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American Forces Press Service

Locklear: Tensions on Korean Peninsula Highest Since War's End

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2013 – With tensions on the Korean Peninsula reaching their highest level in the 60 years since the war there ended, the United States and South Korea are prepared to defend against a North Korean attack, should one come, the U.S. Pacific Command commander told Congress today.

"I am satisfied that we are ready today," Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Locklear expressed confidence in the capabilities of U.S. and South Korean forces and their ability to intercept a North Korean ballistic missile if one is launched in the coming days, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened.

But expressing concern about any steps that could cause miscalculation and quickly escalate, Locklear said he would recommend such an action only after confirming where it was headed and to defend the homeland or a U.S. ally.

"The best thing we as militaries can do is to preserve the peace, [and] to get it back to peace so diplomacy can work, and we would hope that could be done in North Korea," he said. "But it is a very dangerous situation. It is something we have to watch, and it could be quite volatile."

North Korea dominated today's Senate hearing, originally scheduled to focus on Pacom's fiscal 2014 budget request.

Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, had been scheduled to testify alongside Locklear, but remained in South Korea to deal with the situation there.

Locklear recognized in his prepared remarks concerns about North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and its concentration of combat forces along the demilitarized zone. But particularly troubling, he said, has been North Korea's willingness to use tactics that could cause miscalculation and spin out of control into conflict.

These provocations "represent a clear and direct threat to U.S. national security and regional peace and stability," he said.

Locklear said he felt confident that the allies have demonstrated to the North Korean leadership, as well as the American population, "our ability and our willingness to defend our nation, to defend our people, to defend our allies and to defend our forward deployed forces."

The admiral told the Senate panel he is satisfied with actions being taken in response to the North Korean threat, including a B-2 bomber flight over South Korea and the planned deployment of missile defenses to Guam.

The B-2 flight during the regularly scheduled Foal Eagle exercise "was a good opportunity for my forces in Pacom to coordinate with [U.S. Strategic Command], and for us to be able to demonstrate the capability," Locklear said. "And I believe that it was visibly demonstrated [and] was done at the right time to indicate the capabilities that the United States has to ensure the defense of our allies and our homeland."

In addition, two Navy ships with missile defense capabilities have been positioned closer to the peninsula, and the Defense Department announced last week that Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System assets he would deploy to Guam as a precautionary measure.

Locklear told the panel he agreed with the Defense Department decision to delay a routine reliability test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile in light of what he acknowledged as a "particularly tenuous time."

Asked by a committee member, Locklear acknowledged he wished China would play a larger role in helping to curb North Korea's provocations. "I feel they could do more," he said.

The North Korean situation is influencing resourcing decisions at a time that sequestration is having a direct impact on near-term operational readiness, Locklear told the panel. Budget constraints have forced Pacom to prioritize its assets to ensure "the most pressing problems are properly addressed with the right force levels and the right levels of readiness," he said. "And today, that most pressing situation is what is happening on the peninsula in Korea."

He lamented about budget impacts that will come to light over the longer term as overall readiness levels begin to decline. In some cases, he said, large-scale exercises designed to ensure future force readiness are being cancelled for lack of flight hours, transportation or funds to cover the fuel costs.

The rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region offers an opportunity to ensure the proper balance of capabilities there and to reemphasize the U.S. commitment to this vital part of the globe, Locklear said. He expressed concern, however, that sequestration and other budget shortfalls under the continuing appropriations resolution could undermine those efforts.

"We have been accepting additional risk in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region for some time," Locklear told the panel. "Our rebalance strategy is in place, and we are making progress. Implementing and sustaining the strategic rebalance will require long-term, sustained commitment and resources."

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