ROK-U.S. News

KDVA’s Engagements with ROK Minister of National Defense

February 23-24, 2020

The Republic of Korea’s Minister of National Defense, Minister Jeong, Kyeong-doo requested a meeting with the Korea Defense Veterans Association (KDVA) to discuss ROK-U.S. Alliance and veterans topics on February 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Minister Jeong appreciated KDVA’s efforts in supporting both the veterans of the Korean War who fought together with South Korea and defense veterans who have continued to defend South Korea and support the ROK-U.S. Alliance for nearly seven decades.  KDVA and the Minister discussed upcoming events for the 70th Commemoration of the Korean War in Seoul and Washington, DC.  KDVA thanked the Minister for his strong support for our veterans as well as his commitment to the important future of the ROK-U.S. Alliance.

Minister Jeong met with KDVA senior leaders, GEN (Ret.) Walter Sharp (KDVA Chairman and President), GEN (Ret.) John Tilelli (KDVA U.S. Vice Chairman), LTG (Ret.) Bernard Champoux (KDVA Board member), Col. (Ret.) Rocky Harder (KDVA Board member), and COL (Ret.) Steve Lee (KDVA Senior VP of Operations).

Minister Jeong is in Washington, DC to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, to discuss Alliance topics and to thank veterans organizations before the 70th Commemoration of the Korean War this summer.


On February 24, 2020, KDVA leaders General Tilelli and General Sharp were invited to attend the wreath laying ceremony for U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and ROK Minister of National Defense Jeong, Kyeong-doo at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

General Tilelli also attended as the Chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, which is responsible for ensuring that the Korean War Veterans Memorial will be maintained in perpetuity.  The nonprofit organization is also establishing a Wall of Remembrance to be incorporated with the existing Memorial. The Wall will become the permanent home to the names of the 36,574 American service members and over 8,000 Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) who gave their lives defending the people of South Korea from aggression and ensuring their freedom. For more information or to make a donation for the Wall of Remembrance, please visit

KDVA is the premier association that supports and advocates for the people who built the Alliance and continue to serve it in U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command.  KDVA is a 501C(3) non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Virginia.  Please contact KDVA at, visit, and follow us on Facebook ( and Twitter (@KDVAvets).



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US military dependent in South Korea diagnosed with coronavirus, triggering precautions

More than 800 people have been diagnosed with the virus in South Korea.

A family member of a U.S. service member has been diagnosed with coronavirus — officially called COVID-19 — in South Korea, as the number of cases in that country continues to explode.In a press release on Monday, U.S. Forces Korea announced that it had been informed by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a military dependent living in Daegu had tested positive for COVID-19. It marks the first time a U.S. Forces Korea-related individual tested positive for the virus, the release said.

In a tweet on Monday, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea Gen. Robert Abrams identified the 61-year old female patient as the widow of a retired soldier.

“We are saddened to hear of her contracting the virus,” Abrams tweeted. “We pray for her recovery.”

According to the release, the woman visited the Camp Walker Post Exchange on Feb. 12 and 15. Korean and American military health professionals are now “actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed.”

In response, U.S. Forces Korea has ordered personnel to limit non-mission essential in-person meetings, gatherings, and temporary duty travel and assignments. It’s also warned personnel to “expect longer wait times, possible temperature checks and screening questionnaires at gates to access installations” and instructed personnel to limit off-installation travel. The overall risk of COVID-19 to U.S. military personnel on the Korean Peninsula is now characterized as “high.”

More than 800 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in South Korea, many in the southeastern city of Daegu where the soldier’s widow contracted the virus.

Alex Johnson, an American living in Daegu with his family, told ABC News on Sunday that “daily life has changed for us.”

“Everybody’s wearing masks and gloves,” he said.

Video taken by Johnson showed empty streets and closed restaurants.

“And if you look at this coffee shop here, this says right here: Corona-19 Virus,” Johnson said pointing to a sign on the coffee shop window. “They’re closed because of the virus. They’re not closed because they had a virus problem here, but they’re closed because they had a safety. So basically, most people in our neighborhood are just staying indoors and they’re not going out and doing anything.”

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.


