“Amphibious Capabilities and the Asia Pacific” Keynote Address by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) gave the keynote address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) event on “Amphibious Capabilities and the Asia Pacific” on Oct. 20.


Asia issues can be viewed from a variety of perspectives, including that of the state of Alaska, Sen. Sullivan said. The topic is an important one for Alaska because of the state’s location on the Pacific Rim.


Sen. Sullivan also looked at broader foreign policy and economic issues, and national security challenges.


The executive and legislative branches need to work together, he said, adding that the Iran deal was the first security issue in U.S. history that was not supported by a bipartisan majority.


Sen. Sullivan was optimistic about the administration’s efforts to rebalance Asia Pacific relations. Some of the components of the strategy include the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), military rebalance, and the National Defense Authorization Act, to which Sen. Sullivan noted he had included an amendment.


An important element in the strategy is Asia-Pacific allies are covering more military spending.


Missing from the rebalance is energy, an incredible asset of American power that is not being used, Sen. Sullivan said. The administration has an aversion to hydrocarbons, but Alaska is the location of a potentially large liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. Enhancing American energy capacity would help the environment because the U.S. has the highest standards in the world for energy development.


On the other hand, Sen. Sullivan said overall American credibility is crumbling worldwide for many reasons. One of the worst is when the U.S. fails to follow through on a declaration of American foreign policy.


He disagreed with President Obama’s comment that Russia’s move into Syria is based on weakness. “It seems there is a divorced element of reality,” he said.


Overall, this is moving the U.S. to a place where its friends are losing trust and its enemies are less fearful. U.S. credibility in Asia Pacific has diminished, which Sen. Sullivan said the U.S. can’t afford.


He believes China will be the most pressing issue in Asia Pacific in the coming years. China recently overtook Japan as the largest importer of Alaska’s exports.


He said the U.S. is capable of implementing a long term strategy, but time will be needed to develop that strategy.


In order to re-establish American credibility on foreign policy, the U.S. needs to study the past, particularly in Asia Pacific. It needs to listen to allies, take into account their views, and strengthen the alliances.


Furthermore, Sen. Sullivan said, a strong American economy needs to be restored. The American economy is a topic that has been dumbed down in DC, and it is the cornerstone for addressing all the issues mentioned so far. The past two years of less than two percent economic growth has become the new normal, he said. Sen. Sullivan said the U.S. should shoot for traditional levels of American growth, and the U.S. succeeds when it looks to the future for opportunity.


During the question and answer period, Sen. Sullivan was asked if the TPP would impact the energy industry as an important strategic component.


Sen. Sullivan said TPP could impact the energy industry if it increases LNG exports. He reminded the audience that 10 years ago, the U.S. needed energy imports to ensure energy security. Now, as a result of American entrepreneurship, the U.S. is one of the largest producers of oil and gas worldwide. Additionally, Alaska has a history of supplying allies with LNG exports.


If the final TPP is approved by Congress, all Asia Pacific countries could receive gas from the U.S. without additional authorization from other agencies. This is one of the TPP’s many advantageous geostrategic aspects.


Asked about the Arctic’s relation to the Asian market sector, Sen. Sullivan said the Arctic is important as a transport route for natural resources.


Sen. Sullivan highlighted that when President Obama was in Alaska in August, five Chinese naval ships cruised along U.S. boundary waters following a joint Chinese-Russian exercise. Sen. Sullivan wondered whether or not this was a provocation because the President was in the Arctic.


Discussing an Arctic operations plan, Sen. Sullivan said the military has had a major presence in the Pacific. The “strategic blunder” of a proposed Army drawdown at JBER is now being revisited in the preparation of new Arctic strategic operations plan.