U.S., South Korea Hold Security Talks
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 1997 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Dong-Jin, reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Republic of Korea treaty, saying U.S. forces in South Korea contribute to the stability of the peninsula and all of Northeast Asia.
The two defense leaders got together during the 29th U.S.-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting. The meeting was scheduled for Seoul in November, but the situation in Iraq forced the delay.
For U.S. service members, the most visible result of the meeting is the United States agreed to return the almost 5,000-acre Tongduchon Military Training Area to Korea. Also, South Korea agreed to give the United States control over 58 acres to link Camps Casey and Castle.
The two ministers agreed anti-personnel land mines are a necessity along the Demilitarized Zone. They said the mines are vital not only to deterring North Korea, but for defeating aggression if the North launches an attack. U.S.-Korean forces will continue using land mines until either the North Korean threat disappears or a practical alternative to land mines is developed. U.S. officials said they hope to have an alternative to land mines developed by 2006.
North Korea is going through a famine that complicates the situation on the peninsula.
"Obviously, the food situation has exacerbated their domestic problems, but it appears to have eased," Cohen said. "It is ironic and perhaps inconsistent that while people are starving, [the North Korean government is] nonetheless devoting substantial resources to their military."
The U.S. and South Korean reaction to events in North Korea is to keep their guards up. "So our best procedure right now is to maintain the strength of our deterrent capability, to improve it any way we can and to be aware that there may be a chemical or biological capability on the part of North Korea," Cohen said.
Cohen and Kim said North Korea remains extremely dangerous. The United States and South Korea do not see any signs of North Korean aggression, but both ministers qualify that statement. "[North Korea] still has roughly a million men under arms," Cohen said. "They are still forward deployed. They still have a capability that warrants our careful day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute scrutiny."
"The risk of a second Korean War has never been absent," said Kim. "But as of now, I don't have any indication of imminent North Korean attack. But the likelihood of a war still exists."
The United States and South Korea see the alliance lasting beyond the threat of the North. Cohen said the United States will reduce troops in Korea only after consultations with the Republic of Korea and then only after "a demonstrable reduction in the threat [from North Korea], and that would have to be deep and long term."
Kim said U.S. forces will be needed in the area after the North Korean threat ends. "We strongly believe the role of U.S. forces is very vital in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," he said. "So the future of a U.S. role will be closely consulted when such things as the reduction of tensions occurs in the future."