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Media Availability with Adm. Locklear and Gen. Thurman in South Korea

Presenters: Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, and Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander, United Nations Command, ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea
October 01, 2013

MODERATOR: All right, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to start off by talking through our ground rules and attribution. This is an on-the-record press briefing today. We have a total of 30 minutes. Both of our leaders Admiral Locklear and General Thurman will be giving opening statements today. And following their opening statements, we'll open it up for questions. Please limit your questions to one so that we get as many questions as possible.

And at this point, I'll turn it over to Admiral Locklear. Sir?

ADM. SAMUEL LOCKLEAR: Well, thank you. And aloha. First, let me just say I'm glad to be here with General J.D. Thurman and our Republic of Korea partners in what is clearly one of the strongest and longest standing alliances in modern history.

Essential to the success of this alliance has been the hard work and the teamwork of our combined forces over the last 60 years. There can be no doubt that this alliance is the strongest -- stronger today than it ever has been before. And I'd like to congratulate formally the Korean armed forces for their -- on their 65th anniversary. We had a really great celebration this morning we just came from, and quite impressive to see where this armed forces in this country have come in the last 65 years.

The Republic of Korea military and units from within the U.S. Pacific Command, regularly train together in a variety of bilateral and multilateral exercises, which continue to enhance our team and significantly increase our interoperability and reinforce what we already knew, that the ROK military is a highly capable and a very professional force that's readily increasing in its ability to lead the defense of South Korea.

Together, we remain absolutely committed to peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia, and together we will continue to strengthen our commitment with our friends here on the peninsula now and into the future.

I'd also like to mention that J.D. Thurman, this will be -- tomorrow will be his last day on the job. General Thurman will retire and move to his home state of Texas after nearly 39 years of exemplary leadership in our Army and our joint force. And we're going to miss y'all, and we -- I'd like to just say to all of you how much we've appreciated your leadership.

So thank you. And I look forward to your questions. Over to you, J.D.

GEN. JAMES THURMAN: First off, Admiral Locklear, thank you. It's been a true honor and a great partnership to work side-by-side with you as we manage the security environment here in Northeast Asia.

But, first off, good afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to talk about our great alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States. It has truly been a highlight of my 38 1/2-plus years as the commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea.

The alliance has been successful, I believe, because of our shared values, combined hard work, and commitment to stability and prosperity by the people of the Republic of Korea, the United Nations Command Sending States and the United States. This year, we marked significant milestones in our history. The 60-year anniversary of signing of the armistice that occurred on 27 July, and the 60th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. bilateral defense treaty, which is today, the 1st of October. And we have a long history of working together to deter aggression and prevent war on the Korean peninsula.

In order to do that, our number-one priority is readiness. And from day one that I came over, it's been about readiness across the joint and combined force. Readiness impacts on our ability to fight tonight and takes into consideration being faithful stewards of our available resources. We have to be able to respond to any threats against the Republic of Korea at any time. We maintain our readiness by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our ROK and United Nations Command Sending State partners in training and working together every day.

One of the main reasons why the alliance has been so successful is because of the close personal relationships that we have built between our militaries, our governments, and most importantly, between the people of the Republic of Korea and the United States of America. We work together on a daily basis to maintain our readiness. We have a saying here, "Kapchi Kapchi Da," which means we go together. I have not experienced a better place where units are able to conduct tough, realistic, joint, combined and multinational training like we do here in the Republic of Korea.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, I have visited many ROK military units and saw firsthand how well trained and professional they are. They continue to demonstrate their expertise in the air, on the ground, and in the maritime domains. I remain confident that we can defend the Korean peninsula, which is my number-one priority, in order to deter aggression and maintain armistice.

We've also made great strides to increase our ROK-Japan-U.S. trilateral security cooperation for readiness and exercises to address the common threat posed by North Korea. I have seen that firsthand with two missile launches as a -- as an example, one failed missile launch and one that was successful on 12 December 2012.

