WASHINGTON — Crediting South Korean leaders for their “poise and calm” in the face of last year’s provocations from North Korea, the top U.S. military leader today warned North Korea to expect “a very strong response” to a future attack.
“The north should not mistake their restraint as a lack of resolve, nor should they interpret it as a willingness to accept continued attacks … unchallenged,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a media roundtable in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has made clear that his country won’t tolerate more attacks like the sinking of the South Korean navy ship Cheonan in March 2010 that killed 46 sailors or the artillery strike on Yeonpyeong Island in November that killed four, including two South Korean Marines, Mullen said.
The United States and its South Korean counterparts are working with a “sense of urgency” on plans to deter more provocations, he said.
“The threat remains real,” the chairman told reporters. “North Korea shows no sign of relenting in pursuit of its nuclear capabilities, and I am not convinced that they will not provoke again.
“The only thing that is predictable about North Korea is their unpredictability,” he added.
The chairman, in Seoul for the U.S. Forces Korea change-of-command ceremony, emphasized the United States’ commitment to South Korea and the strength of the South Korean‑U.S alliance.
“This alliance is firm,” he said. “There may have been a change of command here today, but nothing has changed about the United States’ military resolve and readiness.”
But Mullen, who arrived in South Korea after visiting China, said standing up to North Korea isn’t the responsibility of just South Korea and the United States. He emphasized the need for strong, multilateral cooperation to deter North Korean aggression, calling specifically on China and Japan to become leaders in that effort.
“I believe a measured, multilateral approach is needed, not just now, but … for a long time into the future,” he said. “We all stand to gain from a stable peninsula.”
Mullen said his meetings here focused on maintaining that readiness. “We reaffirmed a long-term view that ensures what we do in the near term is guided by the Strategic Alliance 2015 framework and also on full-spectrum capabilities,” he said.
The Strategic Alliance 2015 agreement provides a set of initiatives designed to shape the U.S.-South Korean alliance for the future, including the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean forces to South Korea.
Despite budgetary challenges, Mullen said, the United States will maintain its commitments to South Korea and its other friends and allies throughout Asia and the Pacific.
“These budget times will require difficult decisions, but I am very comfortable that we will stay committed to these alliances and that we will continue to pursue capabilities and relationships [that] focus on a stable Pacific and Asia,” he said.
“This is a vital region and we have been here a long time,” the chairman added. “We will continue to be here for a long time.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)