Department of Defense Background Briefing on Secretary Hagel's Upcoming Trip to the Republic of Korea and Japan in the Pentagon Briefing Room
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Have a seat. Good afternoon, everyone.
We're pleased to conduct this backgrounder on the secretary's upcoming trip to Japan and South Korea. We have two familiar faces here who will be identified on background as senior defense officials.
Without further ado, I'll turn it over to [Senior Defense Official] for some opening comments, then to [Senior Defense Official] and then to you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, thanks, everybody.
I think this is the more uplifting part of your – the press briefings. I think Bob Hale is coming in at two. So anyway, I -- but I tried that opening joke with George, and it didn't fly.
Was just trying to (inaudible). But anyway, on the trip. I think, you know, look, the -- this -- I think what is clear is that the rebalance -- the president's rebalance is ongoing. Secretary Hagel is playing a key role in it due to, you know, a couple of things.
One, his personal commitment to Asia, personal connection to Asia, and moreover, the time and energy he's willing to devote to the subject. This is his third trip to the region since he's becoming -- become secretary. And according to figures that we put together, we have 12 -- he's had bilaterals with 12 nations in Asia.
This will be, for example, the third time he's met with the Minister of Defense Kim and the fourth time he's met with Minister of Defense Onodera you know, in addition to several phone calls with both these ministers, two of which to Minister Kim Kwan-jin this week and the national security adviser of Korea, Kim Jong sun. He talked to both of those by phone this week, as well.
He'll be in Korea for really -- I haven't -- in recent memory, I haven't seen a secretary who’s been there for four days. He's going to be there for four days to celebrate and honor the 60th anniversary of the alliance. We're also looking forward to good meetings with President Park Geun-hye. And the minister's going to host him for a lunch. So we'll have a good bilateral engagement there.
Then of course, the main -- one of the main reasons we're going is the SCM [security consultative meeting], right? I think we're on the 43rd SCM and, again, there will be important issues to discuss there.
The only other thing I'd say on the Korea part is that, you know, I just would remind folks that, you know, the North Korea provocation cycle was something that Secretary Hagel sort of handled early in his tenure and made the decision to shift the ground-based interceptors to Alaska. I think, you know, the Department of Defense, working with inter-agency colleagues, did effective jobs of both deterring North Korean behavior and provocations and reassuring key treaty allies in northeast Asia.
You know, so I would just say, you know, on the North Korea piece, I think, again, looking -- he was very much looking forward to it. He's got personal connections to South Koreans dating back to his time in Vietnam when he worked side-by-side with South Korean soldiers who were fighting beside him. And, you know, he's had many trips there as a private citizen and I believe as a senator as well.
On Japan, you know, we are going to be participating in an historic first-ever cabinet-level two-plus-two in Tokyo. We believe, you know, the alliance, as with Korea, I mean, popular opinion on -- for the U.S. in both countries in the alliances, rarely been stronger, if ever. I think they're at historic highs, in Japan they’re undertaking a number of dynamic initiatives, both on the economic and security side. And we look forward to, at the two-plus-two, covering the gambit, obviously State will have the lead on the non-defense security issues.
On the security side, you know, we continue to work through the Futenma issue, the Tippy Two Radar, guidelines review, lots of exciting and interesting items there.
And then, finally, just in terms of his -- I think he's got a very good connection with the Defense Minister Onodera. And, again, this is the fourth meeting that they've had, including a visit here, Shangri-La, Brunei and now in Japan.
With that, I'll turn it over to [Senior Defense Official] to kind of walk through the (inaudible) some of the particulars of the trip.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, [Senior Defense Official]. As -- as [Senior Defense Official] said, I'll just hit some of the real high points of the schedule for the next couple of days, during the trip.
First and foremost, if you look at the Korea agenda, as has already been stated, it's four days, which is truly unprecedented in terms of the amount of time the secretary's going to be spending in South Korea. And the agenda is very robust. Everything that we're doing on this agenda you'll see has a purpose, and it goes back to the commitment that we have, the commitment that the secretary has, the commitment that our government has to the work that we're undertaking to strengthen and enhance this critical alliance, which has served as a lynch pin of our strategy in the Asia Pacific.
