Pacific Century: Tip Of The Spear: The View From Indo-Pacific Command

interview with Admiral Phil Davidson, Michael R. Auslin, John Yoo
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Misha and John are joined by Admiral Phil Davidson, Commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, for his last public interview before retiring from the Navy.  Adm. Davidson discusses what it’s like to run the world’s largest military command, the weapons systems he’d like to have, China’s growing challenge, the threat of Chinese and North Korean nuclear weapons, and working with allies.

Read the transcript of this conversation below:

John Yoo: Welcome everybody to another installment of The Pacific Century, the Hoover Institution's podcast on China, the Pacific and America, and the future of the 21st Century. I'm John Yoo, I'm a professor at UC Berkeley and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. I'm joined my co-host, Misha  Auslin, fellow at the Hoover Institution as well. Say hi to everybody, Misha .

Michael Auslin: Hi everybody.

John Yoo: We've got a great guest who Misha’s  going to introduce now and then we're going to go right to some questions. Really looking forward to this. This is a really great opportunity. Misha , who do we have with us today?

Michael Auslin: John, we do. We are honored to have Admiral Phil Davidson join us. Admiral Davidson, many of you already know and have worked with him, but he is, for those who don't know, the 25th Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, which is America's oldest and largest military combatant command. He is based in Hawaii, and there are 380,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Department of Defense civilians at Indo-Pacific Command. It's responsible for all of U.S. military activities in the Indo-Pacific. That covers 36 nations, 14  time zones, and more than 50% of the world's population.

Michael Auslin: Admiral Davidson has been in the Navy since 1982. He's a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He's a surface warfare officer and he has deployed across the globe in frigates, destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers and has served at command levels in Northern Command, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa. We're going to talk a little bit about his career and talk about of course what he's doing currently in the Indo-Pacific but first, Admiral Davidson, welcome to The Pacific Century.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Thank you so much Misha and John. It's good to join Hoover in this conversation. Thanks a bunch.

Michael Auslin: We're thrilled to have you. John, over to you.

John Yoo: So Admiral, before we get to the substance, I just want to ask a personal question. It says in your bio you grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. How does a landlubber like you end up in the Navy? I had to double-check Wikipedia to make sure, but it looks like Missouri is smack dab in the middle of the United States, as far from either of the oceans as you could probably get and still be in the United States. How is it that you ended up wanting to be in the Navy? Shouldn't you be like in the Army or the Air Force or maybe those people you cart around, the Marine Corps, but the Navy, how did that happen?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Thanks for the question John, I appreciate it. Actually, I had not seen the ocean in my lifetime until I was 18 years old.

John Yoo: Really?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Not before I got to Annapolis, yes. So yeah, [crosstalk 00:03:01]-

John Yoo: That's amazing. So was it you show up at Annapolis, they say, "We want to show you the ocean when you get to Annapolis," and it's at the Atlantic Ocean, that's your first time?

Admiral Phil Davidson: That's exactly right. I have a brother that preceded me actually at Annapolis so I was familiar with his experience certainly and had been to Annapolis and I was really anxious to go. For a 17-year-old, a hard decision and your lifestyle choices then are probably pretty simple and really all I could think about at 17 is when I'm 22, 23 years old, I don't think I want to sit at a desk. I'd like to have a bigger adventure early and that's how I ended up there.

Michael Auslin: I think the bigger question Admiral is, coming from St. Louis, and I speak now as a Chicagoan, so you know where this is going. Are you a Cards fan?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Oh yeah.

Michael Auslin: Oh boy.

Admiral Phil Davidson: My wife is a lunatic Cards fan.

Michael Auslin: Oh boy. Oh boy.

Admiral Phil Davidson: And I guess the interview is over, John.

Michael Auslin: This is going to be a much rougher interview. Now if we were lawyers and John is, we'd say, permission to treat as a hostile witness.

John Yoo: Really.

Admiral Phil Davidson: [crosstalk] funny.

