U.S. Presence Necessary for Korean Security, Officials Say

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2010 — The sink­ing in March of the South Kore­an ship Cheo­nan under­scores the impor­tance of U.S. troops to secu­ri­ty in North­east Asia and the defense of South Korea, top defense offi­cials told Con­gress today.

“North Korea’s tor­pe­do attack is a somber reminder of the active threat North Korea pos­es to region­al sta­bil­i­ty,” Wal­lace “Chip” Greg­son, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for Asian and Pacif­ic secu­ri­ty affairs, said. “In such a high-threat envi­ron­ment, the [U.S.-South Kore­an] alliance mis­sion to deter and defend takes on added sig­nif­i­cance and is our pri­ma­ry focus.”

Speak­ing to the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vice Com­mit­tee, Greg­son expressed his con­cern with North Korea’s attack, which killed 46 South Kore­an sailors, and its con­tin­ued pur­suit of nuclear weapons. North Kore­an arms sales and con­tin­ued defi­ance of Unit­ed Nations secu­ri­ty res­o­lu­tions, he added, pose a threat not only to South Korea, but also to the entire region.

“[North Korea’s] proven track record of mar­ry­ing capa­bil­i­ties with dead­ly intent has result­ed in unnec­es­sary cri­sis, ten­sion esca­la­tion, and as the attack on the Cheo­nan demon­strat­ed, trag­ic loss of life,” he said.

Greg­son, a retired Marine Corps lieu­tenant gen­er­al, said deter­ring North Korea requires a com­plex mil­i­tary solu­tion. North Korea’s con­ven­tion­al threat and pur­suit of bal­lis­tic and nuclear capa­bil­i­ties caus­es con­cern in Wash­ing­ton and in the South Kore­an cap­i­tal of Seoul, he said.

North Korea’s mil­i­tary is adapt­ed to the U.S.-South Korea con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary part­ner­ship, Greg­son said, and has devel­oped tac­tics and weapons sys­tems that may allow North Korea to avoid con­fronting its tar­gets.

“In the con­text of [North Kore­an] efforts to devel­op a nuclear pro­gram, its bal­lis­tic mis­sile efforts become an even greater con­cern,” he said. “Nuclear and bal­lis­tic mis­siles, if devel­oped and field­ed, would pose a threat to region­al peace and sta­bil­i­ty that would be orders of mag­ni­tude greater than the already height­ened threat.

“North Korea may become embold­en to pur­sue even more provoca­tive activ­i­ties than we have wit­nessed in recent years,” he con­tin­ued, “if it makes sig­nif­i­cant strides in its devel­op­ment of nuclear weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­sile tech­nol­o­gy.”

Greg­son said he is con­fi­dent the U.S.-South Kore­an part­ner­ship will improve peace in the region, but to sus­tain inter­na­tion­al peace and secu­ri­ty, the U.S. mil­i­tary must remain pos­tured in South Korea.

“To pre­serve our secu­ri­ty com­mit­ment to the Repub­lic of Korea, the Unit­ed States must main­tain a for­ward mil­i­tary pos­ture,” he said. “[Hav­ing] 28,500 troops sta­tioned some­where in the Unit­ed States does not have the same deter­rent effect as the same num­ber sta­tioned in Korea. It is our for­ward pres­ence that most effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cates our resolve to defend our allies and pre­serve our vital inter­ests in Asia. Suc­cess­ful deter­rence relies on cred­i­bil­i­ty as much, if not more than, capa­bil­i­ty.”

The Strate­gic Alliance 2015 agree­ment ensures near­ly 30,000 Amer­i­can troops will remain in South Korea until 2015. Accord­ing to the 1953 armistice that estab­lished a cease-fire to the Kore­an War, the U.S. mil­i­tary would main­tain oper­a­tional con­trol of com­bined defens­es until 2012. But South Kore­an Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak asked to extend the tran­si­tion to 2015 as a result of the Cheo­nan attack. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma agreed.

Army Gen. Wal­ter L. “Skip” Sharp, com­man­der of U.S. forces in Korea, tes­ti­fied with Greg­son. He said he believes the Cheo­nan attack will not be the last by North Korea, and that the regime’s pur­suit of nuclear weapons and long-range capa­bil­i­ties sug­gest North Korea will con­tin­ue to threat­en the region.

“The con­ven­tion­al threat con­tin­ues, but we now face an ene­my capa­ble of using a num­ber of asym­met­ri­cal means to threat­en its neigh­bors, while also vio­lat­ing past agree­ments, inter­na­tion­al norms and the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion,” he said.

The new alliance agree­ment, which Sharp intro­duced last week, means more joint train­ing and exer­cis­es. The two nations have launched a series of air, land and sea exer­cis­es to bet­ter pre­pare South Korea defens­es, he said.

Strate­gic Alliance 2015 syn­chro­nizes South Kore­an and U.S. trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives as the alliance pre­pares for the trans­fer of oper­a­tional con­trol for com­bined defense, Sharp said, and it demon­strates the U.S. com­mit­ment to South Korea.

“Strate­gic Alliance 2015 will enable the Repub­lic of Korea and U.S. forces to suc­cess­ful­ly con­front future secu­ri­ty chal­lenges and set the con­di­tions for last­ing peace in the Kore­an penin­su­la and the region,” the gen­er­al said. “The Repub­lic of Korea and the Unit­ed States are more strong­ly unit­ed than ever before to deter North Kore­an provo­ca­tions and aggres­sion, and to defeat them if nec­es­sary.”

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

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