In wide-ranging testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, Admiral Phil Davidson assessed the threats from North Korea and China. The head of Indo-Pacific Command also said the U.S. will maintain the pace of its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
On Monday, two U.S. destroyers conducted the second freedom of navigation patrol of the new year at Mischief Reef – one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.
Those fortified islands represent part of China’s efforts to expand its influence and ideology, Admiral Davidson told the committee. “Beijing seeks to create a new order,” he said, “an outcome that displaces the stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific that has endured for over 70 years.”
The admiral said that allies and partners will participate in future freedom of navigation operations. He specifically mentioned the UK, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and France.
Two weeks ahead of President Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong Un, Admiral Davidson echoed the intelligence assessment that North Korea is unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons. He described the steps Pyongyang has taken so far as reversible; “Much needs to be done to make meaningful progress,” he said.
Asked about reports by ProPublica on the two collisions that killed 17 American sailors in 2017, Admiral Davidson said the Navy’s senior leadership feels immense accountability, then added “The fact of the matter is 280-odd ships weren’t having collisions.”
Senator Angus King of Maine replied: “Are you saying that there were no failures that lead to these collisions because there were 280 ships that didn’t have collisions? Isn’t that the standard,” Senator King persisted, “no collisions?”
“Yes, sir,” Admiral Davidson replied, “No collisions is the standard,”