Michael Auslin: That's where we'd be going now. So now that we know that it was the lure of the sea and your brother that brought you out, I mean, so you do serve in ... I think it's hard for a lot of Americans to understand the scope of INDOPACOM and I, of course, just gave a few of the statistics. Maybe we could start out actually with sort of the bird's eye view as the commander as you see the region and how do you approach it? I mean obviously there's China but then there're allies and there're tiny islands. I mean, literally as you sit at the desk, what does it mean to you that we have an Indo-Pacific Command for the security of the United States, and after that we want to get into some of the specifics about recent testimony that you've done, but maybe you can tell us how you approach the day of saying, "This is more than 50% of the Earth's surface." How do you do that?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Thanks for the question, Misha  Really, I look at it quite simply. I was in a briefing when I was the Sixth Fleet Commander and the Striking and Support Forces NATO Commander in Europe. It was in London and it was about the demography of the Asia-Pacific, and this was in 2013, I think off the top of my head, if not  2014 perhaps, and I was struck by two simple facts. First, that two-thirds of the world's population by 2030 would be in the Indo-Pacific, and secondly, two-thirds of the global economy would be centered on the Indo-Pacific. That instantly made it clear to me that the prosperity of the United States and its security concerns would be focused on the Indo-Pacific in the future.

Michael Auslin: So the way that the combatant command works of course and, after Goldwater-Nichols, is that you are responsible directly to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and then the Secretary of Defense and the President. But underneath you are other four-star general officers. How do you work together in the sense that, though you're a Navy admiral, you really have to be able to integrate all of the different elements of U.S. power in the region? What is it like working with the different major commands underneath you and what, maybe briefly so our audience can understand, what does each bring to the table? They all are very different.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Yeah, thanks. It was a joint headquarters and my experience here in INDOPACOM is really not any different than any of the other combatant commanders. We have a component structure, service by service that serves us. I've benefited from the fact that we have four-star headquarters here. Two of the five of them are really remnants of the World War II era, in which it took major theater operations with the naval component and the air component over time during the war to have four-star headquarters that could then command and control multiple three-star operational level headquarters going forward. In just Pacific Fleet's case, you've got Third Fleet managing essentially the eastern half of the Pacific and the Seventh Fleet managing the western half. You have to have a four-star commander that can integrate those things together.

Admiral Phil Davidson: My conversations and the work with them are pretty seamless. I benefit from the fact that all of them are here in Hawaii. So I see them all quite frequently, even by video and teleconference, I had one just a couple hours ago in which all my component commanders came together on concerns we have about the remainder of the calendar year. So that gives us an opportunity to really integrate the planning. Secondly, to really integrate joint capabilities into all this, which is really important. In an age in which you're trying to innovate, it's the service components that actually have their hands on the service innovation initiatives that you can put into play quickly to exercise or to put in an operational environment as well, so that's one of the really helpful things also.

Admiral Phil Davidson: It's a very collaborative cooperative kind of environment, and frankly, if I’ve learned anything and I hope that the general public and certainly the department sees this through our efforts here, the success of the United States Armed Forces in any theater has been when it relies on its joint capability. We make a lot out of the fact that it is a very large maritime and air theater and there is no doubt about it, but any review of history, you can go back over the last 80 years or so, shows you that when you bring all the joint elements together, that's really when you've got profound deterrent capability and war winning capability if you were forced into a fight.

Michael Auslin: And the structure that we have and particularly your structure, is really sort of unparalleled. Certainly it's unparalleled around the world today, but it's also unparalleled in history. We actually had one of your component commanders, General Wilsbach, the Commander of Pacific Air Forces, with us on the podcast a few months ago and he talked about both the joint element, but as well, the air element. So it's fantastic being able to get from you both the naval, but the overall element and that's what I'd just like to switch to, which is to talk a little bit about the testimony you gave before Congress last month. I know you've talked about this a lot. It was sort of a summation for you in a sense, having been sitting in the chair for a few years, but it made a lot of headlines.

