US, which is about 8200,
you would have to increase six fold the current energy production in the world. The idea that that
can come from non-carbon sources is a fantasy. I remember when I was at the UN environment
program in 1973 while at law school at Columbia University, my boss, Moria Strong, was head
of Petrol Canada, and then head of the UN environment program, asked us to do a study after the
oil embargo of what third world countries alternatives had, given the price of energy at the time,
which went from 2 dollars to 4 dollars a barrel. God, can you imagine having that back? That -
when you look at the numbers and national geographic, scientific Americans, science magazine,
the expenditures for just the United States to meet the Kyoto Standards is 50 trillion dollars over
the next 70 years. And by that period of time, at 2000 - at 2085-90, the temperature of the globe
will go down three tenths of one degree centigrade, other than it otherwise would. And that
doesn't include China and India deciding to basically making it impossible for their people to get
energy. Because you cannot meet the Kyoto Standards and reduce fossil fuels to the extent that
you want, and then have electricity for people in the third world. We can say that because we
have electricity for pretty much everybody except for some of the Native American areas of the
country in Appalachia. So that's my comment on why I think it's a waste of money and time to
push for Kyoto. But let me make a suggestion. And former Congressman Curt Weldon had
proposed this years ago of bringing in Siberian gas through North Korea, South Korea, and Japan,
and have fees taken by each of the countries so they could develop. But let me ask - give you an
idea. We have trillions and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in North Dakota and in various
other parts of the countries. We have currently 28 petitions to build export terminals in the
countries, for which one in Maryland is currently being approved. We could take natural gas and
put it in the Kyoto - in the Keystone pipeline, bring it to the Gulf, put it in ships, go across
Nicaragua, build a canal, rather than having the PLA build it, build it with China as a partner, but
get the PLA out and change Nicaragua and get rid of the Ortega family and give back the money
and everything they've stolen, take that natural gas and send it to China on a long-term 20 year,
25 year deal. 30% of all the air pollution now in California comes from coal burning in China.
And their standards are the toughest in the world in California. But every time they turn around,
the air quality doesn't improve. So they got to ratchet up on industry and car, more air pollution
controls, which don't work because China is producing huge amounts of coal pollutions, sulfur
oxides, zinc oxides, lead oxides, and mercury that come across the ocean in the form of air
pollution. And then China itself, the deaths and cancers of coal pollution went up about a million
and a half people in one year according the World Health Organization. So we could
dramatically curtail coal use in China, improve their environment, improve their healthcare,
improve our balance of trade dramatically, reduce the pollution from carbon coal transferred to
natural gas, and at the same time build a partnership with China, as well as help Central America,
particularly Nicaragua, which is a source, along with Honduras and El Salvador among others of
massive of unknown numbers of illegal immigrants, which don't help us and don't help those
countries. And this would be a win, win, win situation for everybody. Same thing is you have
ANWR. Now I worked for an Alaskan senator, and the pictures they show of you of ANWR are
not ANWR. They're Mount Rainer National Park, Olympic National Park. They're not ANWR.
I've been to ANWR. You may have been there too in the winter.
Admiral Blair: Yeah.
Peter Huessy: Nobody goes there, including the animals. And in the summer, there are more
bugs than there are moose. So if you develop ANWR, you're talking about developing an area
the size of a postage stamp on an NFL football field. And the oil pipeline is called TAPS, Trans
Alaskan Pipeline. That's what I did when I came into the Senate and worked for Mark Gravel.
We passed TAPS 95-5. And that pipeline is now diminished in terms of its carrying capacity. It's
only got 700,000 barrels of oil a day. It needs a million and a half to 2 million. You could take
the ANWR oil, bring it through the pipeline, and guess what you do with that oil. You could
swap it by sending it across the Pacific to China, and in return get China to help with respect to
the swab with oil in the Persian Gulf to go to us. It doesn't have to - you can do it any way you
want. Here's a golden opportunity and yet we now have spent 79 months deciding whether or not
to do the pipeline from North Dakota to the gulf. 79 months. We could have fought - We could
have fought World War 2 twice plus a little left over. All the 75 law says is that as it crosses an
international boundary, their state department has to tell us it's okay. Well they've already said,
what, four times that it's okay? What are we waiting for? This is the kind of "let's stop being
children" and grow up. We have the resource. We can build the pipeline. We did the Alaskan
Pipeline in 27 months. And it worked. And it brought millions of barrels of oil to America and -
with no pollution. The pollution caused by the tanker that crashed was because the pilot was
drunk. Which is not my idea - you don't operate a tanker that way but that - the oil spill about
this was not due to the pipeline, it was due to the way the tanker was operated. So Admiral, I
would suggest that instead of doing Kyoto, we do energy deals with China. Because as you know
they got a billion what, three? And India's got a billion three. And when you combine those two,
third of the world's population plus or minus, and they're desperate for energy, we have energy.