Our commitment to the alliance remains strong. We have an unbreakable bond between the ROK and the U.S. that was forged during the Korean War and has been built on the best military alliance in the world. Since the Korean War, the Republic of Korea has been one of the greatest success stories of our time. They went from a country that was torn apart by war and has become a very vibrant democracy, a global economic power, a vital security partner, and a world leader. They have moved on from a country that has been reliant on us for its defense to a nation that is a true partner committed to the stability of Northeast Asia.

The alliance has been preserving the terms of the armistice agreement, promoting democracy and providing security for the citizens of the Republic of Korea and Northeast Asia for over 60 years. The success of the Republic of Korea is an important example of what a great alliance can accomplish together, and it is worth defending together.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. I'll go ahead and open it up to the floor for our first question. Go ahead.

Q: Admiral and General, thanks for being here. You both had about a year-and-a-half to observe Kim Jong-un in North Korea. I'd like to ask your assessments now of him as a leader, as a military leader, compared to, say, before the nuclear test, before the ballistic missile tests. And how would you compare him to his father? Who would you say would represent the greater threat to regional security?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I would say if you go prior to the last provocation, I think there was some optimism that the third generation Kim Jong-un would be a different type of leader and maybe would recognize the path that North Korea has been on is not good for the North Korean people, nor good for regional stability or global stability.

That said, I think we have been disappointed in what we saw. We saw continued provocations that not only destabilized this peninsula, destabilized the region, and destabilized the world. So as far as -- I've never met Kim Jong-un, but my observation of him is that he has an opportunity here, continues to have an opportunity to change the course of history that North Korea is on, but that he will have to commit to the full denuclearization of his country, he will have to desist -- cease and desist from further provocations.

And so which one would be more dangerous? It's hard for me to say at this point in time, but as we look forward, I continue to believe that there is danger on this peninsula, and it's primarily from that regime.

General Thurman?

GEN. THURMAN: Well, I would agree with what Admiral Locklear said. I would just tell you that was one of the very first things I dealt with over here. I'd been here about six months when Kim Jong-il died. I was optimistic that Kim Jong-un, with the fact that he'd been educated in Switzerland, had a Western education, that I was a bit optimistic that we would see a change in behavior.

However, after we saw the 29 February 2012 leap year deal fall apart and then the next thing we are into testing a long-range ballistic missile, which was launched on 13 April of 2012, I started seeing this behavior that caused me a great deal of worry. And as we experienced this period of intense rhetoric, heightened tensions on the peninsula in February and March, through April and really through the better part of May, it caused me a great deal of concern as the commander of seeing a serious miscalculation on somebody that may make a quick impromptu decision and something would rapidly escalate on the peninsula, what would be very combustible, and would cause us a major security issue.

I've seen that now toned down, and I agree, I think the biggest concerns I see out of him is continued desire to have nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, long-range -- development of long-range ballistic missiles and improvement in long-range artillery.

So I think we've got to keep a close watch on them every day. And that's what we try to do on the peninsula, but it's clear to me, he's in charge up there. And that's what we've been observing for the better part of the time that he's been the new leader.

Q: Could I follow up on that? As part of your -- as part of the readiness, is -- are there steps that -- do you feel confident there are enough steps in there and measures to keep something from rapidly escalating?

GEN. THURMAN: Yes, ma'am, I do. We work very close with the ROK joint chiefs. General Jung and I have a very personal relationship. He and I served together in Iraq in 2006, so he was a division commander. I was division commander of Baghdad. So I've known him. He was my deputy.

And he and I share information all the time. We developed a counter-provocation plan. I was asked to develop a counter-provocation plan as a result of the shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island that occurred in November of 2010 and the sinking of the Cheonan.

And we worked a bilateral counter-provocation plan, which is a framework that allows us to control a rapid escalation of a provocation. So we're solving this as an alliance, working side-by-side, and sharing the necessary intelligence and working close, because our number-one goal here is obviously to protect the Korean people. And so -- but I do think that we got a good process, and we've been exercising that, but, you know, it's something you got to always be thinking about is, where's the next provocation? And we're constantly watching that.

MODERATOR: Sir, I saw some other hands. I'd like to go to Lolita first and then Mr. (inaudible), please.

