WASHINGTON -- The North Korean military remains dangerous, and U.S., South Korean and allied forces on the Korean Peninsula “should remain clear-eyed about the situation on the ground and allow diplomacy to continue to work,” President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to be the next commander of U.S. forces in Korea told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing today.
Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, now the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, is the president’s nominee to replace Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks as the commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.
If confirmed, Abrams would go to a peninsula in a state of flux. The historic meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un changed the calculus, and this is a critical time. What happens in North Korea – will they indeed denuclearize – affects South Korea, Japan, China and all of Northeast Asia.
“The strategic importance of the Pacific region has grown over the past decade,” Abrams said. “The foundation for success in Northeast Asia is largely due to the extraordinary relationships we have built over time with United Nations sending states and our Indo-Pacific neighbors, particularly Japan and the Republic of Korea.”
Working with allies is key to what happens on the peninsula, and Abrams said he would continue that process. “Our strong combined military power with the Republic of Korea has sustained armistice conditions for 65 years and supported our diplomatic and economic efforts today,” he said.
Since the armistice of 1953, alliance forces have been ready “to fight tonight,” the general said, and the allies must maintain that credible deterrent “to preserve options for our elected leaders.”
Abrams endorsed the four long-standing command priorities: sustaining and strengthening the alliance, maintaining the armistice, transforming the alliance, and sustaining the force. “I believe these priorities remain relevant, but if confirmed, I will … make my own assessment on the way forward, and I will keep this committee informed of my conclusions,” he said.
The general said he would describe the situation today as “a temporary pause and a general feeling of détente, if you will, on the peninsula.”
North Korea has not made a major provocation for more than 300 days, and dialogue has taken place on many levels among the United States, South Korea and North Korea. This includes military-to-military talks between the United Nations Command and the North Korean army at the senior officer level – the first in 11 years.
Given this encouraging news, the allies still need to maintain readiness, Abrams said. North Korea is a significant asymmetric and intercontinental threat, he told the Senate panel, noting that it still has the fourth-largest conventional army in the world.