WASHINGTON, May 27, 2010 — Upcoming training exercises for the U.S. and South Korean militaries following North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean navy ship are designed to help in controlling and stabilizing the situation, not to escalate tensions, the top U.S. military officer said yesterday during a visit to Colorado Springs, Colo.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at Peterson Air Force Base that the exercises are part of “strong measures” to address North Korea’s sinking of the frigate Cheonan on March 26. The attack left 46 South Korean sailors dead.
Mullen called the incident a “blatant act” from an unpredictable North Korea. “It is very clear to all of us that have looked at the evidence” there’s “no question that they did it,” he said.
U.S.-South Korean anti-submarine warfare exercises in the planning stages will help to build capabilities to help prevent a repeat attack, he said. These exercises, the admiral noted, will present difficult technical and tactical challenges, particularly in light of shallow operating waters.
“[But] it’s a skill set we are going to press on, because clearly, we don’t want that to happen again,” Mullen said. “We don’t want to give that option to North Korea in the future. We want to take it away.”
Citing North Korea’s threat to sever all relations with South Korea and its history of cyclical violence against the south, Mullen expressed concern that the Cheonan sinking could be more than an isolated incident.
“North Korea is predictable in one sense: that it is unpredictable in what it is going to do,” Mullen said. “North Korea goes through these cycles. I worry a great deal that this is not the last thing we are going to see.
“I think it’s important that we are vigilant on this,” he added.
Mullen emphasized that all plans regarding North Korea – such as those for any contingencies around the world – include “off ramps” aimed at deescalating tensions. “It’s a part of our thought. It is in everything we do,” he said. “So very naturally, it is part of how we are thinking about this.”
He emphasized, however, that this approach doesn’t signal impotence or weakness. “Whatever happens in the future, I think there will be strong measures,” he said. “But they are not designed to escalate. They are designed to control and to stabilize.”
The North Korean military has weakened, Mullen conceded, but still has the capabilities to inflict “a lot of damage,” particularly in light of its proximity to Seoul.
Meanwhile, Mullen noted strides being made within the South Korean military. Working in close cooperation with U.S. Forces Korea, it’s on a path to assuming wartime operational control of its forces in 2012.
“They have a lot more confidence in themselves, and so do we,” Mullen said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)