OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea -- Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford arrived here to participate in the U.S.-South Korean Military Committee Meeting tomorrow.
Just getting off the airplane put the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about 50 miles south of one of the most bizarre borders in the world -- the demilitarized zone.
The DMZ stretches from the Yellow Sea across the peninsula to the East China Sea. It is one of the most heavily militarized borders on Earth.
On the other side of that border is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his army of almost a million active duty soldiers. There are also 600,000 reservists, and the North says it has almost 6 million people in paramilitary formations.
Not content with the fourth largest army in the world, Kim also wants nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
This land was scarred 67 years ago when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950. Osan Air Base was the site of one of the battles of that war when Easy Company of the 27th Infantry Regiment, low on ammunition, charged up Hill 180 with fixed bayonets.
That war is still going on and Dunford will meet with Korean Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, to examine strategies, plans and means needed to deter any North Korean aggression.
The Military Committee Meeting is the way U.S. and South Korean leaders chart the way ahead for the alliance. Held each year since 1978, senior military officials gather to discuss what has occurred over the past year and the best ways to move ahead.
The Security Consultative Meeting takes place immediately after the MCM. Leading their respective delegations this year are Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo.
Military Committee Meeting
The annual Military Committee Meeting looks at all the issues that affect the U.S.-South Korean alliance. “We look at things like missile defense, command and control, capability development, installation of linked systems,” Dunford said to reporters traveling with him. “It is a wide range of technical issues that get carried on year after year.”
They will also discuss the threat.
It is a dangerous time on the Korean Peninsula as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un pushes his country toward developing nuclear weapons and the means to launch them. The North Korean Foreign Minister said the nation threatened to explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. Kim began nuclear testing in 2006 and the most recent test was Sept. 3.
North Korea also tested an intercontinental ballistic missile with the last test of the road transportable missile on July 29.
The rhetoric coming from North Korea is examined carefully, Dunford said. “I am not complacent about anything that comes out of the regime,” the general said. “What’s fair to say is with the unprecedented missile testing and nuclear testing by Kim Jong Un this is certainly a tense period on the peninsula and we are doing everything we can to emphasize we seek a political and diplomatic and economic solution to this. The military dimension is in support of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic and economic effort.”
But the military aspect must be credible. The MCM is a report card highlighting capabilities and capacities. “We will review the things that were accomplished since and we will put some milestones out there: this is the meeting that drives the staff for the subsequent year,” Dunford said.
Dunford said he expects the two nations will discuss command and control capabilities, precision munitions, the maritime capability and anti-submarine capability. He also expects cyber capabilities and space resilience to be discussed in depth. “We have been on a path of increased South Korean military capability for a long time,” the general said. “The more they can do for themselves the better. “
Dunford and Jeong will present the results of the MCM to Mattis and Song at the Security Consultative Talks. He will then leave for Honolulu, where he will participate in a Tri-Chiefs of Defense meeting with Jeong and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the chief of staff for the Joint Staff. Both Japan and South Korea are treaty allies of the United States and the South Korean military and the Japan Self-Defense Forces are working to improve their interoperability.
In answer to a question, Dunford said having three carriers operating in the Pacific -- the USS Nimitz, the USS Reagan, the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- is coincidental, but, he added, “It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the region, it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our ability to meet our alliance commitments, and then from an operational perspective I think there is some utility in bringing together the three carriers and operating in every yard.”
The Nimitz finished a deployment to the Middle East and is transiting to its home port in Washington. The Roosevelt, based in San Diego, will replace the Nimitz in the Middle East, but will exercise while in transit. The Reagan is based in Yokosuka, Japan. It has just finished an exercise with the South Korean Navy.
“This was scheduled months and months in advance. This is a routine demonstration of our commitment to the region,” Dunford said.