The Security Situation on the Korean Peninsula

Kurt M. Campbell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee
Washington, DC
September 16, 2010

Chairman Levin, Senator McCain, distinguished Members of the Committee, it is a privilege to appear before you today to discuss the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and our alliances in Northeast Asia. I want to thank the Committee for its continued leadership role on Asia-Pacific issues and commend it for understanding the importance of the Asia-Pacific for American national interests.

The Obama administration entered office with a deep appreciation of the strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific to U.S. national interests. America's future is intimately tied to that of the Asia-Pacific, and our economic and strategic interests in the region are among the most important in the world. The region is home to almost one-third of the Earth’s population and accounts for almost one-third of global GDP. Strong coordination between the U.S. and key Asian economies was instrumental for the global economic recovery. Currently, more than 60 percent of our exports go to the Asia-Pacific. American and Asian companies are among the most dynamic in the world, and our economies are growing increasingly interdependent. The region is also home to critical strategic chokepoints for global commerce, emerging power centers that will have profound implications for U.S. and international interests, and a foundation for American power projection in the greater Asia-Pacific.

In recognition of our deep and abiding interests in the region, we are working hard to ensure our alliances in the Asia-Pacific are among our strongest and most active. Our alliances have underwritten peace and security for over 50 years and provided a context for economic prosperity that in many ways has enabled the “Asian economic miracle.” This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan alliance and also commemorating the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Our alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea have evolved from strategic bulwarks against Soviet expansionism to truly global partnerships.

The Obama administration is committed to developing and enhancing each and every one of our strategic alliances in the Asia-Pacific.

Our alliance with Japan is a cornerstone of our strategic engagement in Asia. The May 2006 agreement on defense transformation and realignment will enhance deterrence while creating a more sustainable military presence in the region. We are working with Japan to create a more durable and forward-looking vision for the alliance that not only enhances our mutual defense capabilities, but also develops Japan’s role as a global leader on issues such as climate change and development assistance. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the alliance, we will continue to work closely with Japan to develop and maximize our joint capabilities as alliance partners.

Together with our Asia-Pacific allies, we are working to respond to both traditional and non-traditional security challenges ranging from proliferation to climate change, as well as developing more robust regional architecture that will help enhance regional capacities to both deal with problems and seize opportunities for greater integration and stability. The emergence of transnational challenges necessitates that the United States work with other partners to find solutions. We will continue to work with our traditional allies on these issues, while enhancing relationships with countries like China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. I would like to take the opportunity to emphasize the bilateral, regional and global dimensions of our engagement with the Republic of Korea.

Peninsular, Regional, and Global Dimensions:
United States leadership is indispensable to the maintenance of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. Recognizing this fact, the Administration has undertaken steady and broad engagement throughout the region, with a particular focus on broadening our alliances with Japan and South Korea. In November of last year, President Obama visited Japan and South Korea (in addition to China and Singapore) and has subsequently had many bilateral meetings with his Japanese counterpart and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Secretary Clinton has visited the region five times since taking office, with her initial journey as Secretary of State to the Asia-Pacific, and her first visit to Japan. Secretary Clinton has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Foreign Minister Okada and continues to underscore the central importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance to American engagement and strategic interests in the region. Most recently, Secretary Clinton attended a historic “2+2 meeting” with Secretary Gates and their counterparts in Seoul, underscoring and charting a forward looking vision for the U.S.-ROK alliance. President Obama will travel to Seoul this November for the G-20 Summit and will attend the APEC Summit in Yokohama, Japan.

We are working closely with the Republic of Korea to achieve a partnership that is truly global and comprehensive in nature. President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak have charted a forward-looking agenda for the alliance, outlined by the June 16, 2009 U.S.-ROK Joint Vision Statement. The U.S.-ROK alliance continues to evolve rapidly and has provided a solid foundation for security in the Asia-Pacific region for more than half a century. This security has helped make possible economic and political development in the ROK that was unimaginable at the end of the Korean War. Today Korea is a vibrant democracy with the fourteenth largest economy in the world and is our seventh largest trading partner. Our economic ties continue to serve as a strong foundation for the U.S.-ROK partnership. This is why President Obama underscored his support the United States-Korea free trade agreement by undertaking to resolve outstanding issues by the time he visits Seoul in November. Its successful implementation will benefit both economies, create jobs, and bolster the enduring strength of this strategic partnership in an important and rapidly growing region. It can also contribute to the strengthening of our overall bilateral alliance. In November of this year, Korea will host the next G-20 Summit in Seoul, a first for a non-G-8 nation and a first for an Asian country.

The U.S. and ROK are also working closely to modernize our defense alliance, which remains a key element of our overall bilateral relationship. We are working closely to adjust our force posture and presence to be better positioned to respond to current and future security challenges. We are moving towards a posture and presence that reflects a relationship of equals and that ensures a forward-stationed deployment of 28,500 American troops in South Korea. We recently moved the date of Wartime Operational Control transfer from 2012 to 2015 in order to strengthen the transition plan. This change will allow us to more closely synchronize the ROK lead of the combined defense with other ongoing alliance transformation efforts. In addition to military cooperation, our broader bilateral relationship outside the military realm also contributes to and enhances the security of the Korean Peninsula.

The closeness of our alliance with the Republic of Korea is also demonstrated by the existence of a series of institutional consultative mechanisms, including the Security Consultative Meeting, the Military Consultative Meeting, and the Security Policy Initiative. These mechanisms bring together high-level officials to discuss critical issues of mutual concern. Secretary Gates will meet with his counterpart on October 8 at the next Security Consultative Meeting in Washington, DC. We also have regular and increasingly broad trilateral dialogue with the Koreans and Japanese. The last formal Defense Trilateral Talks were held on September 13 in Washington.

