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North Korea Remains Security Threat to U.S., Allies, Policy Official Says

Jan. 28, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

North Korea remains a security challenge, and the United States continues to pursue North Korean denuclearization, a senior Pentagon official told the House Armed Services Committee.

An airman crouched in uniform works on an aircraft.
Falcon Load
Air Force Staff Sgt. David Torres loads an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during a weapons load crew competition at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Jan. 3, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez
VIRIN: 200103-F-DL164-1113M

In a security update on the Korean Peninsula today, John C. Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said that by any measure, North Korea poses an ongoing, credible threat to the U.S. homeland and to allies in South Korea and Japan. In addition, he said, the North Koreans are undermining international arms control agreements and are engaging in human rights violations and abuses.

The U.S. partnership with South Korea is very important to the Defense Department, Rood said. "Our goal is to maintain and strengthen our alliance while also transforming it to meet the needs of the future," he added.

The alliance is transformational on several fronts, Rood said. 

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Officer Exchange
South Korean junior officers assigned to commands from the U.S. 7th Fleet participate in the 12th Combined Edge officer exchange, Sept. 19, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Carlisle
VIRIN: 190919-N-TB148-168

"First, we're working to transition our wartime operational control from the Combined Forces Command led by a U.S. officer to one led by officer to meet the requirements necessary  to assume operational control during wartime," he said, adding that South Korea is undertaking a major military modernization program. 

Additionally, the State Department is leading negotiations for the 11th Special Measures Agreement, Rood said. The burden-sharing agreement is the mechanism by which South Korea shares the costs of U.S. forces to defend South Korea.

"Looking to the future, we're adapting by investing more robustly in our defense and asking our partners and allies — particularly our wealthy ones — to shoulder a larger share of the burden to maintain peace, security and stability," Rood said.

An airman cleans the canopy of an aircraft.
Clean Canopy
An airman cleans the canopy of an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Dec. 11, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Gregory Nash
VIRIN: 191211-F-OX377-2094C

Although both nations are engaged in tough negotiations on the Special Measures Agreement, they remain committed to reaching a mutually beneficial and equitable agreement that will strengthen the alliance and combined defense, he said.

The U.S.-South Korean alliance is both broad and deep, Rood told the House panel, built not only on common security concerns, but also political, military and economic ties and shared values. "It remains our goal to maintain a strong and ready force to enable the diplomatic space that's necessary for diplomacy to succeed," Rood said.

President Donald J. Trump's North Korea strategy is multifaceted, he said, adding that the United States is working across the spectrum of national power with the aim of the complete denuclearization of North Korea.

"North Korea must understand that its only path out of economic isolation is for it to engage in meaningful, good-faith negotiations toward complete denuclearization," the undersecretary said. 

DOD's role is to provide a credible force and to field the capabilities necessary to ensure that the United States is always negotiating from a position of strength, he said.

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Gun Inspection
Lt. Gen. Michael A. Bills, 8th Army commander, checks in on training during a visit to Camp Carroll, South Korea, Jan. 29, 2019.
Photo By: Cpl. Kim Jun Seo
VIRIN: 190128-A-KJ123-002

North Korea has the world's fourth-largest standing army — more than 1 million men, Rood said. 

"Aged and obsolete equipment is offset by targeted and aggressive modernization of conventional weapons, as well as nuclear, chemical and biological programs," he said. "Over the last decade, North Korea's leaders have prioritized increasing the range survivability, complexity and lethality of key military systems such as ballistic missiles, special operations forces and long-range artillery."

One of DOD's most visible lines of effort is implementing and enforcing United Nations sanctions on North Korea, he said. 

Fighter jet approaches tanker aircraft for aerial refueling.
Aerial Refueling
A South Korean air force F-16D Falcon prepares for refueling training with a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, during a training exercise, Oct. 8, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Cynthia Belio
VIRIN: 191008-F-UA555-1022

"The U.S. operates a multinational enforcement coordination cell out of Yokosuka, Japan, where eight nations work together toward this effort," Rood said. "The effort is primarily focused on illicit North Korea exports of coal and refined petroleum."

Additionally, the undersecretary said that U.S. authorities are continuing to analyze and identify 55 boxes of human remains from the Korean War that the North Koreans returned to the United States. 

A group of soldiers stand in a line holding their rifles near tombstones.
Funeral Honors
Soldiers assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” participate in military funeral honors for Army Cpl. Earl H. Markle at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 10, 2019. Markle went missing on Nov. 2, 1950 near Unsan, North Korea. His remains were recovered in 2018 and accounted for in 2019.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 191210-A-IW468-897M

"Thus far, 43 U.S. service members missing from the Korean War have been identified, and more than 100 identifications are expected from those remains," Rood said. "This is a sacred duty, obviously, that we have on behalf of the armed forces that fight."