USA/South Korea — Cheonan Tragedy Strengthens U.S.-South Korean Alliance

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea, July 21, 2010 — For years, the catch­phrase for U.S. and South Kore­an troops post­ed here has been “Katchi-Kap­shi­da – We Go Togeth­er.”

The fact that the Unit­ed States is a stead­fast ally of South Korea is one of the mes­sages car­ried by U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who today vis­it­ed with U.S. troops sta­tioned here.

Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to 2nd Infantry Divi­sion sol­diers and air­men. The ser­vice­mem­bers had a chance to ask the admi­ral about the sit­u­a­tion in Korea and oth­er top­ics.

Mullen ear­li­er met with senior South Kore­an defense and for­eign affairs offi­cials in Seoul, the nation­al cap­i­tal. Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates also are vis­it­ing South Korea. They, too, met with their coun­ter­parts, Min­is­ter of Nation­al Defense Kin Tae-young and Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan.

Mullen then took a heli­copter flight to Camp Red Cloud and spoke to more than 200 ser­vice­mem­bers in the base gym. The meet­ings marked the 60th anniver­sary of the start of the Kore­an War – a war in which 32,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers died from 1950–1953.

The meet­ings also high­light­ed the con­tin­u­ing U.S. com­mit­ment to South Korea fol­low­ing North Korea’s March attack on the frigate Cheo­nan that killed 46 South Kore­an sailors. “What has hap­pened since the sink­ing has val­i­dat­ed the U.S.-South Kore­an alliance,” Mullen told the ser­vice­mem­bers. He relat­ed how a senior South Kore­an leader told him that the Repub­lic of Korea now real­ly knows who its friends are in wake of the tragedy.

The alliance between the U.S. and South Korea has grown stronger since the Cheo­nan attack, Mullen said, not­ing that’s prob­a­bly not the result the North Kore­ans nei­ther want­ed nor expect­ed.

The South Kore­an gov­ern­ment did not jump to con­clu­sions fol­low­ing the sink­ing and did not launch rash actions, Mullen point­ed out. The South Kore­an gov­ern­ment with­held judg­ment about what sank the ves­sel until a spe­cial pan­el made up of experts from South Korea, Swe­den, the Unit­ed States, Aus­tralia, Cana­da and Great Britain deliv­ered the report. The evi­dence was con­clu­sive – a North Kore­an tor­pe­do had sunk the Cheo­nan inside South Kore­an ter­ri­to­r­i­al waters.

South Korea pre­sent­ed its case to the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil and all 15 nations on the coun­cil vot­ed for a pres­i­den­tial find­ing on the sink­ing. The find­ing says the Cheo­nan was attacked, but does not iden­ti­fy the attack­er.

The “yes” votes in the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil includ­ed those of Chi­na and Rus­sia – two neigh­bors with coun­cil veto pow­ers. The vot­ing “shows we’re all con­cerned about Pyongyang and where this lead­er­ship [North Kore­an dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il] goes,” Mullen said.

“He’s a pret­ty unpre­dictable guy,” the admi­ral said of Kim Jong-il.

The Unit­ed States and South Korea will soon hold com­bined naval and air exer­cis­es to send a clear, strong mes­sage to the North that their attacks and provo­ca­tions must stop, Mullen said. The first exer­cise begins July 25, and includes the USS George Wash­ing­ton Car­ri­er Strike Group. Hun­dreds of U.S. and South Kore­an air­craft will par­tic­i­pate, includ­ing Air Force F‑22 Rap­tors – the most sophis­ti­cat­ed jet in the world.

The Unit­ed States has 28,500 ser­vice­mem­bers in South Korea, and that num­ber will remain con­stant for the fore­see­able future, the chair­man said. The details of the U.S. foot­print and capa­bil­i­ties those forces bring to the alliance will change over time, “but our com­mit­ment will not,” he said.

In fact, some of the details are already known. U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers can now serve three-year tours to South Korea and can bring their fam­i­lies. That option is lim­it­ed right now as the Unit­ed States and South Korea builds the infra­struc­ture to sup­port it, but some mil­i­tary fam­i­lies have already tak­en advan­tage of it. Mullen said there will be more schools, health facil­i­ties and hous­ing for U.S. mil­i­tary fam­i­lies on the penin­su­la.

The U.S. foot­print in South Korea will change, Mullen said. Camp Red Cloud itself – named for Army Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud, who posthu­mous­ly received the Medal of Hon­or for his actions in the Kore­an War – will close as the 2nd Divi­sion shifts south of the Han Riv­er to Camp Humphreys. Oth­er U.S. bases in South Korea will close or con­sol­i­date through 2016, but the total num­bers of troops in coun­try will remain con­stant.

The Unit­ed States must remain com­mit­ted to South Korea and the region, Mullen said, as well as in oth­er parts of the world.

“In a world that is so much more inter­con­nect­ed the require­ments for glob­al pres­ence and inter­ac­tion [is larg­er],” the admi­ral said.

As the U.S. mil­i­tary reviews its glob­al foot­print, one guid­ing prin­ci­ple is that Amer­i­ca must remain engaged with oth­er nations, Mullen said.

“Hear­ing prob­lems from oth­er peo­ples’ per­spec­tive … and under­stand­ing the cul­tures [is impor­tant],” the admi­ral said.

Mullen thanked the ser­vice­mem­bers for their con­tri­bu­tions, and asked them to thank their fam­i­lies for their sac­ri­fices. He said he would con­tin­ue to put their well-being first. “Every sin­gle day that I’ve had this job and I have deci­sions which cross my desk, first and fore­most in those deci­sions are what do they do to you? You are out here mak­ing things hap­pen,” he said.

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