Pacific Stars And Stripes
August 7, 1999
U.S. 7th Fleet Always On Alert, Doran Says
Navy ships no stranger to Korean waters; regularly conduct training with S. Korea.
By Jim Lea, Stripes Osan Bureau Chief
SEOUL - The U.S. 7th Fleet is not on increased alert in the face of a possible North Korean missile launch, fleet commander Vice Adm. Walter Doran said in Seoul on Thursday.
"I'm in the business of maintaining a constant state of readiness so that if called upon by our National Command Authority to respond (to any crisis), I have a credible combat force that is available literally on a moment's notice. I think we do that," Doran said at a news conference after the first session of the 6th Korean International Seapower Symposium.
Doran said that when the battle erupted between South and North Korean ships in the Yellow Sea in June, two 7th Fleet AEGIS guided-missile cruisers - the USS Mobile Bay and USS Vincennes - were sent to the area very quickly. It's important to understand, he said, that the 7th Fleet "is not a stranger to these waters. We are here often and regularly are working with your (the South Korean) navy."
Doran would not, however, speculate on what action the fleet might take if North Korea goes ahead with plans to test-fire a Taepodong-2 missile.
"As far as what we may do under any given circumstance or what our reply may be to any given action, I defer to our political leadership because it is rightfully their call and their decision," he said. "As Defense Secretary (William) Cohen said here last week, our hope is this will be resolved through diplomacy and negotiation."
In his speech at the symposium, Doran said the U.S. Navy has had "a virtually uninterrupted presence" in the Western Pacific for 160 years and will continue to be here in the next century. The Pacific, he said, is an area of both constants and changes.
Asia, he said, "is and will continue to be a vitally important region to the United States. In today's age of global interdependence, Americans simply must be concerned about what goes on across the Pacific.
"Over 50 percent of the world's economy derives from Asia, over half the people on our planet live here. Asia contains four of the seven largest militaries in the world," he said. "Nearly 400,000 U.S. citizens, excluding military personnel and dependents, live, work and study in the region. About one-third of (our) two-way trade is with Asia, accounting for millions of American jobs."
Changes in Asia include a move toward multilateralism, increasing security challenges, the emergence of China, the continued danger from North Korea, and the rapid growth of technology, especially information technology, he said.
"Unlike Europe, Asia for the past half-century has been characterized by a series of bilateral agreements such as the alliances the United States has with Korea, Japan, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines," he said.
More recently, a multilateral approach has emerged like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, the four-party talks on Korea, and the 18-member Western Pacific Naval Symposium held in Seoul last year.
He listed new security challenges as "rising nationalism, piracy, nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking and organized crime."
He predicted changes on the Korean peninsula.
"The present situation in the North simply cannot sustain itself," he said. "We can't say when and we cannot say how, but change will come to the Korean peninsula.
"North Korea is still capable of inflicting terrible destruction in South Korea and beyond," he said, adding that Pyongyang's missile launch last year "underscored for the entire region that North Korea, despite its domestic hardship, continues to be a very dangerous place.
"We hope that the eventual change is peaceful, but we remain prepared for the worst," he said.
But the U.S. Navy no longer stands alone in its protection of the Pacific, he said.
"It is a fact of life that the U.S. Navy will probably never undertake a full operation on its own again. Our operations will always be with joint or coalition forces," Doran said. "Virtually every military action that the United States has participated in in the past decade - the Gulf War, the Balkans, Somalia, Haiti - were all joint or coalition efforts."
All those things mean the U.S. Navy is in the Pacific for the long haul. Doran noted that 100 years ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Hays said, "The Mediterranean is the ocean of the past, the Atlantic is the ocean of the present, but the Pacific is the ocean of the future."
"Hays' words were prophetic," he said. "The Pacific is America's past, America's present and America's future."
The symposium - attended by scholars from the United States, South Korea, Indonesia, Russia, China, Japan and Thailand and senior military officers from some 30 nations - was to end Friday.
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