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President's Commentary: The Indo-Pacific Ring of Fire and Friendship

By Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA (Ret.)

The Ring of Fire, or the Circum-Pacific Belt, is a nearly 25,000-mile region that rims much of the Pacific Ocean. According to National Geographic, it contains about 75% of the world’s volcanoes and experiences 90% of the world’s earthquakes.

The term “Ring of Fire” also applies to the Indo-Pacific region itself and its many potential perils. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels and the increasing intensity of storms pose a significant threat. Climate changes spark disease outbreaks, threaten food and water security and exacerbate political instability and humanitarian crises.

Organized crime also plagues the area. In August, Taiwan announced its desire to free more than 300 of its citizens who had been lured to Cambodia by human traffickers. The victims were promised high-paying, technology-related jobs and then forced to work in call centers scamming others with phony investments or convincing them to pay fabricated government fees.

And, of course, aggressive moves by China, Russia and North Korea loom as arguably the area’s greatest threats. All three pose risks to the United States and our allies through the exercise of their military and cyber capabilities along with legal and economic practices designed to modify longstanding international norms to their benefit alone. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un continues to seek worldwide respect and acceptance through conventional military might, nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Russia has been largely humiliated by Ukraine but remains a nuclear power that some experts argue may be even more dangerous due to Vladimir Putin’s desperation to repair his bruised and bloodied ego.

The other side to the Indo-Pacific, however, is its great promise for strengthening and expanding partnerships and alliances. Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand have proven invaluable as allies, partners and friends. The benefits they provide are far too numerous to list.

China’s bellicosity has fostered greater cooperation among the nations that make up the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad. This cooperative effort among Australia, India, Japan and the United States counterbalance China’s bullying tactics. Also, this summer, Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States forged the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. The potential involvement in the region of our friends in the European Union also offers great promise.

We recognize that the United States does not hold the patent on innovation, and we should continue expanding those innovation opportunities. In July, the United States committed to working with Japan to achieve a secure supply chain for semiconductors. Both nations recognize the dire need to develop a domestic supply for these critical components as a counter to China’s dominance in the market.

Meanwhile, India and the United States are improving interoperability by enhancing command and control and information sharing capabilities. Also, U.S. and Indian armies now conduct high-altitude military exercises near the so-called Line of Actual Control, where India is at a standoff with China. The exercises showcase both tactics and technologies, including an array of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. India and Japan also are cooperating to develop defense technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles.

Additionally, the Korea Times reports that South Korea may soon rise as a major supplier of defense technologies. Its recent arms deal with Poland worth an estimated 20 trillion won ($14 billion) is only one example.

Though dangerous, fire also offers protection against predators, and that is true of the Indo-Pacific. The Ring of Fire—the volcanoes, earthquakes and other threats—offer challenges and perils, but the ring of friends, allies and partners we’ve found greatly enhance regional stability and security and provide comfort to all.