Thurman Wants to Bolster U.S.-South Korean Ties

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2011 — Army Gen. James D. Thur­man told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that he would work to strength­en the U.S.-South Korea alliance amid provo­ca­tions and uncer­tain­ties from North Korea.

Thur­man tes­ti­fied today as part of his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing to become the top allied com­man­der in South Korea.

Thur­man cur­rent­ly leads U.S. Army Forces Com­mand. If con­firmed, he will suc­ceed Army Gen. Wal­ter Sharp as the com­man­der of Unit­ed Nations Com­mand, Com­bined Forces Com­mand and com­man­der of U.S. Forces, Korea.

Over the last year two notable provo­ca­tions have increased ten­sions between North and South Korea. The North sank the South Kore­an naval ves­sel Cheo­nan, killing 46 South Kore­an sailors in March 2010. In Novem­ber, a North Kore­an artillery bar­rage that tar­get­ed the island of Yeong­pyeong killed two civil­ians and two South Kore­an marines.

Offi­cials said the provo­ca­tions were like­ly caused by Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of North Kore­an dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il, try­ing to cement his claim as the suc­ces­sor to his father.

North Korea’s econ­o­my is in sham­bles and the coun­try is a pari­ah in the world. Yet it remains dan­ger­ous. In pre­pared tes­ti­mo­ny, Thur­man not­ed that North Korea retains the fourth-largest mil­i­tary in the world, with more than 1 mil­lion active duty troops and 5 mil­lion reservists.

More than 70 per­cent of North Korea’s mil­i­tary forces are arrayed along the De-mil­i­ta­rized Zone. North Korea has sta­tioned up to 250 long-range artillery guns that could strike the South Kore­an cap­i­tal of Seoul — one of the world’s great met­ro­pol­i­tan cities with almost 25 mil­lion peo­ple.

Yet, North Korea’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty is declin­ing. North Kore­an tanks are no match for U.S. and South Kore­an weapons sys­tems, said Thur­man, not­ing that North Korea has more than 1,700 aging air­craft, 800 naval ves­sels and 13,000 artillery sys­tems.

Nonethe­less, though North Korea’s weapon­ry may suf­fer from neglect and its troops may be poor­ly trained, there are many of them, and sheer num­bers, too, can pro­vide a mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty, the gen­er­al said.

The North Kore­an nuclear pro­gram also pos­es a grave con­cern on the penin­su­la, Thur­man said. North Korea con­tin­ues to devel­op its nuclear capa­bil­i­ties, reveal­ing ear­li­er this year that it has an oper­a­tional ura­ni­um enrich­ment facil­i­ty. The North Kore­an regime has worked to pro­lif­er­ate nuclear and mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy to Iran, Syr­ia and oth­ers. Thur­man said that he will work to see if he can strength­en the pro­lif­er­a­tion secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive on the penin­su­la.

Thur­man said there are both chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties on the Kore­an penin­su­la.

“Rec­og­niz­ing that a strong Unit­ed States-Repub­lic of Korea alliance is one of the most impor­tant fac­tors for main­tain­ing peace and secu­ri­ty on the penin­su­la and in the region at large, I will — if con­firmed — con­tin­ue the work of my pre­de­ces­sors direct­ed at sus­tain­ing strong ties with our Kore­an part­ner,” he said.

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