Let's make a deal.
Moderator: Thank you. Thank you, Peter. And any other comments? We have just one more
minute. Last minute with the honorable Admiral. Please, stand up. Identify yourself.
Moderator: Would you speak up from here, we cannot hear you. Come on up.
Crowd Member: Okay my name is David Lee. I am from New York, the president of Korean-
Committee. It's very exciting. I am also graduate of Korea Air Force
Academy. My colleague just finished Korean chief of staff. So we have so much concern about
what's going on about there. The one thing I want to know is a little bit tricky. China is enemy or
ally to America? Simple question, okay? Because...
Admiral Blair: Right.
David Lee: So many things is confusing. Rebalancing is against China.
Admiral Blair: Right.
David Lee: Because it's different... Soviet Union and China is different entity, I truly believe.
Admiral Blair: Right.
David Lee: Because Soviet Union we did not have any interaction with them at all. But China,
they are growing up because America losing an opportunity managing them. I don't know my
terminology, managing, is suitable, because war against terrorism, right? So now it's a very
tricky situation, so many people got confusing, especially the Korea right over there. There's so
much confusing because what's going on. China is enemy or ally? One aspect, they coordinating
and cooperating together. The other way, there's so much hostility with each other, like Southern
China Sea, and all the other aspects. So that angle, like rebalancing, what is it about? What
exactly? And is it delivered? And all the framework, they're gone after it, right? They're still in
this administration? So so many message is unclear? So I just want a simple question? China is
enemy, or ally?
Moderator: Thank you
Admiral Blair: Well that's a - quite a question to finish off with, but... I think the - I think the
answer is that China is a - a country that's developing rapidly, that we can work with in a
friendly fashion on a wide range of - wide range of issues, that we wish China well in all of the
internal development, raising the standard of living of its people, and so on, but that we are
concerned that China will, especially being an authoritarian country as it grows, will treat the
region the way it treats its own people, which is telling them what to do, not listening to them
very well, imposing its own - its own wishes on them. So our relationship with China is
cooperating and cheering them in many areas, and in other areas saying "you cannot have what
you seem to want" in those areas. You cannot own the entire Southern China Sea. You cannot
take Taiwan by sea. You cannot - you cannot impose your - you cannot steal American
intellectual property and use it illegally in your country. So it's a mixture. It's a mixture, and I
think that's the reality of the situation. And actually, most relationships between countries are
mixtures, aren't they? Some things go well. Some things go badly. You fight. We even had big
disputes with Canada, for heaven's sakes. And they're two countries that are very close. So I
don't think it's unusual. It's just on a bigger scale because of China's size and so on. And I think
that the, you know, I spent a lot of time in China, and I know a lot of Chinese - I think the thing
that reassures me, I think when President Xi wakes up every morning and things about his top
ten concerns, that they always have to do with Chinese development and internal Chinese
problems, and improving those half of his people who are still very poor and need to - and down
there right at the bottom of the list are these issues that involve pushing Chinese claims over
those of their neighbors. And I think that China, in order to solve more of its more important
problems, needs to have a good relationship with the rest of the world so there will be investment,
trade, and ability to cooperate on things like energy, as Peter as said. And that even though they
grind their teeth and say the Americans after flying their airplanes over their islands, and the
Koreans are objecting to their aides, and the Japanese are taking the Senkakus, once they get
over being angry about that and they sit down and think about it clearly, they say "you know, we
really need a peaceful international situation in order to do more important things. And we're
going to have to support that." And that's what they by and large do. So that doesn't mean you
sit there and think that China is going to turn out fine and make concessions on every issue. You
have to set the lines that you think are important to your country and you have to support them.
But you can do it in the spirit of thinking that this thing can turn out right in the end and that's
good I think, rather than doing in the spirit of "we have to get ourselves ready to fight China one
day and this is going to be some inevitable clash that we might as well get started on now." I
think that's the wrong way of approaching of it.
Moderator: Well, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much. Let's give Admiral Blair a big
round of applause.