FPI Suggested Questions for SASC Hearing on Asia-Pacific Security

April 16, 2015

This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold an important hearing on Asia-Pacific security issues.  Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, and Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of U.S. Forces-Korea, will deliver testimony and answer questions from the panel.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes the following questions will be helpful for lawmakers and their staff as they prepare for this important hearing.


Since 2012, this administration has pursued a strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific, informally known as the pivot to Asia. This month, Secretary Carter delivered an address on the future of the pivot. What remains unclear is the extent to which any actual rebalancing has taken place, particularly in the military domain. The Navy says that it will increase its allocation of ships in the Pacific from 50 to 60 percent, yet the Navy is shrinking, so this won’t result in the presence of additional ships. A few thousand Marines now rotate through Australia, but that is a token measure at best.

  • Admiral Locklear, do you agree that since the size of the Navy is shrinking, devoting a greater percentage of ships to the Asia-Pacific will not actually result in the presence of more ships?
  • Have the Army, Air Force or Marine Corps made any decisions that demonstrate their treatment of Asia as a greater priority than before?
  • In his speech, Secretary Carter listed a range of modernization efforts relevant to the Asia-Pacific. Isn’t it true that these represent the continuation of previous efforts, rather than indications of any new priority being placed on Asia?
  • Will it be possible for DOD to rebalance toward Asia in any meaningful way while sequestration remains in place, thus preventing new investments?

Last May, before stepping down, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, “China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea…But we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force.” He added, “The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.”

  • Admiral Locklear, do you agree that China has only escalated its campaign of destabilizing and unilateral actions since Secretary Hagel issued his warning?
  • Would you agree this represents a failure of deterrence on the part of the United States and its allies in the region?
  • Secretary Hagel insisted the U.S. would not look the other way when confronted by such a challenge. What steps have you and the forces under your command taken in order to deter Chinese intimidation of its neighbors?

After the invasion of Crimea, President Obama often asserted that the U.S. and its allies would impose substantial costs on the Kremlin for its aggressive behavior, yet Vladimir Putin has continued to escalate the war in Ukraine. President Obama warned Bashar al-Assad that if he crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons, the United States would take military action. Today, Assad continues to employ chlorine gas to terrorize and murder civilians. On Tuesday, Dr. Michael Green testified before this committee that “events in Syria and Ukraine have raised questions about American willpower” regarding its commitments in Asia.

  • Admiral Locklear, do you agree with Dr. Green that more and more Asians have begun to question our willpower? Do you agree that American conduct in Ukraine and Syria is a significant cause of their diminished confidence?

China has often asserted its sovereignty over the South China Sea on the basis of the so-called “nine-dash line”. Last year, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel R. Russell testified unequivocally that there is no legal basis for such claims.  “Maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features,” he said, “Any use of the ‘nine dash line’ by China to claim maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law.” Russell added that the U.S. would welcome an adjustment or clarification of China’s claims.

  • Admiral Locklear, has China either adjusted its claims to conform to international law or has it clarified the supposed legal basis for the nine-dash line?
  • What is your command’s assessment of why the Chinese government advances such transparently false and provocative claims?
  • Do you believe that China is willing to risk war with its neighbors and/or the United States in order to assert its sovereignty over the disputed waters? Or will it retreat once the U.S. and its allies demonstrate greater resolve?

Admiral Locklear, last year you testified, “in the region, the balance of power will continue to shift in the direction of the Chinese depending on how much more investments they make and depending on what our forces look like forward.” Last month, China announced that its defense budget would grow another 10 percent in 2015. Although official statistics are not reliable, a leading estimate suggests that Chinese defense spending sped past $200 billion per year in 2014, a six-fold increase over the course of 15 years. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s base budget has fallen by 14 percent over the past five years. If sequestration continues, the number of ships in our navy will decline even further.

  • Admiral Locklear, in light of these facts, do you agree that the balance of power continues to shift in China’s favor?
  • Has it already reached a point where China has a military advantage over the United States in regional waters, inside the “first island chain”?
  • Is it possible to begin shifting the balance back in our favor while sequestration remains in place?
  • Does the continuing shift in China’s favor undermine the U.S. ability to deter provocative behavior, such as China’s intimidation tactics in the South and East China Seas? 

North Korea

North Korea’s cyber-attack on Sony provided a wake-up call to a lot of people who didn’t believe that the DPRK had significant cyber capabilities. Yet this committee received an appropriate warning well in advance. Last year, General Scaparotti told us, “the regime is aggressively investing in cyber warfare capabilities.” General, you said that the North Koreans “have been known to use their cyber capability,” as illustrated by their attack on South Korean banking institutions. Furthermore, you said, “their capabilities are gaining.”

  • General Scaparotti, has your assessment of North Korean capabilities and intentions changed since you spoke to us last year?
  • Admiral Locklear, you testified that the United States has “a considerable advantage in cyberspace compared to the rest of the main actors in the world,” an advantage that will only increase over time. Is there any need to revise that assessment in light of the Sony attack?
  • How has North Korea been able to develop significant cyber capabilities given the country’s isolation from the internet?
  • News reports indicate that North Korean personnel conduct cyber operations from the city of Shenyang in northeastern China near the Korean border. Is this true? Does it indicate that China supports, or at least has knowledge of, North Korean cyber warfare activities?

In December, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake from Bloomberg View reported, “A new analysis of North Korea’s nuclear program by a group of top U.S. experts, led by David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimates that North Korea could have enough material for 79 nuclear weapons by 2020.”

  • Admiral Locklear and General Scaparotti, do you also assess that North Kroea will have enough material for almost 80 nuclear weapons in just five years’ time?

Last year, General Scaparotti, testified that North Korea was on pace to have ballistic missiles that could hit the U.S. homeland by 2024. You also said they were on pace to have plutonium weapons, not just uranium-based nuclear bombs, by 2024.

  • General Scaparotti, is North Korea still on pace to achieve those two objectives by 2024? Are there any measures the U.S. can take to lengthen that timeline?
  • General Scaparotti, do you believe that North Korea currently has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead so it can be delivered by a missile?
  • In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that the South Korean Ministry of Defense did not believe the North Korean miniaturization program was as advanced as you did. Is your assessment different from the South Koreans’? If so, what factors account for that divergence?
  • General Scaparotti, do you believe that North Korea is pursuing the ability to launch cruise and/or ballistic missiles from its submarines, as indicated by a report from the research group 38north? How viable is such an endeavor?

North Korea has a long record of engaging in illicit weapons trafficking activity, including the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. It is believed, for example, that North Korea provided essential support for the construction of the al-Kibar reactor in Syria, which Israeli airstrikes destroyed in 2007.

  • General Scaparotti, is North Korea currently engaged in selling weapons to Iran, Syria and/or the terrorist groups they sponsor, such as Hezbollah?
  • Is North Korea currently providing any form of nuclear technology to Iran or Syria?

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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