Keeping Peace in Pacific Is Crucial, Army General Says at Hawaii Conference

May 17, 2024
U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs Office  Gen. Charles Flynn, commander, U.S. Army Pacific

The Association of the U.S. Army kicked off its annual Land Power in the Pacific Symposium on Tuesday at the Sheraton Waikiki, bringing in attendees from 30 countries.

In an opening keynote address, U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Charles Flynn gave a somber warning, telling attendees that “the global security situation is becoming more perilous. With a limited regional war in Europe — and now another in the Middle East — the last thing humanity can afford is another war. Especially in this region, and especially since the geostrategic weight of this century exists in Asia. Our foremost task must be to preserve the peace.”

The remarks come as tensions have simmered in the region, with China locked in a series of territorial disputes with neighboring countries and North Korea accelerating weapons-testing programs. Both China and North Korea have accused the U.S. of stoking tensions and interfering in regional matters that don’t concern it.

In Waikiki, Flynn told attendees that “we maintain deterrence against any would-be aggressor, and against those such as the Chinese Communist Party, Russia and ( North Korea) who seek to upend the existing order for the benefit of only themselves. … Our armies, those represented in this room, exist not to conquer. Rather, our armies exist to defend. This is not the case for those harboring ambitions of conquest — those using coercion, intimidation and threats as their primary means.”

Organizers said that this year’s conference is the largest iteration yet, with 2,000 participants — including 13 army chiefs from around the world.

Hawaii’s central location between the U.S. mainland and Asia has long made it a favored meeting place for diplomats and military officials. This year at LANPAC, the event brought in 75 corporate vendors promoting everything from camouflage uniforms to missile systems for visiting military officials.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi stopped by to walk the showroom floor with Flynn.

“Since I’ve even been in office, my own awareness has been heightened, given the tensions in this Pacific region, especially as a result of China,” Blangiardi said. “You have this kind of assemblage here happening, understanding what it means to us: world peace, world security. Some 30 different armies sent their top people here … so I’m really pleased that we’re hosting it. I’m grateful that it’s happening, and it’s something to be very proud of.”

The conference kicked off a week after the U.S. military wrapped up the annual Exercise Balikatan in the Philippines. It was the largest iteration yet of the exercise, with 17,600 military personnel from the Philippines, United States, Australia and France conducting drills on land and sea. It included a ship-sinking exercise, coastal defense drills and a simulated retaking of a captured island near disputed waters that China claims as its own.

But while most U.S. Navy and Marine forces are heading home, the Hawaii-based Army troops continue to train with Philippine forces with exercise Salakanib. During a news conference at LANPAC, Flynn told reporters, “It’s important because that means we can remain partnered for a longer period of time with the Philippine army (and) the Philippine armed forces during the joint exercise.”

In April, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the his country’s military is shifting from a decades-long focus on fighting communist and Muslim insurgents to external defense to protect the country’s territory amid ongoing disputes with China off its shore. Beijing has accused the Philippines of aggression and provocation and called for the U.S. — a treaty ally of the Philippines — to stay out of the disputes.

China and the Philippines have sparred over the disputed Spratly Islands, many of which reside in a region the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea. In 2016 an international court ruled in the Philippines’ favor and declared that China’s terri­torial claims had “no legal basis.” But the Chinese military has since doubled down, building bases on disputed islands and reefs, and frequently harassing and attacking Filipino fishermen and other maritime workers.

Since taking command of USARPAC in 2021, Flynn has fought to highlight the work of Army forces across a region that is defined by ocean and that many in the national security establishment have historically associated with naval forces. It has made him a sometimes divisive figure among American forces in the Pacific. Since the establishment of the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific command at Camp Smith, it has always had an admiral at the helm.

But on Tuesday, Flynn told the audience during his keynote, “My conviction is stronger today because of what I have witnessed and because of what we are doing together. While all forms of military power are important in this region, land power is often overlooked. It tends to be discounted.”

Still, Flynn acknowledged that for the Army, operating in a region defined by vast ocean distances is a challenge that requires a lot of resources and effort.

“We’re the service without a ride,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “So we need a lift. And when you move the U.S. Army, you actually exercise the logistical and transportation enterprise of the (entire) Department of Defense. … All of these things have to be exercised all the time when you move the Army from nation to nation or within the region.”

He explained that “the activity of creating the logistics backbone … has to happen in each one of these countries. … This is an area that … takes constant practice, it takes constant rehearsing and, actually, it takes deep coordination and permissions from the countries that we’re operating in.”

The U.S. government has in recent months sought to bolster diplomatic efforts with China in an effort to lower tensions. In April, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had his first conversation with China’s current defense minister, Adm. Dong Jun, in a phone call.

In a readout after the call, the Pentagon said Austin “underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.” The Chinese Defense Ministry said Dong called for China and the U.S. to explore ways to “get along” and “gradually accumulate mutual trust.”

“Ultimately, that’s the goal here, is to stop anything from happening,” Flynn said. “But we have to do that from a position of strength; we have to do that from a position of advantage, and that advantage is by being forward and being persistent partners together.”

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