US Defense Secretary Mattis Begins 2-Day Trip to South Korea

So far, so good for Defense Secretary Mattis’ visit to South Korea:

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (Yonhap)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday began his two-day visit to South Korea in his first overseas trip aimed at underscoring the U.S. security commitment to the Asian ally amid growing threats from North Korea.

After landing at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, at 12:30 p.m., Mattis headed to the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, according to the defense ministry.

Mattis was briefed by USFK Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, including Seoul-Washington’s joint readiness against North Korean threats that include that it is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, military officials said.

He then met with Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin and attended a dinner event hosted by Defense Minister Han Min-koo at a Seoul hotel.

Hwang is currently serving as acting president after President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly over a corruption scandal.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but Mattis has reconfirmed the US commitment to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea despite Chinese objections.

ROK JCS To Lead Key Resolve 2017 Military Exercise

This year’s Key Resolve exercise will have a little twist with the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff leading it:

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead a combined military exercise with the U.S. from a new command center in March amid growing threats from North Korea, military officials said Monday.

“During the upcoming Key Resolve exercise, Seoul’s JCS will be responsible for exercise planning and control, operation of opposing forces, and after-drill meetings,” an official at the defense ministry said.

The exercise’s command center will be set up in an underground bunker of South Korea’s Capital Defense Command, as the JCS will lead the annual exercise with the U.S. staff playing a supporting role, according to the ministry.

When the U.S. side led the exercise, the command center used to be set up at the bunker of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

The JCS led the Key Resolve drills in 2013 as South Korea was scheduled to regain wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington in 2015. But the OPCON transfer was pushed back amid Pyongyang’s provocations. Seoul and Washington agreed on the “conditions-based” transfer, which observers say could come in mid-2020s.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

President Trump Confirms Defense Commitment to South Korea

It appears everything went well with the phone call between President Trump and acting ROK President Hwang:

President Donald Trump reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the alliance with South Korea during a phone call Monday with the country’s acting president.

The leaders also agreed to strengthen joint defense capabilities as they face a growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, the White House said in a statement.

The call — the first time Trump and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn have spoken — offered much-sought reassurance to South Koreans nervous that the new U.S. administration might change longstanding policies toward the divided peninsula.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

US and South Korean Officials Discuss Permanent Deployment of US Bombers and Aegis Ships to Peninsula

Does anyone think permanently deploying US bombers and Aegis ships will do anything to change the behavior of the Kim regime?:

Defense Minister Han Min-koo, left, speaks as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, second from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, third from left, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter listen during a meeting at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday. / AP-Yonhap

Defense Minister Han Min-koo, left, speaks as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, second from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, third from left, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter listen during a meeting at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday. / AP-Yonhap

South Korea and the United States have officially begun discussions on the permanent deployment of strategic weapons such as nuclear-capable bombers on the Korean Peninsula.

This was at the top of the agenda in the “two plus two” high-level security talks among Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Defense Minister Han Min-koo, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Washington, Thursday.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters after the meeting that the two defense chiefs will discuss details about how to deploy U.S. strategic assets in South Korea during the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).

“The permanent deployment of U.S. strategic assets will be discussed at the defense chiefs’ talks,” he said.

U.S. strategic assets include nuclear-capable B-52 and B-1B bombers, F-22 stealth fighter jets, nuclear-powered attack submarines and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Military sources here said that working-level officials of the two nations have already been talking on permanently deploying B-1B Lancers or Aegis destroyers to South Korea. [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but this article from Yonhap says the US is unlikely to station strategic assets in South Korea due to cost and concerns of upsetting China:

The scholar said as the U.S. has gradually reduced its defense budget, it will be financially burdensome to deploy its strategic assets on or near the Korean Peninsula.

“The U.S. prefers to operate those assets on a rotational basis to flexibly respond to conflicts in the Middle East, the South and East China Sea, if necessary,” he pointed out.

China remains another major obstacle as the North’s closest ally will be “definitely irritated” by permanent deployment of any U.S. nuclear-armed weapons in South Korea, said Kim Dong-yeob, a professor at Kyungnam University’s North Korean studies school.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

 

Foal Eagle 2016 Exercise Concludes In South Korea

I guess we will see whether the conclusion of Foal Eagle will lead to a reduction in provocations from North Korea in the coming weeks:

South Korea and the United States are set to end their two monthlong joint military exercises this week, but tensions are expected to go up further as North Korea is seen as preparing for another nuclear test, officials said Friday.

“The Foal Eagle exercise will officially wrap up its schedule tomorrow although its outdoor training programs are all to end today,” a military official said.

The last day of the exercise on Saturday will be assigned to breaking up camps and withdrawing assembled military assets and troops, the official noted.

The allies had kicked off the annual field exercise on March 7, along with the Key Resolve command post exercise, which ran for two weeks.

This year’s exercises were the biggest of their kinds, having come on the heels of North Korea’s provocative nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.

The two exercises brought together some 300,000 South Korean armed forces and 17,000 U.S. forces, along with the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-propelled aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and two Wasp-class amphibious assault vessels: the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and the USS Boxer (LHD-4).  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Defense Ministry Defends How Much They Pay for US Military Presence In South Korea

The ROK must be getting worried about the possibility of a Trump presidency because they are definitely out defending themselves lately in regards to how much they pay in defense costs:

Seoul’s Defense Ministry says that South Korea is making a considerable financial contribution to the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula.

Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun made the comment during a regular briefing Thursday after U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump hinted at a renegotiation of defense costs with U.S. allies.

Moon said that although it was inappropriate to assess Trump’s remarks at the briefing, Washington acknowledges Seoul’s considerable monetary contribution to shared defense expenses. The spokesman said that U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert also recently made a remark acknowledging this fact.

Regarding signs that North Korea is preparing for a large-scale artillery drill using a replica of the South Korean presidential office on a shooting range near Pyongyang, Moon said that signs pointing to such drills have been continuously detected.

During a major foreign policy speech Wednesday, Trump said that if elected president, he would call for a summit with Asian allies to discuss a rebalancing of financial commitments.  [KBS World Radio]

Defense Secretary Reaffirms Ban on Fighter Jet Technology Transfer to South Korea

Despite their best efforts it looks like the ROK will not be receiving the technology transfer they requested any time soon:

korea us flag image

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter refused Thursday to accept South Korea’s request for the transfer of key American technologies necessary for Seoul’s “KF-X” indigenous jet fighter development project, officials said.

Carter stated the position when South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo asked him to reconsider the decision to reject the technology transfer during a meeting at the Pentagon, the South’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Han has been in Washington to accompany President Park Geun-hye on an official visit.

Carter said, however, that he would study ways of technological cooperation, the statement said. The two ministers also agreed to establish a consultative forum to discuss ways to increase cooperation in defense technology, including the KF-X project, it said.

The Korean Fighter Experimental (KF-X) project, under which South Korea is to produce 120 combat jets, hit a snag after the U.S. Department of State in April refused to grant permission for U.S.-based Lockheed Martin’s export of four out of the 25 fighter jet technologies it has promised Seoul. [Korea Times]

You can read the rest at the link.

83% of Americans Supportive of US-ROK Relationship

Despite what Donald Trump has been saying about the US-ROK relationship, the vast majority of Americans have a very positive view of both the military and diplomatic relationship with South Korea:

korea us flag image

More than eight in 10 Americans say relations with South Korea are important while American support for the use of U.S. armed forces to defend the Asian ally stands at an all-time high, an opinion poll showed Tuesday.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released the survey results ahead of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit to Washington this week. Park is scheduled to hold talks with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday.

“As President Park Geun-hye visits the United States, American opinion of South Korea is largely positive. Majorities say US-ROK relations are important and see South Korea as a reliable partner,” the council said in a statement.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

North Korea Once Again Demands that US and ROK Stop Military Training

Here we go again with the usual rhetoric from North Korea during every Joint exercise:

Anchor: South Korea has made clear that suspending its joint military exercises with the U.S. cannot be a precondition for dialogue with Pyongyang. Seoul revealed the stance after North Korea said that if the United States wants to engage in dialogue it must stop taking part in the joint drills.
Our Bae Joo-yon has more.

Report: Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that ending South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises cannot be a precondition for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

The ministry Spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters that the joint drill is an annual event of a defensive nature.

Kim’s remarks came shortly after North Korea said the United States must stop its joint military exercises with South Korea if it wants to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang.

Kim said the joint exercises are necessary to prepare against the North’s provocations, adding that they are akin to a student preparing for a test.

Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the North’s Foreign Ministry said that if the U.S. abandons hostile activities, including the exercises, and chooses to walk a different path, then it would be possible to engage in dialogue and resolve many issues.  [KBS World]

You can read more at the link, but basically the North Koreans are trying to put the blame on the US for why talks cannot be started.