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KDVA’s Dinner with ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs

KDVA’s Dinner with ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs

February 20, 2020

The Korea Defense Veterans Association (KDVA) was invited to a dinner hosted by the Republic of Korea’s Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs on February 20, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Minister Park, Sam-Duck hosted this dinner for KDVA Board members to discuss KDVA’s role in advancing and supporting the ROK-U.S. Alliance and several ROK-U.S. topics related to the 70th Commemoration of the Korean War.  Minister Park was impressed by the scope and variety of activities that KDVA will host or support in 2020 that include:

  • 70th Commemoration of Korean War in Korea and United States (25 June 2020)
  • Armistice Day Commemorations in DC (27 July 2020)
  • ROK-U.S. Alliance Seminars & Forums in Korea (Summer 2020)
  • Education Conferences for Junior Enlisted / NCOs / Officers in Korea (Spring/Fall 2020)
  • 2020 CFC Former Commander/Deputy Commander Forum in DC (TBD)
  • 2020 KDVA-KUSAF Honors Night in DC (Oct 2020)
  • Meet & Greets in DC (Quarterly, next event is on February 28th at 5:00 p.m. in the Old Korean Legation Building)
  • AUSA Hot Topics on ROK-U.S. Alliance in DC

The Minister and KDVA leaders also discussed the possibility of expanding the current Korean War Veterans Revisit to Korea Program to include veterans who served after the signing of the Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953.  This expansion would broaden South Korea’s deep appreciation for the millions of U.S. Service Members who have and continue to support and defend the South Korean people for almost seven decades.


Senior leaders in attendance were (from left) LTG (Ret.) JD Johnson (KDVA Board member),  LTG (Ret.) Bernard Champoux (KDVA Board member), SGM (Ret.) Troy Welch (KDVA Board member), MPVA Minister Park, Sam-Duck, GEN (Ret.) Walter Sharp (KDVA Chairman and President), MPVA Director General Lee, Seong Choon, and COL (Ret.) Steve Lee (KDVA Senior VP of Operations).  KDVA thanked the Minister for his great support of veterans in South Korea and the United States.

Minister Park is in Washington, DC to meet with U.S. government officials and veterans organizations before the 70th Commemoration of the Korean War this summer.

KDVA is the premier association that supports and advocates for the people who built the Alliance and continue to serve it in U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command.  KDVA is a 501C(3) non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Virginia.  Please contact KDVA at, visit, and follow us on Facebook ( and Twitter (@KDVAvets).

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FM says S. Korea, U.S. still have ‘big’ gaps in defense cost talks

Yonhap News  |   By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) — Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Thursday that South Korea and the United States still have “big” gaps in their negotiations over Seoul’s share of the cost for stationing American troops here despite a broadening of “mutual understanding.”

Her remarks came as the two countries are preparing for the seventh round of negotiations expected to take place in Seoul this month to determine Korea’s payments for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea under the cost-sharing deal, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA).

“Though gaps are still big, the two countries have deepened mutual understanding much more, and we are in a situation where we have to make an agreement based on that understanding,” Kang said in a press briefing.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks during a press briefing at her ministry in Seoul on Feb. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks during a press briefing at her ministry in Seoul on Feb. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

The two countries held the latest round of negotiations in Washington last month but failed to reconcile differences on key sticking points, such as the total amount of Seoul’s financial contributions and what should be covered by the new SMA.

Kang said that both sides are well aware of the need to swiftly reach a new deal as it is subject to a ratification process by South Korea’s parliament, whose deliberation process can come to a halt during the April general elections and the subsequent reorganization of its standing committees.

“Though there have not been face-to-face talks (since the last negotiation last month), the two sides have continuously communicated via email or phone, and both countries are well aware that there is a shortage of time given the parliament’s schedule,” Kang said.

Kang also said that Seoul’s negotiating team has been taking into account the concerns that a delay in clinching a new deal could force South Korean workers at U.S. bases to go on unpaid leave and hamper USFK operations.

The U.S. military has already sent a notice of potential furloughs to its nearly 9,000 Korean employees, saying that absent a new SMA, they could be furloughed starting in April.

“I can’t predict when a deal will be struck, but we will engage in the negotiations with the protection of our workers’ rights in mind,” she said.

Later in the day, the union of the Korean employees held a press conference at the National Assembly, calling for an early conclusion of the SMA negotiations and the immediate withdrawal of potential furlough notices.

A major fault line has been whether to expand the scope of the SMA.

Seoul has insisted that the negotiations should proceed within the existing SMA framework, while Washington has demanded that its coverage be expanded to include extra costs such as those for rotations of American troops to the peninsula.

Last year’s SMA, which expired in December, called for Seoul to pay around US$870 million.

