Media Availability with Geoff Morrell, Adm. Willard and a Senior Defense Official from Seoul, South Korea
MR. GEOFF MORRELL: [Name deleted in accordance with media ground rules] -- for the purposes of this engagement, though, will remain on background. Admiral Willard as the high profile figure that he is can be on the record. And I will read an opening statement, then we’ll pass it out to you. One is a joint statement from the Secretary and the Minister of Defense from the Republic of Korea, and the other is -- and it’s attached as I hand it to you -- is a statement from U.S. Forces Korea on the combined joint naval and air exercises. So this was released just a few moments ago from the Secretary and the Minister of Defense.
Following the unprovoked North Korean attack on the Cheonan that took the lives of 46 sailors and a rescue diver, our presidents directed that we examine the range of our collective security efforts and determine ways that together we can further strengthen alliance capabilities. To that end, we agree today to proceed with a series of joint military exercises over the coming months. The first exercise will be a multi-day combined naval and air exercise set to commence July the 25th in the seas east of the peninsula. A range of forces will participate, including the USS George Washington, naval ship Dokdo and F-22 Raptors.
This is the first in a series of ROK-U.S. combined naval exercises that will occur in both the East and West Seas. These defensive combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop and that we are committed to together enhancing our combined defensive capabilities.
We also discussed the development of Strategic Alliance 2015, the new plan for transitioning wartime operational control to the Republic of Korea military in December, 2015, and ensuring close synchronization with other key alliance initiatives.
We also committed to ensuring sufficient combined force capabilities and the provision of extended deterrence through the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conventional strike, and missile defense capabilities. Additionally, we reaffirm the commitment to maintain an enduring U.S. military force presence and the current U.S. troops levels in the Republic of Korea.
As allies, we have stood shoulder to shoulder for 60 years. The United States and the Republic of Korea remained steadfast in our resolve to face any threat that North Korea might pose.
So that again the joint statement issued by the respective ministries this afternoon.
Let me pass this out and let me turn it over, if I may, to Admiral Willard, who can walk you through this first exercise that we have announced today to commence shortly in the East Sea.
You guys have any specific questions or do you want to lay it out at all, Admiral?
ADM. WILLARD: I can talk a little bit about just the context of the exercise.
Once again, this is the first in a series of exercises that will take place in both the East and West seas, involving both the ROK and U.S. forces. The first in this series of exercises, which will take place in the next several days in the West -- in the East Sea, excuse me, does include the Carrier Strike Group USS George Washington and a number of destroyers from the forward deployed naval forces, Seventh Fleet forces, in addition to ships and P-3 aircraft from the ROK Navy, and it will include, again, destroyers, frigates, and some patrol craft from the ROK Navy.
There are a number of squadrons from Seventh Air Force, from the ROK air force, as well as from the Kitty Hawk [sic -- George Washington] air wing that will be participating during the course of the days. And as was mentioned, there’re four Raptor aircraft, F-22s, that will also be participating.
In all, over 100 aircraft will fly during the course of the several day event and there will be ample opportunities, we think, for the media to embark in the ships and witness the scope and scale of the exercise. That will include a variety of training opportunities, flight operations from the carrier. There will be an air defense exercise. There will be striking exercises, as well as some air demonstrations and opportunities for pass exes (ph) by the ships themselves.
Q I’m sorry, pass exes?
ADM. WILLARD: There will be passing exercises where the ships will -- in fact, I think as the Carrier Strike Group gets underway from Busan it will be an opportunity it will conduct a close pass by Busan so that it will be visible.
Anti-submarine warfare is included in the course of the exercise with both ROK and U.S. Navy ships and P-3 aircraft participating in a somewhat separate operating area than the carrier to conduct the ASW training.
And then lastly, on the very tail end of that first exercise in the East Sea and conducted further North is a Counter Special Operations Force exercise. These occur with some frequency in both the East and West seas, conducted by the ROK Navy and U.S. Navy. And the CSOF ex happens to be coincident with this exercise as well.
So it is covering a broad range of our training responsibilities and is very much commensurate with the large scale exercises that we have conducted with the ROK Navy in the past.
MR. MORRELL: Okay, Greg?
Q Admiral could you just talk a little bit about the scope and scale of these exercises compared to past ones that -- (off mike) -- joint with ROK forces. Is this bigger, smaller, about the same, or what?
ADM. WILLARD: As a single naval and Air Force combined exercise in a fairly confined operating area, this would be considered a large-scale exercise. This is a show of force intended to send a signal to North Korea with regard to what has occurred post-Cheonan and is intended also to signal the region the resolve of this alliance and our commitment to one another and the scope and scale of our ability to operate together.
So I would regard it as a larger-scale combined exercise with joint forces involved, both maritime and air. There is an entire continuum of training that is conducted throughout the calendar year with the ROK and U.S. forces on the ground, in the air, and at sea. Seventh Fleet very frequently is operating alongside the ROK Navy. And the Seventh Air Force is almost on a continuous basis operating with the ROK Air Force. And the ground forces, as you know, come together for exercises throughout the year. Two very large scale exercises Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which is upcoming, are the big exercises that exercise the operations plans, contingency plans that the ROK-U.S. conduct to maintain --
Q I’m sorry, sir. Real quick. Is this the center piece of the exercises in the coming months?
ADM. WILLARD: No, I would say that this is the first in a series of exercises that are intending to send a very specific signal to the North Koreans as a consequence of the Cheonan incident. They are embedded in the midst of what is a continuum of exercises that does go on throughout the year. So for example, this first exercise, which begins at the conclusion of the Two-plus-Two that’s occurring this week, will also be occurring very closely to the commencement of Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the large scale ROK-U.S. exercise that has to do with the North Korean contingency.
MR. MORRELL: Elizabeth?
Q Yes, can I just -- is this -- you said it’s a very large scale exercise. Can you say it’s the largest that you’ve ever conducted? I just -- I’m still trying to get it.
ADM. WILLARD: No. I don’t think it’s the largest that’s ever been conducted. It is the first show-of-force exercise post-provocation that’s been conducted by the ROK and U.S. for many years. So I think its significance is the fact that it is in response to what has occurred with Cheonan. And if we go back in history and look at other provocations that have occurred by North Korea directly toward the South, very often there has not been a military response like this show-of-force series that has been conducted. So we’re -- we fully expect that this will send a strong signal to Pyongyang and to Kim Jong-il regarding the provocation that Cheonan represented.
Q Do you think that we can adjust the whole range of exercise in accordance with North Korean way of behaving? If they like take some more provocative action, do you think we can strengthen at all if they like come to us and they say apologize about the Cheonan incident and if they come to dialogue? Do you think we can stop it?
ADM. WILLARD: I think you make a very good point and that is that one of our goals is to deter North Korea from future provocations. So we very much desire that this be a signal of intolerance that provocation should occur in the future. And it’s intended to help put a stop to that.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: If I can just hop in there and underscore the point that Admiral Willard made earlier, which is that part of the logic here is to send a very clear signal to North Korea that this is not business as usual -- (off mike) -- and their behavior needs to change.
Q What do you mean by that? I mean, what do you want them to do specifically?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, not blowing up and attacking ROK naval vessels would be a good start, but there’s a whole range of misbehavior that we can catalog including their proliferation activities, missile activities, the activities that previously landed them on the state sponsors of terrorism list and which we’re continuing to keep a careful eye on. We’d spend an awfully long time cataloguing various provocations that North Korea’s committed against the ROK, against Japan, in the region, more broadly.
Q Admiral, can you give us a few more details, how long will this exercise last? When will you do the exercise on the west side of the peninsula and will you be sending the GW to the west side?
ADM. WILLARD: This exercise is intended to last several days. And we would prefer not to discuss the following in the series of exercises, but rather leave that to the ministers to announce themselves.
Q Are you concerned that --
MR. MORRELL: Al, what I would just say there is that follow on exercises are still under discussion and development at the ministerial level. We’re not there yet.
Q But is it weeks or months?
MR. MORRELL: We’re not going to categorize it, quantify it at this point.
Q Admiral, from where you sit in Hawaii, are you concerned that China’s reaction to this plan that it’s going to deepen and extend the military relations freeze?
ADM. WILLARD: Are you referring to the mil-to-mil dialogue between the United States and China, which is in suspension?
Q Yes. Yes.