Michael Auslin: You asked for an extra, or for another $4.6 billion for a fiscal year 2022 alone. Overall, $27 billion over a five year period, 2022 to 2027. But you were very specific in an open setting. This wasn't classified, what obviously the public heard. But you were very specific about what you felt you needed in order to maintain the edge and maintain in fact the ability to have a credible deterrence across the Indo-Pacific. And it is certainly not what your predecessors would have needed to ask for 10 years ago or certainly 15 and 20 years ago. Could you talk a little bit about why you feel you need new missiles? You want long-range missiles. Why you need the air defenses that you talked about, the radar systems, where you felt that the greatest threats to our bases were and you singled out Guam. In other words, for a lay person, how worried do they need to be hearing your testimony last month?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Yeah, that's quite a long answer to give you Misha l. But I would put it this way, our job starts with defending United States territory, our U.S. interests abroad, our allied obligations, and sustaining the peace. So a lot of the investments in my mind need to begin with defenses, and as you look at the proliferation of threats in the region, they range from North Korea, Russia, China, violent extremist organizations, and we have the effects of climate change, natural disasters, and the things associated with that, that we have to deal with out here as well. It defines the problem for you and the defenses that you need.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Guam runs to the forefront, because it is our western most U.S. territory. And we have U.S. territories throughout the Pacific. We have compacts with three nations in the Pacific Island chain  – Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands - that we're obligated to defend. And of course, we have key allies, Japan, Korea, the Philippians, Australia, Thailand, with a large fixed base structure in Japan and Korea. So you've got to plan for the defense of all that, and as I've seen the threats proliferate, certainly North Korea, China absolutely, since the turn of the century, orders of magnitude improvements in members of capability. You've got to plan for that.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Secondly, we all know from playing any sport, you can't win a game by playing defense only. So when you've got to put credible offense on the field, to give your opponent, advisory, pause in what the military pursuit of their objectives might be, in my mind a broader base of longer range precision fires, meaning long-range precision fires that are available in all domains. That includes all the terrestrial domains, the service components, as I would know it. But certainly non-kinetic fires that might be available to you in cyberspace and the capabilities that are starting to be developed in space alone, are going to be required. Why? Well, there's profound relationship between defense, maneuver, and offense to facilitate all those three things.

Admiral Phil Davidson: So the correct balance there will help put in the region a deterrent posture that will prevent a fight , while at the same time giving you the capability set, once you start to add logistics and sustainment, once you add the credible sensing and awareness, all that stuff, to actually fight and win if challenged, particularly on a short time. And I think that's important and that's what defines our overall approach here to the region. And, it's the backbone of my request in the 1251 assessment in 22. It was known as the 1253 in 21. And really I think will serve as the backbone recommendation to the Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

John Yoo: All right Admiral, let me ask more specifically about things that people in the United States are worried about in terms of applying what you've just said to ... I'm sorry, I'm a lawyer, I talk like this ... but taking the principals you laid out, applying it to specific cases. See that wasn't so painful, I didn't even charge anybody any money to go through it like that. So the South China Sea and Taiwan, we're reading ... What could we really do to stop what's going on in the South China Sea, where China is doing everything from using real military to the Coast Guard to now these strange flotillas of alleged fishing vessels, to try to crowd everybody out and take over land or build artificial islands? What can we do to stop this expansion of Chinese, not just influence, but just Chinese seizure of territory?

Admiral Phil Davidson: First, we need to make clear that the issues in the South China Sea and the East China Sea elsewhere, these are not China - U.S. issues. These are actually China and the international order issues. And the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea had an arbitral ruling in 2016 that said China's claims were not in compliance with the international-

John Yoo: In law, we use the word illegal, but go ahead.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Right.

John Yoo: Yeah, they're illegal. Yeah.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Yeah, international law, and our operations there, whether they're freedom of navigation operations, which is a specific legal regime that the United States conducts, or broader  operations in the South China Sea, they need to be supported by not only the United States, but by all the nations of the world that are so dependent on the economy that flows through the South China Sea. And a lot of people get focused on the sea lanes themselves, but it's also about the air lanes. It's about the trillions of dollars of financial activity that is actually transmitted under the South China Sea to key places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, San Francisco, Manila, and so forth. And the freedoms that are provided for by international law and everybody's access to them.

