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America's East Asia Ties Still Strong

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 1998 – Uncertainty has replaced confidence in East Asia, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

"Economic difficulties and concerns about developments in North Korea have created uncertainty throughout the region," Cohen said Nov. 23 at the Pentagon as he released the nation's East Asia-Pacific security strategy. Asia is not as confident as it was in 1995 when DoD issued the last report, he said. Considering the changes, he added, it's important to stress that America's commitment remains unchanged.

"Stability rests on the foundation of economic growth and military security," Cohen said. "The policies that are outlined in this report are designed to keep that foundation strong."

About 100,000 service members in the East Asia-Pacific region make up the cornerstone of the nation's security strategy, Cohen said. This force includes 8th Army and 7th Air Force in Korea, the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and 5th Air Force in Japan and the U.S. 7th Fleet.

The United States is firmly committed to keeping these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines based in the region, the secretary said. "This presence helps us to shape events, to respond to crises and to prepare for an uncertain future."

"Multidimensional activities" -- everything from training exercises to humanitarian relief efforts and firefighting in Indonesia -- demonstrate U.S. resolve to protect its interests as well as its regional allies, Cohen said. U.S. presence contributes to regional security and demonstrates that the United States is committed to East Asia's long-term prosperity and stability, he said.

A day earlier, President Clinton visited U.S. service members in Korea, one of the region's serious security problems. U.S. troops help South Korean forces guard what defense officials call the most heavily fortified border in the world. Just 24 miles north of Seoul along the Demilitarized Zone, Pentagon officials say, the North Korean army has nearly 600,000 troops, more than 2,400 tanks and 6,000 artillery pieces.

The threat from the north continues to grow. Reports of an underground nuclear facility call into question North Korea's compliance with the Framework Agreement curtailing its nuclear weapons program. North Korea's missile program -- in particular, reports that it plans to test a missile that can hit Japan -- is also raising alarms.

"The most recent tests in August, the one that appeared to be launching a satellite, have caused great consternation in the region," Cohen said. "We're going to continue our dialogue with the North Koreans to see if we can't promote greater restraint on their part."

The United States is trying to develop defenses against North Korea's missile program and is exploring ways Japan can contribute to the research and development effort, he added.

Overall U.S. strategy aims to deter aggression and enhance alliances with Japan, Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines. Engaging China and integrating Russia into regional affairs are also goals, Pentagon officials said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePresident Bill Clinton talks to U.S. Forces Korea service members and their families during a visit to Osan Air Base, South Korea. The Nov. 22 visit was one stop on the president's Asia trip. Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Slade, USAF  
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