As the ROK has grown and prospered, we have seen a convergence of interests between our two countries throughout the world. The ROK continues to be an increasingly active partner in global affairs, and our bilateral and multilateral cooperation transcends the Asia-Pacific region.

For example, the ROK is currently deploying a destroyer to the Combined Maritime Forces’ counter-piracy operation Combined Task Force 151, and a Korean Admiral currently holds the rotating command of this task force. Separately, the Koreans will chair the fall plenary meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia in New York. Korea is deploying a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Parwan Province in Afghanistan, and the Korean government quickly deployed peacekeepers to Haiti in the wake of the terrible earthquake there this past January. Korea is also involved in peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon, and they also deploy military observers and staff officers to a host of other UN peacekeeping missions. The ROK has also pledged $200 million towards development in Pakistan. The ROK, along with Japan, recently took steps to implement additional sanctions against Iran, similar in scope to the excellent measures adopted by the EU, joining a growing global consensus and strengthening our efforts to send a unified message to Iran that it should uphold its nuclear nonproliferation obligations and negotiate seriously on its nuclear program.

Korea made the leap from aid recipient to aid donor in a very short time span, and we are looking for opportunities to work together on development issues going forward. The ROK is an exemplar of development and has much to teach the developing world. In less than thirty years after the end of the U.S. Peace Corps program in Korea, thousands of idealistic young Koreans have volunteered for similar missions in the developing world.

North Korea:
South Korea’s successful and positive role as a regional power is in stark contrast with North Korea. North Korea poses the most immediate risks to both South Korea and the stability of East Asia. North Korea’s unprovoked attack on the Republic of Korea naval ship Cheonan on March 26, 2010, claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors. This attack gave the international community yet another reminder of the unpredictable and enduring threat posed by North Korea.

The United States has responded to a number of provocative actions by the DPRK --diplomatically, militarily, and economically. Let there be no doubt about U.S. conviction here. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, the United States worked closely with member states in the UN to craft a strong response. As a result, on July 9, the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement condemning the attack on the Cheonan and demonstrating the Council’s unity in confronting threats to international peace and security.

The United States and the ROK have also coordinated closely on a series of combined military exercises to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression. These defensive exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that the United States and ROK are committed to enhancing their combined defensive capabilities. The first exercise, Invincible Spirit, a combined maritime and air readiness exercise, occurred from July 25-28 in the Sea of Japan. On August 16-26, the Combined Forces Command completed the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, which focused on ensuring our readiness to prepare for, prevent, and prevail against the full range of provocations on the Korean Peninsula both now and in the future. The United States and ROK will continue to routinely conduct joint military exercises to enhance interoperability and increase our ability to respond to threats to peace. These steps enhance security on the peninsula by sending a clear message of our capabilities and determination.

In addition, the United States has taken additional steps through the adoption of new sanctions targeting DPRK proliferation and illicit activities. By adopting these new measures, the United States is sending a signal to the DPRK that its provocative actions, including its announced test of a nuclear device, missile launches, and the sinking of the Cheonan, are not without costs. On August 30, President Obama signed an Executive Order implementing new country-specific sanctions against the DPRK. The Executive Order directs the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to target for sanctions individuals and entities that support the Government of North Korea through arms sales and illicit economic activities, including money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods and currency, bulk cash smuggling, and narcotics trafficking. The new Executive Order supplements existing U.S. sanctions targeting proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and those who support them and strengthens our enforcement of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. The additional sanctions are not directed at the North Korean people, who have suffered too long, nor are these measures targeted at those who provide legitimate humanitarian relief to the people of North Korea. These sanctions target only the North Korean military and leaders.

As Secretary Clinton has said, “From the beginning of the Obama Administration, we have made clear that there is a path open to the DPRK to achieve the security and international respect it seeks . . . . If North Korea chooses that path, sanctions will be lifted, energy and other economic assistance will be provided, its relations with the United States will be normalized, and the current armistice on the peninsula will be replaced by a permanent peace agreement. But as long as it makes a different choice – if it continues its defiance, provocations, and belligerence – it will continue to suffer the consequences.”

Way Ahead:
The Republic of Korea is a key partner and contributor to regional and global peace and stability. The Obama Administration is unwavering in its resolve to uphold its treaty commitments to defend its allies. We highly value our broad relationships with the ROK and Japan and are deepening our security relationships with both countries as well as with our other partners in the region to ensure peace and stability on the peninsula. The U.S. position on the DPRK has remained constant: we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons power. The United States has underscored numerous times that North Korea can only achieve the security and international respect it seeks by ceasing its provocative behavior, improving its relations with its neighbors, complying with international law, and taking irreversible steps toward fulfilling its denuclearization commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement.

The attack on the Cheonan served as a stark reminder of the importance of our alliance in the face of continued North Korean provocations and raised tensions to a level not seen in many years. This unprovoked aggression reinforces the need to be prepared for a broad range of security challenges from the North and all manner of unpredictable developments. American, Japanese and ROK commitment to the peace and security of Northeast Asia will remain critical to deal with North Korea, but also to ensure a context for peace and stability in the greater Asia-Pacific.

As President Obama has stated, the U.S. is a “Pacific power.” Our alliance relationship with the Republic of Korea serves as a critical anchor for our strategic engagement in the Asia-Pacific. Looking back over the past 60 years, it is amazing to see the evolution of the U.S.-ROK relationship. The relationship is no longer defined solely through the monocular lens of North Korea, but is increasingly global in scope. Our shared interests and democratic values will prove instrumental in ensuring a context of peace and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific for the coming years.

Thank you for extending this opportunity to me to testify today on this timely and important issue. I am happy to respond to any questions you may have.