Mullen Seeks Multilateral Deterrence Against North Korea

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)

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