Admiral Phil Davidson: So we routinely operate with other nations. Other nations are routinely operating there. Just in the last week, the French have been operating in the South China Sea. The United States has been operating independently as well. So that's all critically important. I don't want to gloss over the fact that I mentioned allies and partners, because that is the critical strength of the United States. We have common security concerns. We have shared values and we have mutual interests. And when you bring those three things together in alliance and partnership network, it's quite quite powerful. And I know it has an impact, because the Chinese complain about it. And you see that in the day to day news, not only in the military sphere, but in all the economic and international diplomacy news that happen throughout the world.

John Yoo: Yeah, nobody wants to be a voluntary ally of China's these days. And everyone's-

Admiral Phil Davidson: You're absolutely right.

John Yoo: ... clamoring to be an ally of the United States. Who'd of thought the U.S. Navy would visit Cam Ranh Bay again in Vietnam, in our lifetimes? What about Taiwan, that's another thing people are talking a lot about in Washington right now, is for some reason, there's, I wouldn't call it a war scare, but there's a lot of chatter in the newspapers, opinion shows saying, "Oh, what if China were to militarily try to take Taiwan?" How could we do anything about it? I find it a really difficult problem that you have some people here in the beltway  who are saying there's nothing we could do about it. Ultimately we'd have to walk away. There are obviously others who are saying, we want to give the Taiwanese enough resources to fight, and there are some people who are saying that the  U.S. Navy should get involved. But what do you think is really the best course of action if there were some kind of threat to Taiwan?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Well, thanks John. Well, I think our audience knows all too well that U.S. policy towards China and our relationship with Taiwan, strictly adheres to the United States’ "One-China Policy." And that's in support of the Taiwan Relations Act, where we help provide for the defensive needs of Taiwan, the three joint communiques as well as the six reassurances. It's clear to me that Beijing is pushing across the globe to diplomatically isolate Taiwan. They use economic coercion, they use diplomatic coercion to try to get those outcomes. And the objective of our own defense engagement with Taiwan is to ensure Taiwan remains secure, confident, free from coercion, and able to engage in a peaceful and productive dialogue to resolve any differences in a manner that's acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Admiral Phil Davidson: I remarked earlier about our defensive posture. A component of that and what I partially just described in the Taiwan Relations Act, is ensuring that Taiwan has the defense articles that they need in order to defend and that involves consistent foreign arms sales to Taiwan. That includes Taiwan purchasing the correct capabilities. In my mind, those are a mix of conventional deterrent capabilities, like modern F-16 aircraft, modernized patriot missiles, ships, submarines, aircraft, that kind of stuff. But it also requires a focus on asymmetric means, coastal defense cruise missiles, sea mines, beach defenses, and things like that as well.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Taiwan also needs to focus on creating a reserve structure and a civil support structure that would be effective. They need to put forth the porcupine-like posture that makes it difficult to swallow. What is the nature of that? You make it clear that the cost of any potential PRC action is perhaps high and could fail. If you raise the cost in that calculus, that helps to deter, one. But certainly it makes clear two, that if you got into a fight, that you could inflict some pain. I don't think China wants that and I don't think the rest of us on the globe want that either. I can-

John Yoo: I agree, it seems to me that, as you say, you make the cost of any kind of military conflict with Taiwan so high you actually reduce the chances anyone will start one in the first place. I hope you're right, Admiral.

Michael Auslin: So Admiral, one of the complexities that you deal with, of course is you've got a great variety of states. You have states like Japan, which have a much larger military, much larger military budget comparatively. You have much smaller states. You have the islands that you've mentioned. How confident are you, as you've had this position for four years, that they're able to do what we think they need to do to defend themselves? You just mentioned some of the things that Taiwan needs to do and that's probably the underappreciated part of the equation with Taiwan is what Taiwan needs to do. Do you think they're all doing what they need to do, because certainly we're not going to do all of it?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Yeah, I appreciate that and I think the American people appreciate that as well. And we are seeing our allies and partners in the region invest quite strongly. Japan has increased their defense budget over a percentage point in the last year. Korea's defense budget in the last year is up 2.8%. After China, and one of the Baltic states, that's the third highest increase in a defense budget on the globe. Our ally Australia buys U.S. equipment. They're investing in fifth gen fighters like the F-35, integrated air missile defense, combat systems that are based on U.S. technologies, and things like that. That's incredibly powerful and it drives a level of compatibility and interoperability that's important. India, with the restoration of the Quad. We've resumed the Malabar exercise series in a Quad format last fall and I have very high hopes for the Quad, beyond just the security sphere.