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US Forces Korea imposes mandatory 14-day quarantine for US troops returning from China

At nearly $11 billion, Camp Humphreys is a “slice of America” inside South Korea. (Army)

Military Times  | 

U.S. troops headed to South Korea after visiting China must undergo a 14-day quarantine to avoid the spread of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, according to U.S. Forces Korea.

“We are taking all appropriate precautionary measures to prevent any potential spread of the virus,” U.S. Forces Korea commander Army Gen. Robert Abrams tweeted Sunday. “Key for everyone is to follow standard hygiene protocols, and if not feeling well—get screened ASAP!”

Although there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus among members of U.S. Forces Korea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Korea have identified a total of 15 confirmed cases throughout South Korea.

As a result, the command is requiring all service members returning to South Korea from China’s mainland on or after Jan. 19 to follow a 14-day self-quarantine — even if symptoms are not immediately apparent. Family members and other DoD personnel are also advised to participate in the quarantine following travel from China.

“The directed self-quarantine implementation is mandatory for US servicemembers, regardless if they reside on or off USFK installations, and is highly encouraged for family members, DoD civilians, contractors, United Nation Command military personnel and Korean National employees to follow as well in the interest of public health safety,” U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement Feb. 2.

While the command said U.S. Forces Korea personnel remain at low risk for contracting the virus, the command added the quarantine is being imposed “out of an abundance of caution.”

On Friday, the Pentagon issued a memo outlining ways service members can reduce the risk of contracting the virus, a move that came after the State Department released a travel advisory to not travel to China.

The Pentagon said DoD personnel returning from China over the past two weeks should receive medical attention immediately, as should those who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus or are exhibiting symptoms like a fever, in accordance with CDC recommendations.

Likewise, the Pentagon said commanders of “individually affected geographic commands” would issue further guidance.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Friday that Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of INDOPACOM, has restricted all DOD travel to China.

“This restriction is specific to the geographic confines of the [People’s Republic of China], and applies to all U.S. military, civilians and DOD contractors,” INDOPACOM spokesperson Maj. Cassandra Gesecki said in an email to Military Times. “There are no travel restrictions from INDOPACOM for DOD personnel in the remainder of the INDOPACOM area of operations.”

“Additionally, all DOD personnel currently in China on temporary duty and in leave status are directed to depart mainland China immediately,” Gesecki said.

On Saturday, the Pentagon said it is ready to provide housing support for 1,000 people who could be quarantined in the U.S. after traveling from China.

Evacuees could be housed at Travis Air Force Base in California; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California; Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; and the 168th Regiment, Regional Training Institute at Fort Carson in Colorado.

As of Feb. 2, the World Health Organization said there are more than 14,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus around the world, and more than 300 deaths resulting from the virus. There are 146 confirmed cases outside of China, and one death.


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Camp Humphreys: Prepare for installation service delays while US, South Korea negotiate cost-sharing agreement

At nearly $11 billion, Camp Humphreys is a “slice of America” inside South Korea. (Arm)

The sprawling Camp Humphreys Army base in South Korea gave a heads up that some installation services are expected to encounter delays, thanks to the expiration of host-nation support last month that helps keep more than 28,000 U.S. troops there.

The 2019 Special Measures Agreement, which expired on Dec. 31, required South Korea to pay nearly $1 billion to offset stationing costs of U.S. troops — amounting to $70 million more from what Seoul paid the previous year. But President Donald Trump is pushing Seoul to pay even more in a 2020 deal, prompting both states to remain at odds with one another over a future arrangement.

“Due to the Special Measures Agreement lapse and implementation of [U.S.Forces Korea] austerity measures, including cessation of overtime pay for Korean National employees, USAG Humphreys will experience some delays to certain installation services, most notably post office hours and after-hours work performed by the Directorate of Public Works,” Camp Humphreys wrote in a Facebook post on Jan. 24.

Additionally, a new bus schedule recently employed that stops several bus routes after 1 a.m. will continue until Washington and Seoul hash out an agreement, Camp Humphreys said.

Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. base overseas, did note “all matters involving life, health and safety will continue without interruption.” This includes all fire and emergency services.

“We greatly value our Korean National workforce and their contributions to making USAG Humphreys a valued installation, and will continue to provide our community with timely updates that impact installation services,” Camp Humphreys said in the post.

Camp Humphreys did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military Times requesting a full list of installation services likely to face delays, and whether readiness will suffer until the U.S. and South Korea wrap up a deal.

