It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the most important things the United States can do to promote peace in the Indo-Pacific is to support Ukraine in its battle against Russia half a world away, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Paparo told the Senate Armed Services Committee today. 

President Joe Biden nominated Paparo, currently the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, to replace Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino as commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. 

The command is the largest combatant command in the U.S. military and contains China, America’s “pacing challenge.” It is a sign of the interconnections in the world that the first question senators asked Paparo was what Russia’s war on Ukraine means to China.  

The admiral said China is studying the invasion in Europe and “instead of seeing the Ukraine conflict and deciding this is too hard, [the Chinese] intention … is to take note of the actions of Russia in order to effect a short, sharp conflict that presents a fait accompli to all of the world.” 

Russia’s failure to achieve its aggressive intent in Ukraine is directly “a deterrence in the western Pacific and directly reassures partners,” he said. “The most decisive thing we can do at the moment, is to pass the supplemental [budget]” that would fund capabilities for Ukraine to defend itself.” 

Chinese leaders look at the war and do not seem to see the futility of aggression. “Instead, [China] is doubling down on their ability to shrink strategic, operational and tactical warning and act quickly,” he said. 

As a result, support to Ukraine is a pillar of deterrence not only in Europe, but in the Indo-Pacific region, the admiral said. 

Overall, Paparo said support of U.S. forces in the region has never been more critical for the joint force. That support has to stretch to include allies and partners that make up the main asymmetric advantage that the United States has over China, he said.  

The United States must work with our allies and partners “to operate confidently, professionally and responsibly,” Paparo said. “Together, we strive to maintain regional stability in this consequential theater and safeguard the sovereign rights of nations through [force] posture and dynamic operations and exercise.”  

“Our joint and combined operations are increasingly frequent, complex, multilateral, interoperable and interchangeable,” he continued. “But … we must never consider ourselves ready enough, we must always be improving our position. If confirmed, I pledge to work with this committee to ensure that we meet the top defense priorities in the national defense strategy, and most especially deterring conflict [with China].” 

China has continued to escalate its aggressive behavior in and around the Western Pacific. Chinese leaders are also seeking to use economic, diplomatic and military efforts to reshape the international order to suit its autocratic preferences,” he said. “We’ll work closely with our interagency teammates and our allies and partners, as we also face the challenge of Russia, of North Korea and violent extremist groups.” 

If he is confirmed by the Senate, Paparo said he will work to “maintain the overmatch that preserves stability today, tomorrow, next week and for the decades to come.” 

Paparo has spent 37 years in the Navy as an aviator, but has held a variety of positions. He commanded the Nuristan Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. He also served in an exchange program and flew Air Force F-15C fighters in Saudi Arabia and Iceland.  

In his testimony before the Senate panel, he thanked the many mentors he has had during his career and singled out the NCOs who guided his path. “Most of all, I’d like to thank the senior noncommissioned leaders, the chief petty officers, the sergeants major, the gunnies and the first shirts,” he said. “The senior NCO corps is the strength of the joint force, and is the asymmetric advantage of the American joint force.”

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