Admiral Phil Davidson: To me it's a diamond of democracies with the capacity, the capability. And I'm talking about India, Japan, Australia and the United States. And again, the common set of interests, values and mutual security concerns that could really bring together the allied and partner network here in the region. One of our efforts here at INDOPACOM, during the three years that I've been in command here is, and again it goes back to something we talked about earlier, is to make sure that it's clear to the region that the idea that tensions in the region are a U.S.-China issue is incomplete. That the issues that China's very pernicious approach to the region is, whether it's their coercive economic practices, diplomacy, their  very corrupt business and governmental practices, or whether it's their cooption of international institutions like some UN organizations that do telecommunications, that do aviation, that do agriculture, things like that, that likeminded nations coming together in an international posture have the strength and power to push back on China's pernicious approach.

Michael Auslin: So maybe we could actually talk about the Quad for a second. This has been a priority for the Biden administration just in its first three months. Obviously the president had a principles meeting, we had a foreign secretary level meeting, but it's unclear where the Quad goes from here. What is it specifically that you'd like to see it do? And particularly you said a second ago, not only in security, but particularly in security, do you really think that the Japanese, the Indians, even the Australians are ready to do things like freedom of navigation operations, are really ready to push back? They see for example what's happening at  Whitsun Reef right now. Where would you hope the Quad specifically goes, going forward?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Well again, those of us in the military think about strategy. We talk about the DIME: diplomacy, information, military, and economic spheres. I think there's opportunity in all three of those to work together. But the economic strength of these four countries and how it could help align the region and push back on  issues like intellectual property theft and outright patent theft, things that actually occur in the PRC, and come to a set of norms that support the economic rise across the region, the target of the two-thirds of the global economy that will be out here during the course of the next 10 years, I think, is really the ambition that the Quad could be capable of. I think there's much more to go, I mean, really we're like 14 months now, not even, 13 months into rejuvenated alignment between these four countries and I think the opportunity is still going to be defined and come, but I have high hopes for it.

Michael Auslin: One thing we don't talk enough about and we keep trying to drag ourselves to it, is the Korean Peninsula and what's going on there. It's been quiet  in general for a while, but obviously it's a major part of your preparation. What's your assessment of where the Kim Jong-un administration is, the regime? Are you worried? Are you worried because you haven't seen much happening and something’s going to happen? Are we still on the same page with the South Koreans? How do you feel about leaving things now for Admiral Aquilino, your successor, in terms of the stability on the Peninsula?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Yeah, right out of the gate, the administration declared that North Korea's nuclear ballistic missile and other proliferation-related activities constitute a serious threat not only to the region, excuse me, not only to the Republic of Korea, but to the region as well. And really, it undermines the global non-proliferation regime. So, the White House has undertaken a thorough policy review on the state of play in North Korea and they're doing that in combination with ... consultation I should say, with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and our other allies of the region on the ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy. And our relationship with the Republic of Korea and Japan are really, really strong. I'm really pleased where we are and we will absolutely work closely with them to determine the path forward.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Now, you did see a few weeks ago that the IAEA Board of Governors announced that North Korea may have started a reprocessing effort. Reprocessing to make plutonium would represent a violation of multiple UN sanctions, and while the North Koreans have made no official announcement, that development is a concern certainly to the United States, certainly to us here at INDOPACOM and U.S. Forces Korea, and certainly to our allies and partners in  the region. So, things have been relatively quiet, when it comes to ballistic missile provocations certainly. I mean, there has been some testing in the last several weeks and some testing over the course of the last two years or so. These weren't entirely unexpected. Back in October, the North Koreans paraded some eight missiles, three of which we had not seen tested before, and so we did expect some tests along the way. So we'll see, as the administration wraps its policy review and its consultation with our allies here, we'll see where this takes us going forward.

Michael Auslin: One more quick question, particularly from a naval perspective on North Korea, there were recent reports that it was getting much closer to a functional submarine launch ballistic missile, how worried are you? I mean, these are incredibly complex systems. And how worried are you that they're actually going to be able to do it, or are you even more worried that if they do it, they may not be able to handle it the way that we've handled it with such safety measures in all of our nuclear systems?

Admiral Phil Davidson: No, we have seen them test some submarine launched ballistic missile-like technology from a test platform itself. As you imply directly, I mean, they are complex systems to bring together, submarines, the weapons systems, command and control, it all kind of going forward. We haven't seen it manifest in the whole just yet and they've got significant challenges before them there.

Michael Auslin: So we've got the Korean Peninsula. We have Taiwan, we've got Whitsun Reef, there's a lot of challenges that again 15 years ago your predecessors really didn't have to think about. They had to think about Korea. We've had to think about that since the 60s, the 50s, but there's a lot that we haven't had to think about. How integrated is all of this? I mean, do you approach it serially? Here's what we have to deal with  North Korea, here's what we have to deal  with Whitsun Reef, here's the Taiwan equation, here's the Strait of Malacca. How concerned are you that, because we face these challenges and aggressive actors, that a crisis in one will become an opportunity for another, so that if you have something that develops in Whitsun Reef, between the Filipinos and the Chinese and maybe the U.S. to some degree gets involved, that that gives a green light to China to do something vis-a-vis Taiwan? Or gives Kim Jong-un the idea that this is now a good idea to do whatever he thinks is good, meaning do we have luxury to say we can focus on one thing at one time, or might we find that while our attention is on one side we get blinded on the other side?

Admiral Phil Davidson: No, that's a great question and I'm sorry if I'll go on long here, but it's clear to me that during China's timeline for its own ambitions, the 100 year rise it hopes for itself by 2049, if you look backwards in the mirror, they are trying to address what they consider to be internal sovereignty concerns and that's how you look in the main, in the whole, which is how I look at these problems. When you add together what's their concentration camps they've established in Xinjiang., that's about security in their west,t he west part of their own country. When you look at Hong Kong, when you look at the activity along the line of actual control, not to mentioned, Tibet, Bhutan , the kind of influences there. The South China Sea is something that they consider a sovereignty concern and certainly in the future they think about Taiwan as a sovereignty concern as well. These are all milestones on their 100 year plan to be a global power. And that's what gives their region concern.

Admiral Phil Davidson: So when you look at things like Whitsun Reef and you look at things like activities in and around the Senkakus and you look at the amalgamation of what's happening with their military forces, what's happening with their maritime militia forces, the passage of the coast guard law, national security law and patriot act in Hong Kong and things like that, you have to look at all these in the main. And when I pull it down in the military sphere, this starts with modern military systems. Fourth and fifth gen fighters, long range air to air missiles, maneuvering and hypersonic ballistic missiles, advanced guided missile warships, the  (Renhai-class cruisers for example that are coming online now, many others.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Second, they're training with it and they're doing that in the East China Sea, the South China Sea. They're doing it up in the Bohai. And they're trying to integrate those terrestrial dominant forces with their rocket forces and other forces. That's a concern. Third, they've restructured into a joint structure. There's a southern theater commander, an eastern theater commander, a northern commander, a western theater commander, and we're starting to see more joint exercising training operations happening in those individual theater commands, but some cross-theater coordination and collaborations concern. Then fourthly, combat support, sustainment, logistics, you can see them getting after all those things. And then I already cited the things that are contributing in the gray zone as some know it. For those of us that have been in the deterrence business for decades, this is what happens in the day to day. And you're seeing it amalgamate the path from what the coast guard has, it's the fishing fleets, things like that in China.

Admiral Phil Davidson: And we, have to put forth a credible deterrent posture, that posture has to exist on a day to day basis and has to be able to manage crisis and flex, be proactive, not just reactive, and then of course it's got to be ready to fight and win as well. So it's a tall order, but one in which the United States has some experience. A refreshment in deterrence theory across the department and across the whole of the United States government is important when it comes to these things, because it's evident to me that we're going to have to bring together all aspects of our national power, and that includes economic and diplomatic and information power. And, it includes this really strong network of allies and partners, to bring this together in a way that's credible and prevents a bad outcome in the Western Pacific, or elsewhere on the globe.

Michael Auslin: One of the things that obviously was at the height of American thinking during the Cold War was the strategic equation. I mean that in the old sense of nuclear weapons. Admiral Richard, who heads up U.S. Strategic Command, just testified the other day about China's dramatic growth in its nuclear capabilities, and we really haven't thought that much about China as a nuclear actor. When you, before Congress, described China's as the greatest long term strategic threat in the 21st century, I think most Americans probably saw it in a very traditional way. They thought about aircraft carriers and they thought about fighters and they may have thought a little bit about cyber, but the nuclear world never went away. Could you tell us your thoughts on the nuclear picture that you've faced and that your successors will face and how worried you are about what we know about China's nuclear doctrine, its capabilities, its forces, and how we have to think about it after a very long vacation, after the Cold War?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Yeah. Thanks for that Misha , it is a change in the relationship as you look back over the course of the last 20 years. 20 years ago they had about a quarter, roughly about, of the nuclear delivery capability that they actually have today. And the estimates over the next 10 years is that capability will at least double and again, it's about nuclear delivery capability, and there're all kinds of formal terms in the nuclear apparatus, so I don't want to parse this too much, but that's expected to at least double over the next 10 years. It brings into the picture a nuclear capability that starts to be of a scale and size that is approaching the United States deterrent and the Russian capability as well. Some estimates have it quadrupling over the course of this decade, again, nuclear delivery platforms. If that were to occur, we'd be overmatched slightly.

Admiral Phil Davidson: And for STRATCOM, that requires a level of thinking and understanding about our own nuclear deterrent over the next 10 years and fundamentally kind of changes the overall planning approach as you intimated that they've been on a course for the last 30 years or so. We see them modernizing, not only the rocket forces but they've put to sea submarine ballistic missile forces, the H-6 bomber is going to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. That brings about a triad there, that's for China, that's an absolute concern. And then, we're seeing their nuclear command and control communications systems and exercising and posture step up the role as well. This is a major concern. Again, not just for the United States, but for the international community. And our allies and partners in the region are feeling that point strongly as well. The importance of the nuclear deterrent of the United States, our guarantees of extended assurance for Japan for example, have been critically important to the security across the globe for decades now, and it's going to be important going forward. There's no doubt about it.

Michael Auslin: So you mentioned overmatch a minute ago, and I can just hear a lot of our listeners saying, "Okay, let's just cut to the chase." Are we overmatched today? Maybe not in nuclear and certainly not in every field, but we play an away game. You have only so many forces in theater at any given time, the theater itself is enormous. It's what, about three weeks steaming from San Diego over to South China Sea and down to Malacca Strait area? It can take weeks, a week or more to get from Japan down to Australia. I mean, it's a huge region and that doesn't even include the Indian Ocean and going as far as your  AOR, your area of responsibility does. So as you prepare to step back, how do you assess it for the American people? You have the most incredible service members under you. You have the most incredible platforms, but there's not that many overall and a lot of them are older. Can we do what we really need to do if it came to it? How confident are you of that?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Well, I'm an optimist  Misha, and have been throughout my career. I mean, it's been the great privilege of my lifetime to serve with the men and women that occupy our armed forces, being in the Navy for me, but now, all across the Joint Force. And as I've gotten older and more senior in this, I've had the pleasure and privilege to serve with an inner agency, the State Department, across the political apparatus, and I know the will is strong across all of that apparatus and the desire to do the right thing is incredibly strong too. At the heart of my request and really what the Congress has asked for in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, is what is that credible posture that sustains regional prosperity, U.S. prosperity in combination with it, and peace in the region and for the United States. And that takes a forward combat credible posture. And our mix of forward based forces, and the rotational forces that we can send to theater, bring incredible capability here. And so I'm quite confident.

Admiral Phil Davidson: I'm also very pleased with the improvements that the United States is making in cyber and space capabilities going forward, which are going to be critically important. And part of the United States Joint Force capability is set already and will be more and more important to it going forward. And then, most importantly, the network of allies and partners that we have in the region. If we can put all those things together, we will have the correct force, postured correctly with an interoperable and compatible set of allies and partners that have the kind of deterrent strategy that can convince China the cost of military action against any of their neighbors, are simply too high. And that's been at the heart of our approach here over the last three years and I've been quite encouraged by the conversations we've had so far with the administration as they've done China task force and thought through North Korea policy and their approach to the region and there's certainly more to know about that in the next few months. But I'm quite confident in all of that.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Again, I come back to the thing I told you at the very beginning. Two-thirds of the global population and two-thirds of the global economy is going to be centered on the Indo-Pacific. The future of America is dependent on success, peace, prosperity out here in the Indo-Pacific. And as long as we keep that in the forefront of our minds, the security investments that we make out here will follow, and they'll serve the nation's needs when it comes to security and prosperity quite well.

Michael Auslin: Well, Admiral, you actually, I think, summed up the ... I was going to ask you a last question and maybe we'll at least give you the opportunity for sort of valedictory and I think in a way you just summed it up, but as you prepare to step down and, of course, we thank you for your service and 39 years of defending and helping to defend this country and all the way up to again, I think for most Americans, it's really hard to get their heads around just the scope of Indo-Pacific command and what you all do on a daily basis and the amount of commitment that this country makes. So again, as a valedictory, is there anything that you'd like to say to the American people, not that they're all listening, but we hope they will, but about what the people underneath your command do and again, what it means for America to be engaged in the Indo-Pacific?

Admiral Phil Davidson: Thanks Misha  Thanks for the opportunity. First, I think I might have said it already, but it's been the privilege of my lifetime to serve this country. And that privilege is really born from working with the men and women that make up our armed forces. It is the asymmetric advantage that the United States armed force has really when you stack it up against any of the armed forces around the globe. Their ability to our ability, our people's ability to focus on the mission and deliver success time and again, in the tactical and operational environment is critically important to us. When you talk to someone like me, or I talk to my peers that have recently retired, they all look back on their time in the service and it always comes back to the people. We always talk about the thing that we love in any service, whether you're on the bridge of a destroyer, if it's me, the cockpit for an aviator, a tank, infantry, for those guys, it becomes less about the designator that they had, to use a Navy term, and much more about the people that they serve with. So I'll absolutely miss them the most.

Admiral Phil Davidson: The second thing I'll say is, the values that America has represented across the globe, really throughout its history, but certainly in the wake of World War II, which resonates so strongly here in the Indo-Pacific and in my time in Europe. I know it resignates ... it resonates, excuse me ... strongly with the European populations as well. It is the beacon that has brought together the international community and really a level of prosperity that is incomparable when you look back over history. Our allies and partners, our willingness to work with others, is what has brought peace and security to most of the globe. We need to continue to have that kind of approach, be confident that people are working with us and be confident in the fact that U.S. values inspire others around the globe. And if we do that, there's no doubt in my mind that we will continue to be successful.

Admiral Phil Davidson: Again, it's been a great privilege of my lifetime to serve this nation. It's coming to a close quite rapidly now, we're just a week away, but I appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation with you and look forward to maybe connecting again in the future and staying close. Security interests have been core to what I've been doing over the last 39 years and I'd like to remain involved. So thanks to you Misha and thanks to you John for the opportunity to speak today.

Michael Auslin: Well, Admiral, it's been our privilege and I think the summation that you gave can't be bettered upon, so I won't even try. Again, we thank you for your service, for everything you've done. But really for us and our listeners, walking through an incredibly complex environment, an incredibly complex hierarchy of challenges and demands, but finishing it up with that optimistic view, both of our country and what it does in the world. And there's no question that I know everyone who works on Asian issues will be eager once you've taken off the uniform to continue to hear from you and bring in the experience that you've had and the thoughts and ideas. So on behalf of John Yoo and all of us we want to thank you and thank you for joining us on The Pacific Century.

Speaker 4: This podcast has been a production of the Hoover Institution, where we advance ideas that define a free society. For more information about our work and to hear more of our podcasts, or see our video content, please visit hoover.org.

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