Former U.S. Pacific Command Head Touts Alliance; Harris Sees China, World Through ‘Dark Lens’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Retired Adm. Harry Harris

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, during his state visit to the United States, held talks with U.S. President Joe Biden and addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, heralding a new phase of the Japan-U.S. alliance tackling a number of issues in the world. Harry Harris, a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (now the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command) said the alliance is “stronger than ever” during a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun. The following is excerpted from the interview.

Hearkening back to my military background, I view the world through a dark lens. I see the challenges facing the United States and our allies through that dark lens. So when I look across the Indo-Pacific, I see a revisionist China, a revanchist Russia, and a very aggressive North Korea with nuclear ambitions. I’m concerned about the growing alignment between North Korea, China, Russia and with Iran.

The world is more dangerous now than it ever has been since World War II. We see that in Russia on Ukraine today. We see the bullying by China on Taiwan and the Philippines. There are more nuclear powers and more countries with nuclear ambitions.

It’s the first time for a Japanese sitting prime minister to make a state visit to the United States in nine years. It’s both seminal and historic. The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability, prosperity. This is a significant visit occurring at a very important time, not only for the United States and Japan, and not only really for the Indo-Pacific region, but globally.

And I’ve been associated with the U.S.-Japan alliance for all of my military career of 40 years, up until 2018. Prime Minister Kishida’s commitment to doubling Japan’s defense budget is significant. Japan is stepping up to the plate in a big way. I believe our alliance is stronger now than it has ever been.

The relationship between the U.S. military in Japan, which is there to defend Japan, and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces has always been close. But there are significant ways to improve coordination. That is because the Self-Defense Forces are far more capable now than they ever have been. And Japan has assumed a leadership role in in greater ways than it has in the past.

The need for coordination [in the event of conflict] is greater now than it has been a long time. It’s important to have that preparation, before you have the need for it.

I’m glad to see Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden meeting, as well as Philippine President [Ferdinand Marcos Jr.]

China conducts what we call gray zone warfare in the South China Sea. They use forces that are not purely military, such as the China Coast Guard. The Japan Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard have to be able to help the Philippines in that regard. What happens in the South China Sea matters to Japan. Because if you look at all of the stuff that Japan gets from the Middle East and South Asia, all that stuff goes through waters adjacent to the Philippines.

[As the U.S. presidential election is scheduled for November] you’re seeing political divisions play out in Washington. I think our adversaries are doing a happy dance when they see that stuff happening. But that’s the nature of democracy. I don’t think [it makes the United States] weaker.

It’s our resolve [to continue exercising leadership]. The U.S.- Japan alliance has become stronger, and we have two new members in NATO, Sweden and Finland. This is a team sport [to defend Ukraine and the rest of the world]. I think we’re going to be fine.

Retired Adm. Harry Harris, 67, was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. His father served in the U.S. military and his mother was Japanese. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1978, and participated as a naval flight officer in a number of operations. His graduate education included Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He also served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea.