Go to contents

U.S. Commanders Divided On N. Korea

Posted August. 31, 2006 06:56,   


In response to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s remark that North Korea is not an immediate threat to South Korea, a group of military officials are claiming that it proves Washington’s confidence in South Korea’s military capabilities.

However, this is far different from the degree of the threat assessed by senior military officials of U.S. forces here in Korea.

Former commanders of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) in the last three years have repeatedly said that Pyongyang’s conventional weapons pose a great threat.

For instance, former USFK commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said five times during his term in Korea that North Korea is a serious threat as it is armed with some 1.2 million troops, 800 missiles, the world’s top-notch special forces and submarines.

Laporte even criticized South Koreans’ lack of awareness against the possible security threat at a U.S. Senate hearing in March 2003, stressing Koreans under the age of 45 have no understanding or little understanding on North Korea’s threat.

Gen. Burwell Bell, incumbent USFK commander, also said at the hearing that the North is a serious, immediate and continuous threat to the South.

Some experts believe that the discord between Rumsfeld and USFK commanders represents different points of view between top defense policy makers and field commanders.

They argue North Korea’s conventional weapons except for intercontinental ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead are not one of main concerns for Rumsfeld who has staked everything on the missile defense system. In fact, the threat of North Korea he has been referring to was a possibility of North Korea’s launching nuclear Taepodong 2 missiles to the U.S.

However, the USFK commander, who commands South Korea-U.S. combined forces including 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in Korea, has to consider all the details of North Korea’s military capabilities and all the possible scenarios of a possible war.

Some analysts, however, see Rumsfeld remark as a strategic move to hand over the wartime command control earlier and accelerate realignment of U.S. forces. It is because emphasizing the security threat does not lead to an early transfer of the command control.

One military expert said that the U.S. may take further measures such as reducing its troops in Korea just before or after it returns the wartime command control to South Korea in accordance to the Global Posture Review.