SEOUL, South Korea —
American and South Korean military officials discussed interoperability, capabilities and the threat from North Korea during the 38th Military Committee Meeting here today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Jeong Seung-jo, held talks discussing the U.S.-South Korean alliance, problems confronting the allies and ways ahead. They were joined on the American side by Army Gen. James D. Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
Jeong and Dempsey both took office in 2011, and the U.S. general said the two men have a good relationship. “It was a genuine exchange of where they think they are … and where we are,” Dempsey said during an interview after the meeting. Both militaries are making changes, he added, and as close allies they need to be informed and work out how to best operate together.
The meeting started with a discussion of the threat. “That starts with the North Koreans and trends,” Dempsey said. “Then we moved to capabilities – everything from command and control to intelligence sharing to joint integrated air defense – because the better we can operate together, the better deterrent we have to a miscalculation by North Korea.”
Dempsey said that with the exception of NATO, the U.S. military and South Korean military may be the most interoperable in the world. “But boy, there is always room for improvement,” he added.
Sharing information and intelligence is a key part of this equation. And given the threat that North Korean ballistic missiles pose to the Korean Peninsula and the region, the Joint Integrated Missile Defense System becomes more important, the chairman noted. “As the capabilities of the North have changed, we have to change right along with them,” he said. “In fact, we try to change before they change.”
The tactical interoperability between U.S. and South Korean forces largely has been based on an exchange of liaisons, the chairman said. “In the 21st century now, with information technologies available, we think we can do better at being interoperable in terms of command and control electronically,” he said.
The alliance, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, has helped to secure peace in the region and has allowed South Korea to prosper, Dempsey said. “On the back of that security, the South Koreans have built the 12th largest economy in the world,” he said. “So, our commitment today was ‘OK -- 60 years down, let’s shoot for another 60.”
Budget woes in the United States did not come up in the discussions, Dempsey said. “The assumption is – and it’s a valid assumption – that where our greatest national interests lie, we will find a way to find the resources to make the kind of commitments we need to make,” he added. “Clearly, right here on the peninsula -- where we not only have a 60-year alliance, but we have 28,000 Americans and about 4,200 families -- that’s a pretty significant commitment.”
Budget discussions don’t come up in places like Korea, the chairman said, but rather in areas where the U.S. interests are not as clearly defined.
After the meetings, Dempsey met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the Blue House here. Tonight, he will join the president, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and many South Korean and American dignitaries to mark the alliance’s 60th anniversary.