Starting with the first day that we're going to be there, weather permitting, of course. That's always an issue on the Korean peninsula. Weather permitting, we're looking to have opportunities to (inaudible) interact with U.S. troops, soldiers that are forward deployed on the Korean peninsula, have an opportunity -- again, weather permitting -- to observe gunnery training, live fire training events, which is -- and interact with the troops, which is an important part of the secretary's role and function, you know, when he travels overseas where we have service personnel deployed -- and will also have an opportunity to visit the de-militarized zone at -- in and around Freedom House and OP Ouellete an opportunity to meet with Minister of Defense Kim Kwan-jin there.
So both the secretary and the minister will be there at the de-militarized zone, which is -- will be an important opportunity to reflect not only on the past of what's happened there at the de-militarized zone, but also as a reminder and reflection on the current threats and challenges that we see to security stability on the Korean peninsula from some of the actions that North Korean has taken.
Then the next day, will be a big day, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance. The secretary will have meetings with President Park Geun-hye, will attend a dinner hosted that night where the president -- the president of South Korea has invited the secretary to make remarks at a 60th anniversary alliance celebration dinner on the evening of the 30th.
Moving on to the next day, the next day is a day that's focused on celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Korea [ROK] armed forces. This is the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of ROK armed forces.
There'll be a ceremony in the morning, which will include a parade and an air show demonstration of Republic of Korea's military capabilities and how that -- how their armed forces have evolved -- an opportunity to meet with the defense minister for lunch and again a reception in the evening to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Korea's armed forces.
Each of these events, as I said, kind of ties into the focus of this alliance, which is really strengthening, enhancing the capabilities to support stability and peace on the Korean peninsula.
And then the next day is the big show, as previously stated. On the 2nd we'll have the security consultative meeting and it is actually the 45th addition of this very important platform.
So it's the 45th SCM and the SCM is the real platform for strategic management of the U.S.-South Korea military alliance. So that is will be the focus of that.
And then in the afternoon, the secretary will have the opportunity and will be very pleased to attend the change of command ceremony for the -- the commander of U.S. Forces Korea. There's also dual hatted as the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations command so that will happen in the afternoon, where the change of command from General Thurman who has served extremely well, over to General Scaparrotti who many of you may have met, interacted with in his previous assignment as director of the Joint Staff.
So that basically ends the main day set of events in Korea. Then we'll transition on the 2nd to Japan, where the primary focus of our interactions with Japan, as already been stated, the two-plus-two, which, again, is truly an historic event which is the first time that we've had a ministerial-level two-plus-two in Tokyo. So that's the primary focus of that. There'll be opportunities for meetings, both with -- separate bilateral meetings with the minister of defense, as well as the prime minister -- Japanese prime minister Abe.
We'll also have opportunities while we're there to visit some of the U.S. military personnel that's assigned to Japan. The secretary will -- Yokosuka Naval Base where he'll have an opportunity to visit the ship the USS Stethem and to kind of round out his trip to -- to Japan.
So with that I'll -- I'll end with the overview of the overall plan, and we can take any questions that you might have.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All right, we'll take either 43 or 45 questions (inaudible).
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Just joking.
All right so (inaudible).
Q: How much, if any, of this will include some time discussing the suggestions that perhaps Korea might seek an extension beyond 2015, will that at least be a topic of conversation?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question.
I think that the first thing I'd say is that, you know, we -- we do feel that the alliance in terms of the capabilities both on the ROK side and the U.S. side is doing much better than it was just a few years ago. We continue to improve the capabilities, the capacity, the inter-operability. So that's a really good news story, and that trajectory continues to be in the right direction.
We've got more work to do, but -- but that is a good news story.
In terms of the issue itself, you know, I think we're gonna have a good conversation at the SCM. We've been having some conversations in bilateral settings as well. The minister and the SecDef had a good conversation on the margins of the ADMM Plus as well. I think we're gonna be able to sort of frame -- frame up some issues, but, you know, I don't -- there's no deadline here. I don't expect any decision on this issue, but I do think we're going to have a good discussion that'll help sort frame -- frame it up and work on a way forward.
And -- and I do think that -- that this issue is one that, just like in 2009 and 2010, we really are gonna be able to work through this in sort of the spirit of the alliance, it's amicable I think that there are real issues here, you know, there's a lot of moving pieces and we just kind of sort of glue it together as an alliance.
Q: Hi, my name's (inaudible) from (inaudible).
One is that, regarding China, what kind of set of issues are you going to talk with Japanese side (inaudible) in meeting?
And the second question is, there are ongoing discussion (inaudible) in Japan about whether Japan should have preemptive strike capabilities. And I was wondering though, what is the basic position of U.S. side on this matter? And are you gonna talk about this on (inaudible) meeting?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question.
With respect to your first question, I really don't want to, you know, pre-judge the content of these meetings that the secretary is gonna be having. I mean, that's -- that's for the secretary to do and we'll provide a read out afterwards of what's actually talked about.
But, certainly I think the -- you know, one of the key aspects of the discussion that we can anticipate will take place after Two-Plus-Two is to talk about the regional security environment. Is that -- the regional security environment helps to set the context within which we're developing and continuing to transform the alliance. And that includes, you know, what's going on in the Korean peninsula, what's going on elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific including in China and the South China Sea.
So in terms of what specifically he's gonna be talking about, I’ll let the secretary and the secretary of state and their counterparts in Japan work on that when they're together.
With respect to your -- your second question, one of the things that we're hoping to do for the Two-Plus-Two is start the process for reviewing the defense guidelines of the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines which are the overarching framework document that kind of sets the path forward for how the alliance will evolve in the future.
And within the context of that, and indeed after -- at the core of the defense guidelines is a discussion about both the current and the future roles, missions and capabilities of the U.S.-Japan alliance. And that's a discussion that we have yet to have, that we will have as part of the defense guidelines review process.
Where we talk about what type of capabilities that the U.S. needs to bring, and what type of capabilities that Japan needs to bring, and then fundamentally what type of capabilities we need to bring into the alliance as allies to insure the purposes and objectives of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is defending Japan.
Q: Thank you.
On the sharing of the defense (inaudible) by any (inaudible) of the (inaudible) for the (inaudible)?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: SMAs.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's -- as -- as you know, that's a set of discussions that's going on concurrently here with this process. Our -- our Department of State leads that effort. Certainly, I would anticipate, that you know, the contributions -- relative contributions both of the United States, and the Republic of Korea to the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance will be something that's talked about. But, given the fact that the SMA negotiations are going on, I don't think there's gonna be anything that comes out of the SCM that talks about that.
I'm gonna let those negotiations go, and -- and continue on -- on the course that they are, which I think has been pretty robust and productive discussions, but those -- those are happening outside of the SCM.
Q: Okay, my name is Chi Dong Lee with South Korea (inaudible).
Thank you for coming here meeting us today.
We -- we know that the United States is striving for a stronger trilateral military cooperation with South Korea and Japan, but relations between Seoul and Tokyo showing no signs of improving. So I think trilateral cooperation is stalled at this moment. I -- that's my sense, so do you think Secretary Hagel will bring any messages to South Korea and Japan in that regard?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So first, I -- I think you rightfully note the importance the United States places on -- on trilateral cooperation. I think you know it is a priority for us. You know, it's something we talk to both sides bilaterally about and we also encourage, you know, a range of trilateral activities.
The one -- the one part of it I might take issue with here is that, on the defense side, the trilateral cooperation's been pretty constant and good and I think, you know, we work as the three nations very hard to say, look there's a political and historical piece of this. We get it. Those are important issues. But that's kind of a State Department, White House, Blue House, prime minister's office to work out.
But the security baseline is something that we need to keep going even when times are tough on the political side. So, you know, we -- you know, as -- as you've seen, we had a very good meeting on the margins of Shangrila trilateral meeting. We continue to work trilateral in different various operational settings as well. Last year, you know, we were able to conclude a successful DCTs, you know, in Tokyo.
So I think the -- the point -- to answer your question, I would just say look I think like we've got good trilateral cooperation on the defense side. We could and should be doing more, and we look forward to the political side trying to work things out so we can do even more.
And -- and to answer the second piece, I would just say, yes, I mean we will raise it. We will talk about this and we will discuss this in greater detail.
Q: (inaudible) with NHK Japanese Public TV.
About revising U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, do you have any concern from Chinese reaction, because obviously it would cover this situation over Senkaku islands?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think from the -- from the perspective of the review, I wouldn't want to -- I wouldn't want to, you know, prejudge what would be part of the review.
So I think this is an important set of discussions that we'll need to have with our -- with our Japanese allies as we think about how to transform the alliance for the future, and what this alliance stands for.
So how we can cooperate and maintain stability and peace and enabling the type of prosperity that the region is really been able to witness. It is how the United States and Japan can continue working together to achieve our common -- our common alliance objectives.
But, in terms of what specifically the contents of that -- of that review will take I think we still have to -- we still have to have that discussion with our -- with our Japanese allies.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, I think he hit it -- hit it on the head.
I just would say that, look, I mean, the -- the guidelines review is really about the alliance, right? And, so I think that's what we have to -- first principles is -- as he’s already said -- is what capabilities do the -- does the alliance have now, what capabilities does the alliance lack and what capabilities do we need to bring to bear together to improve alliance capabilities in -- in Northeast Asia and -- and quite frankly, possibly beyond.
So I think that's -- I think that's the crux of the matter in terms of the guideline reviews and sort of dealing with those first principles first as we move down this path is going to be essential.
Q: You mentioned earlier about South Korea, that their capabilities have improved over the last few years in terms of inter-operability.
Can you give a couple examples of how things have improved over the last few years?
And, what needs to improve by way of capabilities over the next two years, if in fact they meet this December ‘15 OPCON transfer goal?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So on the second part of your question you're saying, in order to meet the outcome what needs to get done...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Capabilities, yeah.
So, in terms of, you know, the -- the example that always jumps out in mind is in terms of the improvement is missile defense. They -- you know, they -- they're more deeply integrated into our -- into our cooperation when the North Korean threat emerges, you know, from time to time their -- their ships are very effective in being deployed, helping us track, talking to us so on and so forth.
So that's one that really, you know, you see it time and time again and you're able to sort of judge the improvement and General Thurman will say the same thing, the cooperation -- and the cooperation's been excellent, and we're now, you know, in a different place than we were just a few years ago.
On -- on the second piece, you know, what needs to get to done, I would just -- I think -- point you to the -- the Strategic Alliance 2015 document. You know, it's all kind of laid out there. But, you know, I think we'd like to see, you know, some things -- more ISR, C4I, PAC-3's, missile -- so on and so forth. That's kind of the universe. But there -- you know, there's -- there's -- I don't want to go through the whole inventory of our capabilities, but you sort of get that -- where I'm driving toward.
Q: One follow up.
Do you expect North Korea to try some provocative event while Mr. Hagel goes up to DMZ and try to steal his thunder?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I never know what the North Koreans are going to do. I don't know, you want to take a shot at that one? From the intelligence community.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Look -- I mean, we have to maintain -- constantly maintain vigilance. You know, against potential North Korean provocation. So I just -- I can't speak to any intel or anything like that, but, I mean, this is something that, you know, we -- it's just part of how we -- how we handle this relationship.
North Korea -- North Korea has been there. They'll be there when we're there. They'll be there after we leave. But that doesn't mean we can't do things like visit the -- the demilitarized zone, and interact with the troops there. And, go so --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And I might add just one other thing. It actually gives her the opportunity to maybe take a look. Say that, you know, I think that's one of General Thurman's key points of emphasis when he was there and under his command. And as we sort of reflect back on his tenure there -- I mean, his -- one of his charges was to really get UFSK into a much more operational mindset, much more of a -- you know, in a higher state of vigilance. And, you know, his motto, you know, to fight tonight, you know.
And so I think -- the point is that -- that it is a focus that we are constantly ready, looking, and, you know, watching the intelligence closely in terms of what the North might do.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sir?
Q: At the (inaudible), there is a (inaudible) guideline. Do you have any timelines?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Do you want to take (inaudible)?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think from the -- from the two-plus-two, what we're hoping to be able to do is start the review of -- of the Defense Guidelines, which will then kick off a process of, I think, fairly intense bilateral consultations. I don't want to put a deadline for when that review will be complete, or what of the outcomes of that will be.
But I think it's going to be a fairly robust and intense set of bilateral discussions. We kind of evaluate it, a little bit earlier, you know, kind of starting with the first principles and kind of taking you through. You know, the different elements of the alliance and the vision for -- for the future, really. How we're going to be transforming, you know, the alliance to meet, you know, to meet emerging regional security challenges, maintain credible deterrent, and response capabilities.
So, it's going to take some time. But I don't have a specific deadline for when it's going to be. But there will be a pretty robust and intense set of interactions to (inaudible).
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And I think the -- and the other – yeah. It's that it's -- I think it's going to be a fairly -- it's going to take some time. 1997 was the last time these things were -- were updated. It did -- it was a lengthy process, and -- number one, but number two, you know, so, they haven't been updated since 1997. So, we -- we have some work to do.
