Suggested Questions for Congressional Hearings on U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea

March 24, 2014

As the United States works to implement its strategy of “rebalancing” to Asia, it is also set to enter, in fiscal year 2015, the third year of legally-mandated deep cuts to defense spending.  Amid worries about the growing mismatch between America’s Asia Rebalance strategy and the resources required to implement it, Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Army General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, are scheduled to appear in hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee and House Appropriations Committee this week.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hopes that the following questions will be helpful as congressional lawmakers, their staffers, and the wider public prepare for these hearings.

(1) In February 2014, General Herbert Carlisle, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, warned in an interview that America’s cancellation of a number of military-to-military exercises in Asia is “incredibly concerning amongst our friends, partners and allies,” and added:  “If there is any angst out here [from allies], it is the budget situation we are facing; the rebalance of the Pacific; and if, given the fiscal constraints that the U.S. has, if we are going to be able to follow through on that.”

  • Admiral Locklear and General Scaparrotti, do you agree with General Carlisle’s warning that allies in Asia are feeling “angst” about America’s ability to resource and execute its Asia Rebalance strategy?  What specific concerns have you heard from our allies?
  • If allies do become gravely worried about America’s ability to realize the Asia Rebalance, what consequences could that have for the United States, as well as for the cohesiveness and interdependence of its various bilateral alliances in the Indo-Pacific?

(2) In early March 2014, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina McFarland warned:  “Right now, the [Asia Rebalance strategy] is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen” due to legally-mandated deep cuts to defense spending.  Although McFarland later clarified and reversed her statement, her original remarks dovetail with those of General Carlisle of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, who said in a February interview that “the resources have not followed the [commitment] of rebalance into the Pacific....”

  • Admiral Locklear and General Scaparrotti, if sequestration-level cuts to defense spending persist over the next five years, what sort of gap will these cuts create between America’s Asia Rebalance strategy and the resources required to realize it?  What gaps are we seeing today?
  • What specific military risks will the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other Asian allies face, if the Defense Department suffers sequestration-level cuts over the next five years?  How might the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, or other regional actors capitalize on that situation?

(3) In late February 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2015 will maintain 11 carrier strike groups.  However, Hagel warned that “we will have to make a final decision on the future of the George Washington aircraft carrier in the 2016 budget submission,” explaining:  “If sequestration spending levels remain in place in fiscal year 2016, she would need to be retired before her scheduled nuclear refueling and overhaul.  That would leave the Navy with 10 carrier strike groups.”

  • Admiral Locklear, if sequester-level spending caps persist into fiscal year 2016 and beyond, how will the potential downsizing from 11 to 10 carrier strike groups impact operations in the Pacific Command’s area of responsibility?

(4) In November 2013, the People’s Republic of China announced the creation of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that covered large portions of the East China Sea, including the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands.  Senior officials in the Chinese military also reportedly said that establishing a second ADIZ over the South China Sea would be in the country’s interest.  However, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russell recently told House lawmakers that “[a]ny Chinese claim to maritime rights not based on claimed land features [in the South China Sea] would be inconsistent with international law.”

  • Admiral Locklear, what do you believe were China’s motives in imposing an Air Defense Identification Zone over areas in the East China Sea where Beijing has conflicting maritime and territorial claims with its neighbors?  How concerned are you that China may move to impose an ADIZ over the South China Sea?
  • Given that both China and Taiwan have similar claims in the East and South China Seas, how do you view Taiwan’s more responsible approach to the issue, as characterized by the fisheries agreement reached between Taipei and Tokyo last spring?

(5) News reports suggest President Obama could sign an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines during his visit to Manila in April 2014.  The agreement reportedly would give the U.S. military increased access to Filipino facilities.  The United States already has similar access agreements with Australia and Singapore.

  • Admiral Locklear, why would an access agreement with the Philippines be important to the U.S. military?  In addition to the Philippines, where else is the United States exploring options for additional basing or access arrangements in the Asia-Pacific?
  • How concerned are you that China—which recently used Coast Guard cutters to blockade Filipino supply ships bound for the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippines Sea—may try to force Filipino units from that shoal?  What actions could the United States take to help Manila ensure that those Filipino units remains supplied?

(6) With the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) continuing to modernize its surface naval force, Jesse Karotkin, a Senior Intelligence Officer for China in the Office of Naval Intelligence, recently told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission:  “Currently, approximately 65 percent of China’s destroyers and frigates are modern.  By 2020 that figure will rise to an estimated 85 percent.”

  • Admiral Locklear, what military risks could the Chinese navy’s increasingly advanced force of surface vessels pose to the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific?
  • How could China’s ability to operate not only further away from the Chinese mainland, but also beyond the first island chain, impact the U.S. Navy’s posture and operations in the Pacific Ocean?

(7) Over the past month, North Korea launched yet another series of short-range ballistic missile barrages into the Sea of Japan.  Moreover, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper reported to lawmakers that “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia," adding:  “North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor, destroyed in 2007, illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities.”  In April 2013, the Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly assessed, with moderate confidence, that the “North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low.”

  • General Scaparrotti and Admiral Locklear, could you describe the threat that North Korea’s missile and weapons of mass destruction programs pose to the United States and our allies, South Korea and Japan?  How sophisticated are North Korea’s abilities?  How important are U.S. missile defense programs, in cooperation with our allies, in meeting this threat? 

(8) News reports suggest South Korea will reduce the size of its armed forces from 640,000 to 522,000 by 2022.  The United States is set to hand over wartime control of allied forces on the Korean Peninsula to South Korea by December 2015.

  • General Scaparrotti and Admiral Locklear, when the United States and South Korea agreed to postpone the transfer of wartime operational control in June 2010, U.S. officials noted that doing so would send an important message about American staying power in the region and strengthen South Korea’s defenses.  Given that North Korea is as great a threat today as it was four years ago, would you support an additional postponement beyond December 2015?

(9) In January 2014, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) to participate with Indian forces and the U.S. Navy in the MALABAR maritime exercises later this year.

  • Admiral Locklear, what near-term and long-term potential do you see for the U.S. Navy to deepen trilateral maritime cooperation with India and Japan in the Indo-Pacific?  What are the biggest obstacles to realizing that potential?

(10) President Obama will hold a trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Europe this week.  As you know, South Korea and Japan postponed in June 2012 the signing an important intelligence-sharing agreement.  As the Washington Post reported at the time:  “The pact had been designed to allow Tokyo and Seoul to exchange classified information on their mutual concerns—specifically, China’s military and North Korea’s weapons program.”

  • Admiral Locklear and General Scaparrotti, how would you characterize the frequency and intensity of bilateral military-to-military cooperation between South Korea and Japan?  What steps should the United States take to increase Japanese-South Korean military-to-military cooperation?
  • How important to the United States is the pending intelligence-sharing agreement between Japan and South Korea?  Do you foresee any opportunities in the near future to encourage Seoul and Tokyo to conclude that agreement?

Mission Statement

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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