Mullen Arrives in South Korea to Address Tensions

SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 8, 2010 — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived here today to meet with South Kore­an defense offi­cials and rein­force U.S. com­mit­ment to the U.S.-South Kore­an alliance amid esca­lat­ing ten­sions on the penin­su­la.
Mullen told reporters he hopes to send “a very strong sig­nal” of sup­port while dis­cussing long-term strate­gic objec­tives dur­ing con­sul­ta­tions with the new South Kore­an nation­al defense min­is­ter, Kim Kwan-jin, and Army Gen. Han Min-koo, chair­man of the South Kore­an mil­i­tary, as well as oth­er mem­bers of the South Kore­an nation­al secu­ri­ty team.

The vis­it, which occurs as South Korea observes the 60th anniver­sary of the start of the Kore­an War, fol­lows a series of provo­ca­tions by North Korea. On Nov. 23, North Korea launched an artillery attack on Yeon­pyeong island that killed two civil­ians and two South Kore­an marines. On March 26, it sunk the South Kore­an frigate Cheo­nan, killing 46 South Kore­an sailors.

In addi­tion, North Korea revealed a new ura­ni­um enrich­ment facil­i­ty last month that gives new capa­bil­i­ty to its nuclear weapons pro­gram. Mullen told reporters he has no illu­sion that North Korea plans to stop these provo­ca­tions, and said he wor­ries it will con­duct anoth­er nuclear test. “No doubt they will con­tin­ue” unless world lead­ers step for­ward to stop them, he said. “I have said more than once, the only thing that is pre­dictable about [Kim Jong Ill] is his unpre­dictabil­i­ty. And he has a ten­den­cy to run these inci­dents togeth­er.”

The chair­man shared Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ belief, expressed ear­li­er this week to the crew of the USS Abra­ham Lin­coln, that these acts are part of North Kore­an leader’s Kim Jong Ill’s effort to prove, par­tic­u­lar­ly to the North Kore­an mil­i­tary, that his son is “tough and strong and able” enough to suc­ceed him. Also like Gates, Mullen said he believes Chi­na, North Korea’s close ally, is “a big part of the solu­tion set here” and expressed opti­mism that Chi­na will play a role in get­ting North Korea to cur­tail its aggres­sive activ­i­ties.

“They are invest­ed,” Mullen said of Chi­na. “They live here. Their econ­o­my is depen­dent on sta­bil­i­ty. They are a world leader. And world lead­ers must lead, par­tic­u­lar­ly to pre­vent crises [and] pre­vent these kinds of desta­bi­liz­ing activ­i­ties.”

Mullen’s vis­it fol­lows a tri­lat­er­al ses­sion Dec. 6 among Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton, South Kore­an For­eign Min­is­ter Kim Sung-hwan and Japan­ese For­eign Min­is­ter Sei­ji Mae­hara to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion.

Mullen called these tri­lat­er­al meet­ings crit­i­cal, cit­ing the U.S. alliances with both coun­tries as “a core piece of strength and sta­bil­i­ty in that region.” The chair­man said he’s par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed dur­ing his vis­it here in hear­ing how South Kore­an lead­ers view their secu­ri­ty chal­lenges. The talks will cov­er the ongo­ing joint mil­i­tary exer­cis­es, as well as South Korea’s own exer­cis­es, and appro­pri­ate respons­es in the event of anoth­er provo­ca­tion.

“Clear­ly we are going to want to work with them on how we view provo­ca­tions in the future and what kind of respons­es there should be across the full spec­trum of oppor­tu­ni­ties,” diplo­mat­ic, polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic or mil­i­tary, Mullen said.

In address­ing these issues, Mullen said a big focus will be on pre­vent­ing the sit­u­a­tion from esca­lat­ing out of con­trol. He empha­sized that South Kore­an is a sov­er­eign nation and has every right to pro­tect itself.

How­ev­er, he said he hopes that even rou­tine train­ing mis­sions will be con­duct­ed with con­sid­er­a­tion for the broad­er, strate­gic impli­ca­tions and in a way that doesn’t fur­ther desta­bi­lize the penin­su­la. “Nor­mal­cy and rou­tine are not what they used to be,” he said.

Mullen empha­sized, how­ev­er, that he firm­ly believes that the only way to deal with North Korea is from a posi­tion of strength. “When you are deal­ing with some­body like this, …my belief is, you have to deal from a posi­tion of strength. And if you don’t do that, there is a price to be paid.,” he said. “This guy is a bad guy. And in deal­ing with bad guys, you can’t wish away what they are going to do. And that has been made evi­dent.”

Mullen said he believes the recent series of provo­ca­tions served as “a wake-up call” for many South Kore­ans about Kim Jong ill and the dan­gers of his regime.“These are bad guys,” Mullen said. “And I think all of us have to be aware of that as we look at how we are going to address him.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter