Thurman: U.S. Forces Remain Ready in Northeast Asia
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 30, 2012 As the military transitions its focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, the Korean Peninsula is a focal point where U.S. forces must maintain “unquestioned” readiness, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea told a congressional panel yesterday.
Army Gen. James D. Thurman outlined the situation on the Korean Peninsula and named his command priorities to the House Appropriations Committee’s military construction subcommittee.
As the military transitions its focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, “the Korean Peninsula is at the nexus of U.S. interests in Northeast Asia,” Thurman said. The region hosts four of the world’s six largest militaries, a quarter of the world’s population, and is the fastest-growing segment of the global economy, he said.
U.S. trade with the region exceeds $750 billion annually, he added, and direct U.S. investments amount to $270 billion each year.
As China rises in global importance, “it maintains an ambiguous relationship with an isolated North Korean regime in pursuit of a robust nuclear program,” the general said.
Meanwhile, allies in the region “look to the U.S. as the key partner to maintain regional stability and prosperity while upholding international norms and a commitment to democratic values,” he added.
Thurman noted recent executive leadership changes in North Korea, Taiwan, Russia and Japan, as well as upcoming elections in South Korea and an expected leadership change in China later this year.
“The uncertainty associated with these changes, compounded by lingering historical animosities, territorial disputes, and competition over access to resources, places us in a dangerously uncertain period as we maintain the 1953 armistice and remain prepared to defend [South Korea], as well as the United States, from North Korean aggression,” he said.
The general called the U.S.-South Korea alliance “as solid as ever,” and said it serves as the foundation for the combined readiness of the two militaries. Thurman said he and his South Korean military counterparts are guiding military leaders and units of both militaries “to work and train closely with one another on a daily basis, and that effort builds combined strength, faith, and trust -- qualities that are essential for us to successfully accomplish our mission in Korea.”
The alliance’s commitment to security has been rewarded with sustained economic growth and enhanced military capabilities for South Korea, Thurman said. But a declining birth rate and other factors, including violent North Korean provocations in 2010, have prompted the South Korean military to propose fundamental military reforms that “likely will be acted on in the coming year,” he said.
With so much change underway on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, Thurman said, “it is imperative we remain steady in our commitment to regional stability through vigilant maintenance of the armistice and unquestioned military readiness.”
North Korea remains the greatest security threat in the region, the general said.
“I believe we are in a very uncertain period … with the possibility of unexpected events leading to miscalculation,” Thurman said.
The transition of Kim Jong-un, who became North Korea’s leader after the death of his father last fall, “appears to be proceeding without discernible internal challenges and with significant Chinese political and economic support,” the general said.
North Korea maintains “robust” conventional forces of more than a million soldiers, a military that is “vastly disproportionate” to its nation’s population size and defensive security requirements, Thurman said. North Korea continues improving its ability to attack Seoul -- the world’s fourth-largest city where 50,000 private, U.S. citizens live, and which is in artillery range of the North, he said.
North Korea has the world’s largest special operations force of 60,000 soldiers, has a growing cyber warfare capability, and the capability to manufacture, transport, and deliver a variety of persistent and nonpersistent chemical and biological weapons, Thurman said. The country also is “investing heavily” in its “already-robust” ballistic missile forces, he said.
Deterring North Korean threats and promoting stability on the peninsula, Thurman said, are his greatest priorities.
“If deterrence fails,” he said, “we will decisively defeat external aggression and restore stability on terms favorable to the alliance.”