Korean Economic Woes, Threat from North Concern Cohen
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea, Feb. 2, 1998 With armed soldiers and the tall fence of the Demilitarized Zone as a backdrop, Secretary of Defense William Cohen braced freezing temperatures Jan. 21 to tell a throng of reporters why the United States needs land mines here.
"Without the land mines, the capacity for the forces in the north would be certainly eased to roll through this area to downtown Seoul," Cohen said.
Some 1 million Korean-owned land mines are buried in the bleak, rugged land that divides North from South just 27 miles from the South Korean capital city. The United States holds millions more of the weapons in reserve.
Wearing a leather "bomber" jacket and scarf to ward off the cold, Cohen strolled along the fence, greeting soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division and frequently scanning the horizon to the north. A loudspeaker blared communist propaganda from just across the DMZ throughout the secretary's brief afternoon visit.
Cohen lauded the 37,000 Americans stationed in Korea for their dedication and commitment "day in and day out, in what continues to be perhaps the hottest potential flashpoint in the world." He also discussed with reporters the current economic problems on both sides of the DMZ but advised the newly elected South Korean government of Kim Dae-Jung against cutting the defense budget to solve financial problems.
"As long as tensions remain high, we have to have a strong deterrent," he said. A sustained U.S.-South Korea military commitment, face-to-face talks with North Korea and the deterrent effect of land mines, he said, will maintain security and encourage a diplomatic solution to tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Cohen said he also believes the U.S.-Korean alliance promotes peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region. It's a theme he sounded throughout 12 days of travel in seven East Asian nations, including stops in Beijing, China; Singapore; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In Seoul, he held talks with Kim Dae-Jung and current President Kim Young-Sam to assure them of unflagging U.S. support. He told Kim Dae-Jung his proposed 10 percent across-the-government budget cut must not diminish South Korea's defense capabilities or its ability to help sustain U.S. forces based in Korea.
Cohen visited U.S. airmen at Osan Air Base before departing Korea and returning to Washington Jan. 22.