The base’s notice comes after U.S. ambassador to South Korea, retired Navy admiral Harry Harris, told reporters Jan. 16 South Korean employees working at U.S. installations could receive furlough notices in coming weeks if an agreement isn’t reached, according to Bloomberg.

They’re more likely to complain that the retired Navy four-star is rude and undiplomatic.

U.S. officials additionally said last week the last bit of funding remaining from the previous deal will completely dissolve soon, Bloomberg also reported.

Trump has regularly stated he wants allies to bolster their financial contributions to support U.S. troops. For example, he claimed in February 2019 South Korea was costing the U.S. $5 billion annually, and tweeted in August 2019 that South Korea is a “very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America.”

It’s unclear exactly how much money the U.S. is currently seeking from Seoul, but multiple media outlets reported in November the U.S. was requesting $4.7 billion in host-nation support for 2020 — nearly five times the amount South Korea paid in 2019.

On top of that, South Korea has also assisted with major U.S. projects like building Camp Humphreys. The base cost nearly $10.8 billion and former commander of United States Forces Korea, Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, said Seoul paid for approximately 90 percent of the project.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 16, titled “South Korea is an ally, not a dependent.” The op-ed did not disclose a specific amount, but said both parties must “find a better way to share costs of defense.”

“The current special measures agreement captures only a portion of the cost of defending South Korea,” Pompeo and Esper wrote. “The U.S. believes it should cover more. As we improve the burden-sharing arrangement, both sides will benefit.”

“South Korea’s taking on a greater share of the load will ensure the alliance remains the linchpin of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia — and across the world,” they wrote.

Host-nation support agreements have typically lasted five years, but the 2019 negotiations only resulted in a one-year deal. That’s why Washington and Seoul are back at the negotiating table now.

Retired Army Col. David Maxwell, who has several decades of military service in Asia, told Military Times in December that “ongoing problems” would emerge if the Special Measures Agreement expired like it has.

For example, he predicted military personnel would be forced to conduct logistical and administrative essential services in order to keep United States Forces Korea operational, absent host-nation support.

This would continue to be an issue if annual agreements continue, he said.

“There are going to be ongoing problems if the [Special Measures Agreement] needs to be negotiated every year,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell told Military Times on Jan. 25 that once South Korean employees are furloughed, base services and military units will be impacted as service members provide “borrowed military manpower” to conduct assignments that are “outside their normally assigned duties and units.”

“Unit training and readiness will be impacted,” Maxwell said.


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South Korea Is an Ally, Not a Dependent

The Wall Street Journal   |  By Michael R. Pompeo and Mark T. Esper

Seoul can and should contribute more to its own national defense.

South Korean and U.S. Special Forces members in Gunsan, South Korea, Nov. 14, 2019. PHOTO: US AIR FORCE/REUTERS

American presidents have long asked allies to pay more for their own defense—often with lackluster results. But both the U.S. and South Korea now face strategic challenges so large and complex that neither country can afford to allow the status quo to continue. That’s the context of America’s discussions with South Korea about a new special measures agreement.

The U.S.-South Korea alliance is the linchpin of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. Shared values of and prosperity in Northeast Asia. Shared values of democracy, the rule of law and open economies form the foundation of an alliance that is as vital today as it was in 1953. America’s longstanding commitment and presence have enabled South Korea to develop a vibrant democracy and the world’s 12th-largest economy. Together, we celebrate this success.

In past decades South Korea has made major contributions to the alliance. It has modernized its fighter aircraft and enhanced antisubmarine and ballistic-missile defense capabilities. President Moon Jae-in’s government increased South Korea’s defense budget by 8.2% in 2019 and intends to raise it by a further 7.1% annually until 2024. South Korean forces have deployed in support of U.S.-led coalitions in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf. South Korea also intends to procure military equipment that reflects a commitment to force modernization. The U.S. is grateful for these contributions.

But as sovereign allies, we must find a better way to share the costs of defense with South Korea and secure a stable and prosperous future for the Korean people. We are in an age of unprecedented threats that demand robust responses and team efforts. As a global economic powerhouse and an equal partner in the preservation of peace on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea can and should contribute more to its defense.

Today South Korea bears no more than one-third of the costs most directly associated with the stationing of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula. As these costs rise, South Korea’s share is shrinking. Moreover, these narrowly defined costs are only one part of the picture. America’s contributions to South Korea’s defense in this highly technological age—including some advanced capabilities Seoul still needs to acquire—far exceed the cost of U.S. “boots on the ground” and constitute a far larger burden for the American taxpayer than meets the eye.