ADM. WILLARD: No, I’m not concerned. If I have a concern vis-a-vis China it’s that China exert itself to influence Pyongyang to see that incidents like Cheonan don’t occur in the future. They clearly have a very strong relationship with North Korea and we would like very much to see them exert the influence to see that a Cheonan never happens again.
Q Just a follow up. You said this about -- (inaudible) -- this is not business as usual and that provocations -- (inaudible) -- have not been greeted with this sort of exercise in the past. Is it the case that after, for example, North Korea fired missiles that there were no U.S.-ROK military exercises in response to that or any -- military steps?
ADM. WILLARD: There were military steps taken to guard against the ballistic missile launches themselves. There were not shows of force that followed. No.
Q And do you believe that North Korea is deterrable in the sense of stopping these kinds of provocations? Obviously they’re deterrable in a large sense, I suppose. But is one of your goals here to stop them from carrying out these -- I guess they call it low level, but you know what I mean.
ADM. WILLARD: This was heinous. This was not low level to kill 46 sailors. This was an attack on a warship unprovoked and surprise --
Q I guess my question is are they deterrable, can you deter them from carrying out those things as they have over the decades?
ADM. WILLARD: That is our intent, yes. And you’re correct. They have over the decades periodically conducted provocations that have been egregious. If you recall the history, there have been several assassination attempts against the president in the South. There have been -- one of which took the life of a first lady. Attacks on their ministers, the downing of a Korean airliner. We can go back into history and look at a great deal. And over the past year, as was suggested, there were ballistic missile launches and other -- nuclear tests and other provocations.
So we’re very much aiming to put a stop to that.
Q I guess my question on a follow-up to that is what gives you any sense of confidence that you can deter them from doing anything, given their track record? These are people who attacked the Blue House in 1968. Ordinarily that would start a war. And nothing has happened between then and now.
ADM. WILLARD: The choice that our respective commanders-in-chief have made is that a show of force is a first step in deterring North Korea from doing this again. And again, this is part of a broader effort -- international effort to include United Nations effort to attempt to influence Pyongyang in a way that will prevent provocations like this from ever occurring again.
Q If I could just follow up along those same lines, Admiral Mullen said recently that it’s very hard to deter these attacks. This was an asymmetric attack. And so I guess I’m going to ask the same question the same way. Is there any guarantee that this huge show of force can prevent these kind of asymmetric attacks in the future?
ADM. WILLARD: We expect that the show of force will demonstrate a resolve in Pyongyang that will make a strong statement regarding the alliance, the resolute nature of the alliance, and the readiness of the maritime forces to deal with provocations in the future. Whether or not this series of exercises singly will succeed in deterring North Korea will remain to be seen. But it is a first step in attempting to change the behavior of North Korea.
MR. MORRELL: I’m going to excuse Admiral Willard because he has to go and get ready for another event.
Q Can I ask a last question.
MR. MORRELL: No, I think Dan can ask the last question.
Q Back to -- sorry to go over similar ground again, but on the decision to have the beginning of the exercise be in the Sea of Japan, to what degree did you have to take into consideration China’s view on the exercises and its concerns?
ADM. WILLARD: Well, China wasn’t consulted with regard to the exercises that have been considered by the ROK and U.S. all along. So there has been a series of planning efforts that have occurred since Cheonan occurred. Clearly, there were some timing issues as the investigation was being completed, as the U.N. actions were being dealt with. So our job has been to provide our respective presidents with options ultimately for decision with regard to how we might go about conducting a show-of-force series directed at North Korea to change their behavior. And the planning has been broad, the options have been many, and ultimately it’s up to our presidents to decide this.
And what we’ve settled on is the series of exercises that will take place in both seas and happen to be starting now with this particular exercise in the East.
MR. MORRELL: And we should underscore the fact that North Koreans have been provocative in both seas, not just in the West Sea where the Cheonan was sunk, but they’ve obviously exhibited prerogative behavior in the East Sea as well historically.
Q Are you going to use the George Washington in the West also?
ADM. WILLARD: Again, we’re not going to discuss the particulars of the follow on in the series of exercises. There will, however -- both seas will be covered.
MR. MORRELL: But, Elizabeth, to that point, as a matter of principle we obviously have the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing. But decisions about future exercises and future assets to be used in those exercises have not yet come to finality yet.
Thanks, Admiral Willard.
ADM. WILLARD: You’re welcome.