ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Aug. 13, 2017 —
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is traveling to Asia to reassure allies and improve military-to-military ties during a complicated time in the region.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford will visit South Korea, China and Japan. North Korea, Dunford said, will be a big topic of discussion when he meets with leaders in all three countries.
The general stopped in Hawaii on his way to consult with Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
“Effective military-to-military relations are important for our allies -- we have to have transparency in our planning efforts -- and we need to have effective military-to-military relations with China so there is no miscalculation,” Dunford said during an interview with reporters traveling with him. “During this trip I will work to improve our already strong military-to-military relationships in Seoul and Tokyo and to continue to develop the relationship I have had with [Chinese] General Fang Fenghui since our first conversation 16 months ago.”
North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, and duplicated the feat on July 28.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has tied his nation to the development of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them despite worldwide condemnation and repeated calls to “denuclearize” the Korean Peninsula. Most recently, the United Nations unanimously voted to impose tough economic sanctions against North Korea. China -- North Korea’s ally -- also voted to impose the sanctions. U.S. Pacific Command officials said they believe China voting for the sanctions indicates the Chinese could be losing patience with North Korea.
Diplomatic, Economic Pressure
Dunford’s trip is in support to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic and economic campaign to deter North Korea. Success in that campaign would be a North Korean commitment to denuclearization and a halt of missile tests, officials said.
North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006 and its most recent test was September 2016. On the missile side, North Korea has conducted 17 launches this past year.
Dunford believes that a conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be horrible, but that does not mean there are not military options.
“No one is more reluctant to go to war than those of us who represent the men and women who actually have to pay that sacrifice,” the chairman said. “[We’re] also mindful of the civilian sacrifice that could occur in a war.”
The general believes all nations want to resolve the situation peacefully.
“As a military leader I have to make sure that the president does have viable military options in the event that the diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign fails,” Dunford said. “But even as we develop those options, we are mindful of the consequences of those options, and that gives us a greater sense of urgency to make sure we are doing everything we absolutely can to support Secretary Tillerson’s path.”
U.S.-South Korean-Japanese Partnership
In Seoul, Dunford said he’ll assure South Korean leaders of America’s ironclad commitment. He said he’ll speak with his South Korean counterpart about other mutual issues of concern including military planning, and capabilities on the peninsula.
“When I go to Beijing, my primary objective will be to continue to develop our military-to-military relationships, to mitigate the risk of miscalculation in the region and to have cooperation where those opportunities exist,” the general said.
Most of the interactions between U.S. and Chinese military forces are professional and courteous, said a senior Pacific Command official speaking on background. However, the official added, U.S. and Chinese military leaders what to minimize the possibility of a miscalculation by either side.
During his stop in Tokyo, Dunford said he’ll reassure a close, treaty ally of America’s ironclad commitment.
“I think it is important as I go over there that the president has already outlined what the policy is, and one of the things he said is there has to be a credible military option in the event the diplomatic and economic campaign to denuclearize the peninsula fails,” the general said.
Dunford said the U.S. military will continue to examine plans to ensure the president has options.
“In the meantime, our focus militarily is to support Secretary Tillerson’s diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign,” he said.