The current special measures agreement captures only a portion of the cost of defending South Korea. The U.S. believes it should cover more. As we improve the burden-sharing arrangement, both sides will benefit. More than 90% of South Korea’s cost-sharing contributions currently go right back into the local economy in the form of salaries for South Korean nationals employed by U.S. Forces Korea, construction contracts, and other services purchased locally to sustain an American presence. It’s good for both nations.

Right now the two countries are again engaged in tough negotiations. The U.S. remains firmly committed to reaching a mutually beneficial and equitable agreement that will strengthen the alliance and combined defense far into the future. South Korea’s taking on a greater share of the load will ensure the alliance remains the linchpin of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia—and across the world.

Mr. Pompeo is secretary of state. Mr. Esper is secretary of defense.


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N. Korea ranks No.1 in military spending as percentage of GDP


SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) — North Korea ranked No.1 in the world in terms of the proportion of military spending in gross domestic product between 2007-2017, though the total amount accounts for only one-tenth of South Korea’s military expenditure, a U.S. State Department report showed.

According to the State Department’s World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 2019 report, the North’s military expenditure averaged about US$3.6 billion a year. That accounts for 13.4 to 23.3 percent of the country’s average GDP of $17 billion during the period.

The percentage is expressed as a range due to the different methods of converting currencies to U.S. dollars, the report said.

Oman was a distant second on the list, spending around 12.1 percent of its GDP on the military, followed by Saudi Arabia with 9.3 percent, according to the report.

In absolute terms, however, the North’s annual military spending during the period ranked only 47th at $3.6 billion, nearly one tenth of the average $34.8 billion South Korea spends on the military.

South Korea’s military spending accounts for about 2.6 percent of its GDP.

The U.S. ranked No. 1 in the world with $741 billion a year on average, followed by China’s $176 billion.

It was also the biggest arms exporter in the world, selling an average $143 billion worth of weapons to foreign countries annually during the period, followed by Russia’s $97 billion.

N. Korea ranks No.1 in military spending as percentage of GDP - 1


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Trump reaffirms commitment to N. Korea’s denuclearization

Yonhap News

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) — U.S. President Donald Trump reaffirmed his commitment to achieving North Korea’s denuclearization in a letter to South Korea’s new ambassador to Washington, the South Korean Embassy here said Tuesday.

Trump wrote a note Monday in response to Amb. Lee Soo-hyuck’s letter accompanying his credentials, the embassy said in a press release. Lee presented his credentials to the U.S. president the same day.

“President Trump said Amb. Lee’s appointment demonstrates the resilience of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and takes on significance in various ways,” the embassy said.

Trump hailed the alliance as a “linchpin” of regional peace and security, it said, and noted the development of the bilateral relationship into a global partnership.

“Moreover, he reaffirmed the commitment of South Korea and the U.S. to achieve the joint goal of North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearization, and expressed hope that South Korea-U.S. economic cooperation relations will deepen with the implementation of the 2019 revised free trade agreement,” the embassy said.

Lee took over as ambassador in October.

He asked Trump during the credentialing ceremony to continue to show leadership on the North Korean nuclear issue and the president said in response that he would do so, the embassy said in an earlier press release.

This photo, provided by the South Korean Embassy in Washington, shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Soo-hyuck at a credentialing ceremony at the White House in Washington on Jan. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

This photo, provided by the South Korean Embassy in Washington, shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Soo-hyuck at a credentialing ceremony at the White House in Washington on Jan. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)



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What the Iran confrontation means for INDOPACOM and North Korea

Military Times   | By:

Iran isn’t the only adversary the Trump administration has said it is ready to fight. The same day the Pentagon announced Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was killed, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in an interview with Fox News that the U.S. “is prepared to exert military force if needed” against Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Un, right, is likely closely watching how U.S. President Donald Trump, left, deals with Iran before taking any actions, experts say. (Susan Walsh/AP)

But what do Esper’s comments and the confrontation with Iran mean for North Korea and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, as the U.S. seeks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula?

So far, military and foreign policy experts don’t expect immediate or major changes from INDOPACOM in dealing with North Korea, nor do they believe that there is yet cause for concern that a similar situation in the Middle East will erupt in the Pacific.

“I think it’s business as usual, but proceed with caution,” Rick Lamb, a retired Army Green Beret command sergeant major, told Military Times.

