April 22, 2013
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in South Korea today for meetings with senior U.S. and South Korean commanders. Hours later the chairman was airborne again, heading for a weeklong series of engagements in China and Japan.
En route to Beijing, Dempsey spoke to reporters traveling with him about his meetings in Seoul with Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, and South Korean chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Jung Seung-jo.
Dempsey said the three discussed several issues important to the U.S.-South Korea alliance, but the current situation with North Korea was their central topic. North Korea conducted an illegal nuclear test in February, and since has issued a series of threats and provocations aimed chiefly at the United States.
“Seoul is rather normal,” the chairman said, noting soccer games, bike races, and other everyday activities were readily observable today. The South Korean military is, however, on a heightened state of readiness, he added.
In particular, the allies are focusing on intelligence gathering, the maritime domain, ballistic missile defense and counter-battery artillery fire, he said.
The chairman said the “newest insight” he gained from today’s discussion came from both Jung and Thurman, who noted the actions of Kim Jong Un, the young, hereditary leader of North Korea, bear marked differences from those of his father, Kim Jong Il, or his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
While the youngest Kim is following suit with them by continuing the “military first” policy under which the nation’s scant resources go first to supporting the military and its weapons programs, Dempsey said one key difference is in the provocations most recently heard from Pyongyang.
“We’re not into a series of cyclic provocations,” as has been typical in the past, he said, but instead the allies now see a prolonged campaign of provocative words and actions.
According to numerous reports North Korea has cut military communications between the two nations, blocked access from the south to the joint North-South industrial area of Kaesong near the demilitarized zone, and threatened various “sea of fire” attacks while moving missiles into launch-ready positions.
“The question that we were discussing today primarily was, ‘How do we posture ourselves for a period of prolonged provocation? How do you sustain [that]?’”
Dempsey said the likeliest approach Thurman and Jung will take is to increase joint operations, bringing their forces into yet closer alignment to share the responsibilities of prolonged, heightened tension.
Dempsey said along with the demands of a sustained, high-readiness force posture, the meetings also touched on the transition to the South Korean military’s operational control of wartime alliance activities on the peninsula, set to take place in December of 2015. South Koreans currently lead normal, peacetime military operations, but the U.S. commander would assume control in a wartime setting.
Dempsey said he’s received a lot of military advice over the last few months, most of it boiling down to “avoid war.”
“From a military perspective, the best way to avoid war is to prepare for it,” he said. While the alliance is not seeking to provoke the North, he said, U.S. forces will keep up the “fairly steady pattern” of training exercises, port calls and other activities on the peninsula and in the region.
“We have a sustained presence here that I think is assuring to our allies,” he added.
Later today the chairman arrived in Beijing, where he will spend a few days in high-level meetings before moving on to Tokyo.
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