SEOUL, November 1, 2015 —
North Korea is just 35 miles away from Seoul, a world capital with more than 20 million inhabitants.
That fact colors all the discussions between American and South Korean leaders, and the 40th Military Committee Meeting was no exception.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his South Korean counterpart, Army Gen. Lee Sun-jin, met here today to discuss security issues that face the Korean Peninsula and the way forward for the alliance.
“This is a superb opportunity to address the critical issues that will allow us to deter North Korean provocations and aggression, and, if necessary, to fight tonight and win,” Dunford said at the beginning of the meeting at the Korean Ministry of Defense.
Navy Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of the Republic of Korea-United States Combined Forces Command, joined Dunford in the discussions.
In his opening statement, Dunford said the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance is in transition. Last year, the two countries agreed that the United States will transfer wartime control of the South Korean military when conditions are right. The conditions-based approach to operational control means a U.S. general retains command of the Combined Forces Command in the event of war. The command has about 28,500 U.S. troops and 640,000 South Korean service members.
Progress is being made, Dunford said, and he cited the signing of the new bilateral operations plan and the establishment of a new U.S. and South Korean combined division as examples.
“This year’s (Military Committee Meeting) is critical as the alliance is in a transition period,” Dunford said. “I look forward to discussing three key issues today: critical munitions, our response to North Korean missiles and the details of OpCon transition.”
Both Dunford and Lee are new to their jobs, and the Military Committee Meeting was a chance for the men to meet and develop “the personal relationships that are the foundation of our alliance,” Dunford said.
The chairman stressed his personal and family history with the Republic of Korea noting that his first trip to the peninsula was as a young Marine officer participating in Exercise Team Spirit in 1981. Dunford’s father, who was also a Marine, fought in the Korean War from the Pusan Perimeter to the Chosin Reservoir.
“Like me, he is proud of the many positive changes that have taken place here since the armistice was signed in 1953,” Dunford said. “Decades of peace and prosperity have enabled the Republic of Korea to become a leader in the region and on the world stage.”
The alliance encompasses more than just the peninsula, and Dunford noted South Korea’s contribution to the counter-ISIL fight as a member of the Foreign Fighter Working Group. He also thanked South Korea for its aid in Afghanistan and for its response to the Ebola crisis in Africa, and he noted South Korea’s contributions to earthquake relief in Nepal.
“As partners in an alliance, as friends, and as fellow warriors, we truly do go together,” he said.
The chairman will participate in tomorrow’s Security Consultative Meeting, along with Defense Secretary Ash Carter who arrived here today.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)