ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 20, 2010 — In 1950, the United States and many other countries of the United Nations came to the defense of South Korea when North Korea invaded. The meetings in Seoul beginning tomorrow are a reaffirmation of U.S. commitment to the Republic of Korea, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters traveling with him that the “Two-plus-Two” meetings between the secretaries of State and Defense and the ministers of Foreign Affairs and National Defense re-emphasize the security relationship between the United States and South Korea.
Mullen and Navy Adm Robert F. Willard will participate in the discussions, and provide their military advice to the civilian leaders. Their South Korean counterparts – led by Gen. Han Min-yu – will do the same for ROK government leaders. “I think it is an extremely important reaffirmation of the alliance on the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War,” Mullen said.
Complicating matters is the March sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan off the west coast of the peninsula. An independent review team concluded that a North Korean vessel fired a torpedo that sank the ship and killed 46 ROK sailors.
This latest incident continues a history of provocative acts by North Korea. Northern leaders have ordered assassinations, kidnappings, raids across the DMZ, and any number of other acts since the armistice ending the fighting in 1953.
North Korea has developed a nuclear capability and the missile capability to deliver it. North Korea maintains a military in excess of 1.5 million, and has thousands of artillery tubes and missiles pointed at – and in range of – Seoul, which is one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world.
The discussions in Seoul will be more than simply military talks, senior defense officials said. The leaders will discuss the full range of foreign and security issues confronting the region.
On the military side, the Two-plus-Two will be discussions of joint U.S.-ROK military exercises. Leaders will also discuss the extension of the date for passing wartime control to South Korean forces. The transition was supposed to be complete in April 2012. It will now happen in December 2015.
Mullen said the leaders will continue to work together both in exercises and operations. “This is a really critical part of the world, and certainly if you have an incident like Cheonan and a country like North Korea, you worry a great deal about what else could happen here,” he said. “We will continue with our strong relationship and continue to work with the Korean military as we have over decades.”
The chairman praised diplomats across the spectrum for the U.S. Security Council resolution on the Cheonan. “There is nobody – the United States or those who live in the region – who want any kind of conflict to break out,” the admiral said.
The specific act of the sinking of Cheonan and killing 46 sailors “is just completely unacceptable,” Mullen said. “It doesn’t meet any kind of international norm and that behavior isn’t going to be tolerated.”
Still, the chairman said he will not underestimate North Korean capabilities. “The size of the force and its proximity to Seoul make it dangerous,” Mullen said. “It’s got an unpredictable leadership, and that’s indicative in what happened to Cheonan.”
The U.N. Security Council resolution – with the agreement of China and Russia – sends North Korean leaders the message that no country supports them. U.S. and South Korean forces will conduct joint exercises off both the east and west coasts of the peninsula. The intent of the exercises is to improve stability in the region and improve interoperability. It also sends the message to the North that the South Korean military is a powerful force on its own , and that the nation is a treaty ally of the most powerful and combat-proven force in the world today.
The U.S. and South Koreans exercise routinely in the waters off the peninsula. The Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea are international waters and the United States will use them as such, Mullen said.
The Two-plus-Two will begin with a ceremony at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul. There will be a moment of silence for the 46 sailors killed aboard the Cheonan. Leaders will also remember the more than 32,000 American servicemembers who died in the war. Since 1953, the United States has maintained troops on the peninsula. There are currently 28,500 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)