GlobalWonk recently had the great fortune to meet Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander, United States Pacific Command. CINCPAC for us old timers. He gave a briefing on security in his area of responsibility for the President’s Council at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
First, he is a very engaging speaker. Being a naval aviator, and forty plus years in the service gives you quite a bit of experience to draw upon when public speaking. He is due to retire in October. He will do well on the speaking circuit. I hope to have him attend a future GlobalWonk event and participate in the discussion.
He made a comment that gave me, as a veteran of the Army, goosebumps. He said that since he entered the Naval Academy all those years ago, all he has worn during his professional life was this, and he gestures to the immaculate uniform he is wearing, “the cloth of our nation”.
Admiral Keating ran down the thirty-six countries in his area of responsibility. Providing a SITREP on each. Japan, China, North Korea. He stated that in all the official visits he has made to heads-of-state, ministers, and military chiefs in the region; he receives one consistent message. The United States is an “indispensable presence” in maintaining stability in the region.
On North Korea he is confident the U.S. military has the capacity to prevent missiles from reaching U.S. territories, or harming allies in the region. He said that there is no planning currently underway for a military option in the nuclear standoff with the DPRK. I communicated to him my belief, from my visit to North Korea in September 2008, that occupying North Korea would make Afghanistan, or Iraq, look like a picnic in comparison. The people of North Korea live a life Americans can hardly imagine, and are raised from childhood to revile us. As I had recently spent five days in-country, he was interested in my perspective. I think we both agreed that a military option in North Korea should be one of last resort.
He is impressed with the strength of the U.S./Japan alliance. He mentioned that it would have been unimaginable just ten years ago to think that a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. George Washington, would be stationed in Japanese waters.
His most interesting comments regarded China. He feels that the United States military does not see China as a threat. He says that they welcome, and encourage China to take a more active role in the security, and stability of the region. He made it clear that we do this at a pace they are comfortable with. He thought it would be many years before China would be capable of projecting military force beyond their immediate shores. He stated that he did not believe that was their intentions at this point.
I thought it was refreshing to hear these comments from a military commander of his stature. When I left the military in 1992 all I remember hearing was that the Soviets were gone, and China was the next near peer to worry about.
I hope for all of us, and our children, that this is true. As we know, the relationship between the United States and China, or Chimerica, as Niall Ferguson has dubbed it, can go either way.