FEBRUARY 27, 2015, WASHINGTON (NNS) – The world’s ocean trade routes must remain open to all to maintain global commerce, the vice chief of naval operations said Feb. 24.
“The world [economy] depends on those high seas staying free,” Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard told CNN’s Jim Sciutto during the NewAmerica Future of War Project conference.
Noting that China is building its blue-water navy, Sciutto asked Howard how that could affect the maritime situation. China, she replied, “refers to itself as maturing and is starting to stretch its muscles in terms of who they are and how they see themselves as a world power.”
Countries ask themselves if it is possible to be a world power without military power, and “China has taken the path that in order to be a global power, they have to have military strength,” the admiral said.
U.S. Navy Seeks to Maintain Advantage
China is building its navy and following the path of many other countries in history, including the United Kingdom and the United States, copying what has been successful, the admiral said. But the United States wants to maintain its military advantage at sea, she added, and the Navy is continuing to acquire and adapt to maintain the lead.
But China is not what keeps her up at night, the vice chief said. North Korea and the capriciousness of its leader do worry her, she said. “When you have countries that have a certain amount of strength … and then the leadership does not operate logically or on an agreed framework, then that creates a challenge,” she added.
Working With China on Framework
The United States is working with China to create such a framework, Howard said. “We’ve made some tremendous progress with military-to-military contacts,” she told Sciutto. “The chief of naval operations has had several engagements with his counterpart.”
Last year at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, leaders from several nations, including China, agreed to adopt a code for unexpected encounters at sea, Howard said.
“We have a way at the tactical level for our ships to communicate with each other, to alleviate any misunderstandings,” she added. “There has been great dialogue and great movement between our navies.”
Sciutto asked Howard if she worries about China’s naval build up.
“The world is always a magical place, there are always a number of alternative futures that can unfold,” she said. “You can look at it as a potential conflict — that’s one alternate future. You can look at it on the strength of the trade partnership we have with China — that’s another. And it’s not just with China. It’s all the nations of the region — Japan, India, South Korea.
“So there are alternative futures here,” she continued, “and what are we doing to walk down a path that walks away from conflict or creates the stepping stones to conflict?”
Guiding China and working with China is the best policy for the future of the world, Howard said.
Howard was promoted to the rank of four-star admiral on July 1, 2014, during a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presided over the ceremony and administered the oath of office.
Howard is the first female four-star admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy.