U.S. Commander for Korea Calls Alliance Lynchpin for Stability
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2009 Almost 56 years past the armistice that ended the fighting on the Korean peninsula, the U.S.-South Korea alliance has turned into a lynchpin for stability in Northeast Asia, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp told the senators he considers the U.S. relationship with South Korea “our strongest and most successful alliance.”
The republic has grown from a war-torn and almost leveled country to a nation with a world-class infrastructure and educated work force that works with fellow democracies.
“The Republic of Korea armed forces have fought alongside Americans in Vietnam,” Sharp said. “They’ve participated in Operation Desert Storm and deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republic of Korea has participated in United Nations peacekeeping operations, and currently has a presence in six of those operations around the world.”
But the enemy remains North Korea, and countering that threat remains Sharp’s most important mission. The survival of Kim Jong Il’s regime is the focus for North Korea, Sharp said.
“North Korea remains the world's leading supplier of ballistic missiles and related technology and remains a major proliferator of conventional weapons as well,” he said.
North Korea continues to try to provoke reactions. The North has threatened South Korea in the West Sea. Kim unilaterally nullified the South-North Basic Agreement. North Korean officials have said they cannot protect the safety of civilian airliners traveling through their country’s airspace, and the country’s leaders have suggested a possible ballistic missile launch.
“All an attempt to ensure regime survival, improve its bargaining position at international negotiations to gain concessions,” Sharp said.
North Korea’s conventional military continues to pose a threat. The North Korean army is arrayed along the demilitarized zone.
“My first priority as the commander is to maintain trained, ready and disciplined combined and joint command forces that are prepared to fight and win in any potential conflict,” the general said. “Facing any number of challenges that could arise on the peninsula with little warning, our commitment to the alliance spans the entire spectrum of conflict. Given the varied potential challenges, our forces constantly strive to maintain the highest possible level of training and readiness.”
The second priority is to continue to strengthen the alliance. Both U.S. and South Korean forces are transforming to meet the threats and to be more agile and deadly. One aspect of this transformation is the plan for South Korean forces to attain wartime operational control on April 17, 2012.
“An enduring U.S. force presence in Korea after [the] transfer in 2012 will ensure a strong alliance which is fully capable of maintaining security in this critical part of the world,” Sharp said. “I am absolutely confident this transition will be a success for both the United States and the Republic of Korea and will serve as the key foundation for future regional stability.”
Quality of life for U.S. personnel on the peninsula is the general’s third priority. “Our goal is to make Korea the assignment of choice for all servicemembers and their families,” he said.
The majority of U.S. forces accompanied by their families soon will serve normal three-year tours. Sharp said this will significantly increase U.S. warfighting capability and improve the quality of life for personnel by eliminating “the long and unnecessary separation” of servicemembers from their families, he said.