Q: If you could maybe both address this -- (inaudible) -- obviously, with this continued threat, there's concerns about the capabilities of the South Koreans' military. And I'm wondering, with all the talk about possibly postponing the transfer of operational command to them, what -- what do you want to see over the next -- did you talk to them about, about what you want to see over the next year or two, as far as improvements? And where do you see the biggest challenges?

GEN. THURMAN: Well, I think what you see with the North Korean threat today, what causes me the biggest concern are the development of asymmetric threats. So we've worked close with the ROKs on focusing on our asymmetric capabilities, across the joint force, and primarily one of the top things is developing a comprehensive theater ballistic missile defense that not only protects the peninsula, but is also -- has the capability to support the regional -- the entire region.

Our ability to defend against long-range artillery, weapons of mass destruction, whether it be chemical, biological, cyber, those are some of the threats, not to mention the North Korean military is a 1.1 million man army, and 73 percent of that force is south of Pyongyang, oriented along -- all the way up to the DMZ with their conventional force.

So we're working with the ROKs on improving these capabilities, in particular C4ISR and -- and our ability to share information in a rapid manner, so we got good interoperability across our joint force, and not just army forces, but our maritime, our air.

And so we've been doing a lot on that with our training exercises. And I've put a lot of emphasis on that since I've been over here, to fight jointly if we have to. And that gives us the best deterrent, and so that's what we tried to do. I've done five major exercises with them. I have a very good understanding of what they can do. And so they're a very professional force, and I'm confident we can defend the peninsula.

MODERATOR: Mr. (inaudible)(off mic)

Q: (off mic) Recently the German prime minister is trying to buy some constitution, Japanese constitution -- (inaudible) -- to -- (inaudible) -- so my question, what is your -- (inaudible) -- Japanese government -- (inaudible) – interpretation of the (inaudible)?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, let me say, it's not my position to comment on how the Japanese people will go forward with their constitution, their political debate. I would say that -- and a little bit to the previous question, and I can cover them both, is that this region and the -- the issues here on this peninsula are no longer just isolated to this peninsula. The threats are much more regional and, in fact, can become global at some point in time.

So you will often hear us talk about the importance of information-sharing and trilateral relationships and multilateral relationships. And the importance of that is that in an increasingly sophisticated world, a combat world, where information is so important to success, when systems are being developed by rogue nations such as North Korea which can now not only threaten the peninsula, but threaten the entire Pacific AOR and can threaten our homeland, as well, it's important that we work together to use the capabilities that we have, to use them together in the most efficient way.

And so all governments, not just Japan, but all the governments in this region should be thinking about how they can better -- to better cooperate to be able to isolate these threats in a way to allow peace and prosperity to continue. And if that means they have to go and do -- make some changes in the way their government's structured or laws or their constitutions, then they will have to have that debate.

But that's -- that's where I think the future is here in this region, particularly if we want to ever come to a situation other than status quo here, particularly on this peninsula.

Q: With the six months of insight, how would you explain the last cycle provocation from the North? And it's my understanding that there will be some –another maneuvers next week with the ROK navy, are you concerned about some potential provocations, new provocations from the North?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I'll start, then you can --

GEN. THURMAN: Yeah, go ahead.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: -- you can add. I think one thing we have to continually remind ourselves and our allies and our partners in this region is that we have been operating together as militaries for many, many years. And what underpins the quality of those alliances is our ability to stay interoperable and to work together.

So most of the exercises that you will see us -- occur throughout this region have been planned for many, many, many months, because it takes resources and dedicated assets. So to extrapolate any one of those exercises into some -- some indication that we're trying to send a message to someone, other than the strength of our alliance, I think is -- is folly. I mean, it's not -- from our perspective, I see how these things are put together.

I would hope that -- that North Korea would continue to understand the strength of this alliance, continue to understand that we have exercises, interoperability which have to be maintained. These are not designed as provocations. They're designed as to ensure that we can secure the peace in this part of the world, which has been consistently the case for several decades, and we want to remain that for several decades more.

GEN. THURMAN: Well, I would just add, I think what we experienced from December of 2012 all the way through June was the importance of, one, having a strong deterrence, so we can, one, make sure that -- that we keep a stable Korean peninsula. And you do that with trained and ready joint and combined forces.

The other key aspect to that is assurance. One of the things that we were able to do is remain calm and confident and not get excited, and that was what we really wanted to do, as we got into the intense rhetoric, because it is very important, I think, from an alliance perspective to assure the Korean people here that they're going to be okay and things will work out fine.

But it is important that we continue our training and exercise programs over here, because that's one of the things that we need to do to build better interoperability, and we do have Strategic Alliance 2015, which is the plan that gets the ROK in the lead of their own defense, with -- with the -- with capabilities that they have to continue to improve on and improve their overall interoperability.

But I think, as I look back on how we manage that, I think we did that about as well as that could be done, primarily because I did not want to see people get excited and be fearful of day-to-day living. And I think you do that when you got a strong readiness posture.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we have time for two more questions, so, Tony, please.

Q: General Locklear, I wanted to ask you a Japan question, not so much related to -- (inaudible) – revisions or reinterpretations, but they are working in Southeast Asia to develop relations with the Philippines and Vietnam – part strategic and defense (inaudible) -- what's your view of that, in terms of -- is that helpful to the region, unhelpful? And, General Thurman, what's the status of the -- (inaudible) 13 as you leave, I think that is a long-range threat the U.S. is worried about, sir?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: I think it is very helpful for Japanese to be out and to -- I mean, they -- they are, in many ways, a great power. They're a very credible military defense capability. They understand the region. Through all aspects of economics and cultural, they're very interspersed throughout this region.

So to have them out and about and engaging, I welcome that. And I believe it's welcomed by the -- all the members of our different alliances and our partners, as well. It's a good sign.

Q: General Thurman -- (inaudible) – 13, where does that stand right now, is it operational? (off mic)

GEN. THURMAN: Well, that is a system that's in their portfolio that we remain concerned about. We've observed it during two military parades in Pyongyang. It's difficult to assess the full operational capability of that system. Of concern to us, obviously, is the rogue mobile capability and our ability to detect that.

But I think what it demonstrates is North Korea's continued desire to develop long-range missiles, and they've openly stated that they're developing the capability to strike the continental United States, and we take that very serious. And it's something we will continue to maintain a close watch on.

But what we watch every day is not only that system, but all their portfolio. And as Admiral Locklear said a while ago, we want to see North Korea denuclearize.

MODERATOR: And one last question. Go ahead.

Q: General you work with these guys, been working with them all this time. Can you kind of characterize, do they see OPCON and this transfer connected at all to U.S. commitments in the region? Are they fearful that OPCON essentially means that, you know, the U.S. will pull back? I'm just kind of wondering, is there a difference between their capabilities and their – confidence in our capabilities and your view of that?

GEN. THURMAN: No, I don't think so. I think this alliance is very strong. This -- we can't underestimate the true strength of this -- of the blood alliance. This is a big deal over here. And they know -- the ROKs know that they need to develop some -- some more advanced capabilities, but it takes a while to do that.

When you think about this country, when the armistice signed in 1953, and it was in ruins and now we've got a global partner that has been on every battlefield I've been on, that they've been with us, it takes a while to do that. We have in our -- in our plan, obviously, a conditions-based plan to examine these current capabilities, but we -- we want to make sure that -- that they do have all of the necessary capabilities. And, number one, they have to be interoperable with the U.S. That is very important, not only with us, but also the 16 member nations from the United Nations Command.

But they are very proud of their country. They're proud of their military. And they want to continue to improve their overall capabilities so they can provide the required defense for this great country.

Q: Can I ask one quick housekeeping questions. We got a very good brief earlier with some slides that it would be very useful for us to take with us, if there's any way that you could -- if you know a guy -- (inaudible) -- just for accuracy sake – it is very helpful for our understanding (off mic)

GEN. THURMAN: Okay, well, let me --

MODERATOR: (off mic) look at that (off mic)

GEN. THURMAN: Let me look into that. I know a lot of folks. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our press conference. Thank you for joining us today. And, gentlemen, thank you for being with us today.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: We've got one in Japan, as well.

GEN. THURMAN: Okay.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: We'll see you there.

GEN. THURMAN: Thank you.

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