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U.S.-South Korean Leaders Guard Against Complacency

By Jim Garamone
SEOUL, South Korea —

The state of the U.S.-South Korea alliance is strong, but the allies cannot become complacent in face of changes in North Korea, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said here today.

While the North Korean conventional military threat is deteriorating, the regime’s asymmetric threats are growing, Dempsey said during an interview with reporters traveling with him.

The United States is concerned about the demonstrated North Korean nuclear capability, Dempsey said. The North Koreans have not demonstrated that they can weaponize a nuclear weapon, “but we can’t be complacent about the possibility.”

North Korea has launched a primitive satellite into orbit. They are developing cyber capabilities and they have the largest special operations force in the region. “When you add all that up and their stated attempt to drive the United States off the peninsula and re-unify it under their terms, yeah we’re very concerned,” he said.

The U.S.-South Korea alliance has been an incredible success story, Dempsey said. In the 60 years of the pact, South Korea has risen from a war devastated Third World country to the 12th largest economy on the globe. The bulwark of the security shield has made this possible.

“Our discussions about rebalancing to the Pacific generally start with our relationship with the [Republic of Korea] in mind,” Dempsey said. “Is there room for improvement? As the threat changes – the ballistic missile threat from the North has increased, cyber threats have increased – and so as a good ally what we’re discussing is how we adapt to those changing threats.”

In thinking of the alliance, military leaders assessed the changing threats, he said. They also look at the evolution, maturity and development of the South Korean forces as they exist today. Then, they look at what capabilities South Korea needs and to integrate them into their capabilities.

“We are very well postured not just on the peninsula, but we have forces in the region that also have the capability to bring national military power to bear,” Dempsey said.

During a town hall meeting earlier in Yongsan, Dempsey told American service members that the Pacific strategy is becoming increasingly important to the United States.

South Korea – America’s oldest ally in the region – remains important. “It would be in our interests to maintain the partnership and continue enhancing it,” he said. “I find a pretty significant commitment on their part to maintain our presence in the Republic of Korea. I think that will remain true certainly until the issue with North Korea is resolved.”

But he suspects the alliance will continue after any resolution of the problems with North Korea. There is a certain appreciation for the stabilizing influence the United States has in the region, he said. “This is a long-term commitment, it’s not one-way,” Dempsey said.