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Trilateral Cooperation Needed to Combat North Korean Threat

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2017 — The world is united against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and nations are working together to counter the dangers of Kim Jong Un’s ambitions, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Oct. 29 following the trilateral military meeting with South Korean and Japanese leaders.

The senior most military officers of the U.S., Japan and South Korea gather for a trilateral meeting at U.S. Pacific Command's headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.
The senior most military officers of the U.S., Japan and South Korea gather for a trilateral meeting at U.S. Pacific Command's headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, Oct. 29, 2017. The session was the fifth of its kind since July 2014. Attending were, from left, facing camera: Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, U.S. Forces Korea commander; Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan Self-Defense Force chief of staff; and second from left, facing away from camera: South Korean Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. Harry Harris, U.S. Pacific Command commander; and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry P. Martinez, U.S. Forces Japan commander. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro
The senior most military officers of the U.S., Japan and South Korea gather for a trilateral meeting at U.S. Pacific Command's headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Trilateral Meeting
The senior most military officers of the U.S., Japan and South Korea gather for a trilateral meeting at U.S. Pacific Command's headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, Oct. 29, 2017. The session was the fifth of its kind since July 2014. Attending were, from left, facing camera: Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, U.S. Forces Korea commander; Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan Self-Defense Force chief of staff; and second from left, facing away from camera: South Korean Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. Harry Harris, U.S. Pacific Command commander; and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry P. Martinez, U.S. Forces Japan commander. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford hosted his counterparts -- South Korean Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan Self-Defense Force chief of staff -- in trilateral talks at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii that focused narrowly on the threat posed by North Korea.

The chairman said the first thing the three military leaders did was establish a baseline of the threat. “One of the first discussions we had was on how we see [North Korea],” Dunford said to reporters traveling with him. “We have a common understanding of the challenge. As military leaders we have a common understanding about the coherent, collective response to that challenge. What we try to do is find ways to enhance our collective abilities.”

Trilateral, Multilateral Cooperation

To combat North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the military leaders agreed the nations need to work together both on a trilateral basis and in multilateral efforts. “That includes missile defense and any planning and focus on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea,” Dunford said.

South Korean leaders agreed, saying that trilateral cooperation is a proper response for missile defense and the nuclear threat. For ballistic missile defense, time is of the essence. Good communications among the nations is crucial to safeguarding the people of the region and the United States.

This was the fifth trilateral meeting since 2014, and cooperation has been easier each time, defense officials said. “Essentially, in the next year the chiefs of defense agreed to improve ballistic missile defenses, all wrapped up with better sharing of data, and to conduct routine exercises to ensure we have a coherent collective response to ballistic missile defense,” Dunford said.

The three leaders agreed to meet twice in the coming year.

“We had discussions two years ago about ballistic missile defense and information sharing and since then we have done a number of exercises and improved trilateral ballistic missile defense capability over the past two years,” Dunford said. “We talked about information sharing and we actually now have links to be able to provide information across the three countries in a much more effective way.”

Kim Jong Un tested intercontinental ballistic missiles in July -- alleging that the missiles can reach “anywhere in the world” -- and detonated a nuclear device Sept. 3. Two intermediate range missiles overflew Japan on Aug. 29 and Sept. 15. Kim has threatened to launch and detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, and world leaders must treat that threat as credible, defense officials have said.

Successful ballistic missile defense needs to have the United States, South Korea and Japan sharing information and intelligence quickly, and the three leaders promised to do so.

Japan Critical to Response

“If we do have to respond [to North Korea] militarily, Japan is a critical platform from which the United States is going to meet its alliance commitments to [South] Korea,” Dunford said. “We have more than 50,000 forces in Japan. It is a platform from which we project power in a South Korean response. So the military relationship between South Korea and Japan is very important.”

But multilateralism has additional uses, the chairman said, including maritime interdiction operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercises and anti-submarine warfare. Nations in the region are concerned about the North Korean threat and will work with South Korea, Japan, the United States and others to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions and the sanctions they impose on the Kim regime, Dunford said.

During the trilateral meeting, the military leaders discussed where already-planned U.S. Pacific Command exercises can be leveraged to improve multilateral capability in the region.

Pacom is part of a broader, regional meeting of chiefs of defense, where leaders discuss the full range of defense issues in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

“It is important that Japanese and South Korean military leaders are talking. From a deterrence perspective it is important that Kim Jong Un and [North Korea] see that they are facing a collective response from the international community, in particular those nations most affected,” Dunford said.

The chairman said the military-to-military relationship between Korean and Japanese forces is professional, but acknowledged that there are challenges that must be worked out.

Defeating the threat is tough, he said. The preferred solution is that Kim Jong Un realize the error of his ways and he steps away from nuclear and missile technology, Dunford said, adding that United Nations sanctions need time to bite, and perhaps that will convince the North Korean leader.

But ensuring defense also takes time, the chairman said. “You have to ensure that the path of capability development is on the ascent,” he said.

“From year to year, it is hard to measure incremental increases in capability development, but now I am able to look back over the two years that we’ve been meeting and I feel pretty good about it,” Dunford said. “We’ve put in place material changes to our ability to respond.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)