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Background of U.S. claim of greater threat from N.K.

Posted April. 01, 2001 17:38,   


``Washington`s reiteration of the growing threat from North Korea may signify the arrival of spring.``

This comment came from a military analyst here after General Thomas Schwartz, commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea, said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the threat was more serious today than it was last year. Dennis Blair, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Appropriations Committee that North Korea continued to increase its military power and possessed 600 modified Scud missiles.

Talk of Pyongyang`s military threat typically comes up at this time of year, when Congress deliberates on the defense budget for next year. It often touches off debates among Korean officials and politicians.

Nature of threat:

As some expressed fears that the statements of American military leaders showed a rift between Seoul and Washington in assessing the threat, the Defense Ministry here emphasized that there was no difference between the two allies in terms of evaluating the threat.

With reference to the 2000 defense white paper and its reports to the National Assembly, the ministry elaborated on the background of Gen. Schwartz`s description of the current situation as he saw it as ``bigger, closer and deadlier.``

By bigger he was said to be referring to Pyongyang`s acquisition of 40 MIG fighters in 1999, production of Chonma tanks and more small submarines. The ministry said large-scale war games conducted by mechanized units last spring and winter following a naval skirmish in the West Sea were discovered, which prompted the commanders to say the threat was bigger. Ministry officials also explained that the terms ``closer and deadlier`` were inspired by press reports on the forward deployment of one tank corps, two mechanized corps and two artillery corps south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line, in addition to the expansion of missile silos. They said the number of Scud missiles given by Blair is the same as that the Korean Air Force reported to a National Assembly hearing five years ago in 1996.

Why the greater emphasis:

Specialists point out to the venue where Gen. Schwartz made his remarks, that is, during a Congress session on the military budget. The commander of the Combined ROK-U.S. Forces has tended to play up the military threat posed by North Korea in hopes of obtaining increased appropriations to support U.S. troops here.

Another interpretation related to the intensified expressions used by the Bush administration. Stressing a growing military threat from North Korea might well be part of the administration`s public relations efforts aimed at advancing its national missile defense system plans. Others believe it represents a pressure tactic to help the U.S. military-industrial complex sell high-priced weapons to Korea.

Lee Chol-Hi klimt@donga.com