HEARING ON U.S. POLICY TOWARD
THE KOREAN PENINSULA
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
FEBRUARY 26, 1997
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I welcome the opportunity to represent the Department of Defense in this hearing on U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula.
I would begin any statement with recognition of a fundamental point -- the forty-three-year-old U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea has been a profound success and continues to serve as the foundation for a broad, solid bilateral relationship. The peace and stability fostered by our close security ties have greatly benefited both countries and contributed to the economic prosperity and democratic development of South Korea and the entire Asia-Pacific region.
South Korea has risen from the devastation of the Korean War to become a regional and global model. In economic terms, the ROK has built the eleventh largest economy in the world. Politically, the South has made impressive progress in instituting democratic practices across the spectrum of government, from the local to the national level. While the lion's share of credit rightfully goes to the ROK population in achieving these political and economic milestones, the U.S. security shield has no doubt been indispensable in providing South Korea the breathing space to pursue its impressive development course.
The security relationship has by no means been a one-way street. The U.S.-ROK alliance has significantly bolstered U.S. strategic aims in promoting regional stability and economic prosperity as well as reassuring all countries that the U.S. is committed to an active engagement policy toward Asia. In deterring aggression from an often unpredictable and highly-militarized North Korea, the U.S. has helped create an environment in which developing Asian states could pursue a political and economic course compatible with American values and beliefs.
This is particularly true in the case of South Korea. As a result, the security alliance between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea is more than a treaty commitment -- it is a close, mutually-beneficial partnership built on a shared stake in democracy and free markets. Our alliance is an essential element of the strategy for achieving our longstanding security goal -- a non-nuclear, peacefully reunified Korean Peninsula. Even after the North Korean threat passes, the U.S. intends to maintain a strong defense alliance with the ROK, in the interest of regional security.
The need for a combined U.S.-ROK military command and force structure to protect our common values is more compelling than ever. Today the United States and South Korea confront twin security challenges on the Korean Peninsula -- deterrence of armed conflict and preparation for crises short of war.
On the first challenge, North Korea's large conventional military forces continue to threaten the security of the Republic of Korea. Two-thirds of its 1.1 million military personnel are positioned within 100 kilometers of the Demilitarized Zone, with a substantial artillery force capable of striking Seoul with little advance notice. In addition, North Korea possesses missile and other weapons programs that heighten concern over its intentions. The U.S. and ROK continue to focus their security cooperation on deterring the use of this military capability, whether in an all-out attack on South Korea or in a more limited military provocation. Let there be no doubt that deterrence is our first priority. Should deterrence fail, we will prevail militarily on the Peninsula.
At the same time, deteriorating economic conditions within North Korea and the recent defection of a senior DPRK official raise questions about future developments in the North. Therefore, it is only prudent for the U.S. and ROK to consult closely and be prepared for a range of contingencies that may occur on the Korean Peninsula.
Without a close defense alliance between the U.S. and South Korea, we would not be able to respond effectively to these challenges to our security interests. It is also important in a time of transition and uncertainty that we give no signals to North Korea that the calculus of the U.S.-ROK security relationship, which has served us so well, is changing. We must strongly counter any perception in Pyongyang that it can drive a wedge between the U.S. and ROK on security issues.
U.S.-ROK combined forces are better-equipped and more ready now than at any time in the history of the alliance. But maintaining capable and ready forces is a constant process. The U.S. is engaged in ongoing efforts to modernize its Peninsular force of about 37,000 military personnel with the latest military equipment, including AH-64 helicopters, Bradley Fighting vehicles, Global Positioning System receivers, frequency hopping radios, and a pre-positioned heavy brigade set. These measures have been complemented by ROK efforts to outfit its military with the most modern tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled howitzers, and fighter aircraft. The ROK commitment of resources to defense has been impressive, with over 21 percent of the most recent government budget devoted to the military. The ROK maintains 670,000 personnel in uniform and has pledged more than $1 billion in cost-sharing support for U.S. military forces on the Peninsula from 1996-1998.
Our security objectives in Korea have been greatly aided by diplomatic breakthroughs during the past several years. In particular, the engagement process begun by the U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework, which froze the North's nuclear program and its destabilizing potential, has defused the most immediate source of tension and deflected what could have been a military confrontation with North Korea. With the agreement and our underlying security commitment, we have preserved stability on the Peninsula and created an opening to pursue other issues of concern, the most important of which, North-South dialogue, is the foundation for a stable, long-term peace on the Peninsula. Other bilateral issues that we have pursued include missile proliferation and the recovery of Korean War remains. The Agreed Framework has also provided greater access to North Korea and some North-South contacts.
The Defense Department is making a three-pronged approach to North Korea to account for those missing from the Korean War. First, we have made progress in recovering remains from the Korean War, completing one joint operation in July 1996 that yielded the remains of a U.S. serviceman who was positively identified and buried by his family. Second, we hope to conduct archival research in North Korean records before undertaking additional remains recovery operations later this year. Third, we continue to seek answers from North Korea and other sources on any reports of live Americans detained in North Korea. Please be assured that the Defense Department is committed to pursuing this issue vigorously with the North.
Permanent peace on the Peninsula will be accomplished only through diplomatic/political means, and the Agreed Framework begins that process by laying a groundwork for uncoerced reconciliation between South and North Korea. We must recognize, however, that this agreement is an initial step in a long and difficult course. Our desire for a long-term, stable peace on the Peninsula will not be realized overnight, but that reality does not diminish the value of current initiatives toward North Korea. The alternative could very well be direct conflict with the North, which would take a devastating toll in lives and resources. For this reason, it is important for the U.S. to back the Agreed Framework, and the international consortium that implements its provisions, with the resources that will permit it to succeed.
Until North and South Korea find a peaceful solution to their
differences, we remain committed to the terms of the 44-year-old
Armistice Agreement. The Armistice Agreement and its mechanisms must
remain until an appropriate arrangement supersedes them. Only South
and North Korea can resolve the division of Korea; therefore,
replacement of the Armistice by an appropriate agreement can come
about only through direct dialogue between South and North Korea. The
U.S., while addressing near-term security concerns, has worked hard to
promote such a dialogue.