So, I think there are a few things. One, I would like at the '97 guideline review as sort of a historical benchmark in terms of just getting a field for how long these things generally take. And two, just mindful of that it has been quite a while since we've updated them, so we do have -- you know, there is a lot of foundational work to do on these discussions.
Q: Hi. The DSCA made an announcement yesterday that they've informed Congress about a potential upcoming sale, I think, of some early warning airborne radars to Japan, which the Japanese government apparently requested.
Has Japan requested any other capabilities? And are you reviewing those at this time?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Actually, I'm not -- I'm not familiar with that specific report that you highlighted. But certainly, the cooperation that we have with Japan for, you know, working with them to improve their capabilities, to enhance the capabilities of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces, I think is -- is an important part of our -- of the work that we do as an alliance. I mean, the cooperation that we have to -- to enable the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces to -- to perform their mission.
So, you know, helping to improve their radar systems, helping to improve their -- their air forces, you know, like fighters, air defense systems -- these are all an important part of that -- that effort.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Anybody has any more questions?
Q: Good afternoon. My name is (inaudible), Japanese Newspaper (inaudible).
I'd just like to ask about Futenma issue -- (inaudible) station out of (inaudible). When you talk in case you cannot implement the current plan -- and also, (inaudible) report said you would talk about reduce burden of Okinawa. And so, what kind of means do you talk about in -- in the meeting?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Did -- did I hear you correct on -- your first part of your question is that in any event that the current plan is not working, are we going to talk about contingency plans?
No, I think -- you know, the first -- the first part of your question -- I think this administration remains committed to the -- to the current plan. And, you know, we've seen some discernible progress over the past year or so on this issue. We've seen, you know, the environmental impact statements submitted. We've seen the United States be able to make several certifications to Congress. We've seen the OkiCon plan released in a very bilateral cooperative way.
And so, I think, you know, we -- we remain, you know, hopeful and optimistic that the current -- current plan can be executed on -- you know, in a reasonable amount of time.
To your second point, you know, I'm -- you know, virtually every time we have a meeting -- bilateral, be it the president with the minister of defense, secretary of state -- I've been in all three of those meetings with Japanese counterparts. You know, this issue comes up, and we talk about it. We have a good conversation about it, and so, you know, I expect that it will come up. And I wouldn't, you know, prejudge where the conversation would go and what will be in the final joint statement.
So, I would just sort of leave it at that. But I would say that, you know, I think we do feel pretty good about the progress over the past year, and I hope that we can make more strides in that direction.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And we'll wrap up with Courtney.
Q: You talked a little bit about General Thurman focusing more on vigilance, but can you -- are there any specific changes that you can point to?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You want to talk about it?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, (inaudible).
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, the first thing I would point to, and just earlier this year, General Thurman denounced the issue of the current provocation and (inaudible). I think one very clear example of the work that he's been doing with -- with his -- with his counterparts and offices in -- in North Korea to create the infrastructure to be able to enable a much more effective response in the event of provocation from North Korea, to include the consultation procedures and mechanisms for how we as an alliance will be able to respond to that. And I think that is a one very clear example of some of the steps he's taken to improve the capacity of the alliance to fight tonight.
Q: So it's more of a communication between the nations?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I think there's that piece. The other piece I would say is that, look, he's gone in to take a hard look at -- I would refer you to UFSK for the details -- but gone in and taken a hard look at how U.S. soldiers rotate in and out of Korea, trying to get either longer rotations, build expertise, and so on and so forth. I mean, we've looked at a variety of plans with varying degrees of success, because some are financially -- you know, they're resource-intensive. Let's put it this way. But we have made progress.
There's also taking a look at, in terms of the move south to Humphreys, how he can have more of his folks on base. So, he's got a personnel component to it. And then in terms of just capabilities, he's tried to bring to the alliance -- you know, I can't get into -- in detail here in this setting, but, you know, requests for, you know, additional assets to help on the peninsula. And just -- not big increases, but I think targeted increases kind of at the margins for certain capabilities and certain weapons systems.
Q: (inaudible) North Korea's (inaudible) and North Korea (inaudible)...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're not going to discuss matters of intelligence. But, obviously, nuclear issues are likely to come up in South Korea, as they always do. And we're looking to push forward for denuclearization of the peninsula.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you, everyone. And let me just -- we're release our briefers. They'll be identified as senior defense officials. And for those of you who are traveling with us, you can stay here. And we have just a few brief logistical items to go through.
All right, thank you very much.