Admiral Harry Harris’s Keynote Speech (Summary) – 2014 Annual Conference

The following is a summary of the Keynote Speech by Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, at the 2014 U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference on October 10, 2014. 


The Opening Plenary of the 2014 USJC Annual Conference kicked off with a keynote speech from the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry B. Harris, who spoke about the significance of the Asia-Pacific region, the rebalance to Asia and the importance of organizations like the U.S.-Japan Council for the future of U.S.-Japan relations.

Following an introduction by Glen Fukushima (Member of the USJC Board of Councilors and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress) as the current “highest ranking Asian American to receive the rank of four-star admiral,” Admiral Harris took the stage. He spoke about his pride in being part of a military service that has a long history, the importance of maritime security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and how the relationship between the U.S. and Japan “matters a great deal.”

Admiral Harris was born in Yokosuka, Japan and raised in Tennessee and Florida. He has served in every combatant region in the world, and knows firsthand how the Pacific region is so critical to the security of the world. He explained how the Pacific Fleet covers everything “from Hollywood to Bollywood, to penguins to polar bears” and why the Pacific (and thus the Navy being in the Pacific) is so important: for example, 70% of the Earth is covered by water, 80% of people live near the coast, 90% of global commerce is driven by the sea, and 99% of international internet communications (emails, banking transactions) is via fiberoptic cables under the sea.

The Admiral also spoke about a spectrum of needs in the region, from humanitarian assistance to forced combat. The Pacific is where the Ring of Fire exists: as he put it, “if mother nature can dish it out, it’s in this ring of fire,” and more people live inside this circle than on the outside. He also mentioned that 42% of the world’s oceans are covered by someone’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), and that the freedom to navigate through those EEZ is important for trade, commerce, etc. Therefore, maintaining maritime security for access to resources and trade is important for the world.

As Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harris shared the top three questions the audience usually asks him: 1) What keeps you up at night?, 2) What about China? and 3) Is the Rebalance [to the Pacific] real? The following were his answers.

In response to the first question of what keeps him up at night, his answer was North Korea, which he sees as the most volatile challenge. In addition to that, he mentioned the difficulty of unresolved territorial disputes such as the ones between Japan and Russia, between China, Korea and Japan, between China and everyone else in the southern regions.

In response to the second question on China, he pushed the need for military dialogue and said that “I believe the Pacific is large enough for all of us – U.S., Korea, China, Brunei, etc. It is big enough for all of us, and we have to work together.”

In response to the third and last question of whether the Rebalance is real, he quoted U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and said, “the rebalance is real, and it’s already here; it’s a reality.” He added that 52% of the U.S. Navy is in the Pacific, and that by 2020 that number will increase to 60%. He spoke about the need for forward presence when it comes to humanitarian response, and about the bilateral readiness training programs being done with various countries in the region.

He concluded his speech by stressing the importance of these relationships: “Our strength depends on organizations such as these: the U.S.-Japan Council, TOMODACHI, Mansfield, JASH, etc. These organizations matter, you matter, and the strength we get from the military we get from organizations like yours.”

Click here to see more photos from Admiral Harris’s speech and the Opening Plenary session of the 2014 Annual Conference.

Click here to learn more about the 2014 Annual Conference.