Südkorea/USA — Mullen: Exercises Will Aim to Stabilize Korean Tensions

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)