U.S., South Korean Alliance ‘Never Stronger,’ Sharp Says

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2011 — The rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and South Korea has nev­er been stronger, the com­man­der of U.S. Forces Korea said here yes­ter­day.
Army Gen. Wal­ter “Skip” Sharp, who is near­ing the end of his term in Seoul, said the alliance is key to pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty in a strate­gic area of the world area vital to U.S. nation­al inter­ests.

Deter­ring North Korea remains the main focus of the alliance. North Korea is spend­ing its lim­it­ed mon­ey on mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, he said, specif­i­cal­ly on spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, devel­op­ing nuclear weapons and devel­op­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile capa­bil­i­ties. North Kore­an lead­ers would rather spend mon­ey on mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties than on their peo­ple who are starv­ing to death or are chron­i­cal­ly under­nour­ished, he said.

North Korea is the world’s first three-gen­er­a­tion com­mu­nist dynasty. Kim Il-sung was the found­ing dic­ta­tor. He passed lead­er­ship to his son Kim Jung-il whose son Kim Jung-un is the heir appar­ent.

The North Kore­an strat­e­gy appears to be on the same path it has been, “specif­i­cal­ly to pro­voke, to demand con­ces­sions, get as much as they can, and then to pro­voke again,” Sharp said.

In 2010, there were two provo­ca­tions – the Cheo­nan attack in March and the shelling of Yeong­pyeong Island in Novem­ber.

“North Korea tries to influ­ence and coerce sev­er­al dif­fer­ent audi­ences in order to threat­en peo­ple, in order to be able to gain con­ces­sions, threat­en peo­ple in order to make a state­ment that their regime is on the right course,” the gen­er­al said.

The attacks last year were designed to break down the sup­port for South Kore­an Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak’s pol­i­cy and strat­e­gy of not just giv­ing things to North Korea, but mak­ing North Korea first demon­strate some changes before reward­ing the regime.

“I think what North Kore­an leader Kim Jung-il was hop­ing to do with those two attacks last year was force the South Kore­an peo­ple to say this is too dan­ger­ous, we need to change our strat­e­gy and just go back to giv­ing things to North Korea,” he said.

It did not work, espe­cial­ly in view of the South Kore­an fury fol­low­ing the attack on Yeong­pyeong Island.

“Every South Kore­an who had a smart phone watched live as their coun­try was shelled by North Korea,” Sharp said. “That got peo­ple of all ages, across all eco­nom­ic back­grounds to say they can’t stand for this any­more — a strong response needs to hap­pen for any future provo­ca­tions.”

Over­all, the North Kore­an mil­i­tary is an old style mil­i­tary that is pret­ty good at small unit tac­tics, but not much beyond that, the gen­er­al said.

“But when you con­sid­er the size of their mil­i­tary and their loca­tion, they don’t have to be that good,” he said. “Their main goal is – if they were to attack – is just to attack south and kill as many [they] can.”

North Korea has a dan­ger­ous mil­i­tary, “but if you look at it from the per­spec­tive of the alliance, I’m very con­fi­dent if North Korea were to attack we would be able to – as an alliance – be able to stop them south of Seoul and then even­tu­al­ly be able to com­plete the destruc­tion of the North Kore­an mil­i­tary.”

Tour lengths for U.S. ser­vice mem­bers are increas­ing in the nation. “If you are a sin­gle ser­vice mem­ber, you come basi­cal­ly for one year and you can elect to stay for two years or three years with some incen­tive pay that goes with it,” he said. “Even­tu­al­ly, as we move toward full tour nor­mal­iza­tion is to have it just like Ger­many or Japan.”

South Korea is mark­ing the 61st anniver­sary of the bat­tles of the Kore­an War. Sharp said return­ing Amer­i­can vet­er­ans of the war – many of whom have not been back since the 1950s – can­not believe the changes in Korea since the war. Korea is now the 13th largest econ­o­my in the world. Met­ro­pol­i­tan Seoul has a pop­u­la­tion in excess of 25 mil­lion.

The gen­er­al was born in 1952 while his father was deployed with the 40th Infantry Divi­sion to Korea. The sac­ri­fices made by that gen­er­a­tion and mil­lions of Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers who have been assigned to Korea since then, inspire him to make the alliance between the two coun­tries even clos­er, he said.

“There is a strong desire with­in me to strength­en the alliance, and con­tin­ue to do what we can to get changes in North Korea so even­tu­al­ly this can come to the right end and have a reuni­fied penin­su­la where peo­ple are val­ued and free­dom and edu­ca­tion is val­ued,” he said.

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