“It’s the time-tested ‘Ranger Rule’ from the French and Indian War of 1754,” said Lamb, who was stationed in South Korea in the 1980s and served as a civilian adviser to Special Operations Command-Korea from 2015 to 2017. “’Have your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball, and be ready to march at a minute’s warning.’ Lean forward…and hang on.”

President Donald Trump has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un twice for denuclearization talks, but he ultimately walked away from negotiations with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam in February 2019 after Kim demanded the U.S. eliminate sanctions on Pyongyang, while only offering to take down a sliver of his regime’s nuclear weapons program.

Although North Korea signaled a “Christmas gift” was headed to the U.S. by the end of the year, a gift was never delivered. Instead, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Jan. 1 that Kim vowed his regime would never denuclearize and said Pyongyang will unveil a “new strategic weapon” soon.

Lamb said he expects the “Christmas gift” delay was because either the weapons systems were not ready, or that Kim was offered a concession that hasn’t been made public yet. But if no concessions were offered, Lamb predicted Pyongyang will start making noise again.

“Within the next few months we’ll probably some level of provocation from North Korea short of open conflict — and without the loss of life,” Lamb said. “But only when Kim is ready and if he believes he can get a concession.”

What does this mean for INDOPACOM?

South Korea is home to the largest U.S. military base overseas, Camp Humphreys. In total, there are more than 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and experts remain certain INDOPACOM is prepared to address a variety of scenarios in dealing with a belligerent North Korea.

“I think [INDOPACOM] is concerned with Korea, but also feels fortunate to have plans in place and dedicated commands to fight and win in Korea,” Lamb said. “They will ensure the intelligence, resources and logistics are in place to meet any provocation in Korea while continuing to work with regional partners to build the capacity to thwart an increasingly belligerent China.”

Lamb noted the years he was a civilian adviser to Special Operations Command-Korea marked a period where the U.S. was evaluating deficiencies related to personnel, equipment, infrastructure and other things to fix those weaknesses in the INDOPACOM area of operations.

Lamb also expects INDOPACOM and Special Operations Command Pacific are coordinating with United Nations Command Commander Gen. Robert Abrams — who also serves as the commander of Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command — and Special Operations Command Korea Commander Brig. Gen. Otto Liller.

Lamb noted they are the figures who have authority over the troops stationed in South Korea, and call the shots regarding campaign plans.

Kathryn Botto, a research analyst in the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, doubts a sudden escalation with North Korea would occur and also stressed INDOPACOM is ready for a wide range of situations.

“We’re always going to be prepared for all of the possibilities. I don’t think anyone would look at the current situation and say there’s some chance of this escalat[ing] to the brink of war like we are right now with Iran,” Botto told Military Times, adding that she believes there are signs North Korea is still interested in taking a diplomatic approach with the U.S.

As far as how the Trump administration’s actions in the U.S. Central Command area of operations impact the Pacific, Botto said she expects the situation in the Middle East will decrease the probability of provocations from Pyongyang.

“Hopefully, INDOPACOM is watching this thinking that North Korea is even less likely to take any harmful action,” Botto said.

That said, Botto said there’s a caveat: she predicted North Korea would view the U.S.’s confrontation with Iran as an indicator Pyongyang should not denuclearize and that the U.S. could not be trusted.

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for devastating sanctions. Sanctions were subsequently reimposed against Iran.

Ultimately, Lamb said Kim knows going head to head in war with the U.S. will not render favorable results for him or his regime.

“At the end of the day, Kim understands that he would lose a war with the U.S./[United Nations Command] and South Korea,” Lamb said. “A war will bring an end to him and his regime.”

INDOPACOM did not respond to a request for comment from Military Times.

What should the U.S. and INDOPACOM do?

Despite expert’s assurance that the U.S. and INDOPACOM is well-positioned should tensions ramp up with North Korea, there are a number of steps the U.S. should take in the meantime, according to retired Army Col. David Maxwell.

Maxwell, who has several decades of military service in Asia under his belt and is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said R.O.K./U.S. Combined Forces Command should work with INDOPACOM and continue to “surge” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to monitor signals of action from Pyongyang.

“The R.O.K./U.S. Combined Forces Command should also present options to the R.O.K./U.S. Military Committee for increasing readiness exercises and its deterrent posture,” Maxwell said.

Likewise, now is the time to evaluate what assets from INDOPACOM’s area of operations and what assets from bases in the U.S. should be deployed within or nearby the Korean theater of operations, he said.

Maxwell also said joint military air exercises should resume to promote deterrence and to safeguard South Korea. In November, Esper indefinitely delayed the Combined Flying Training Event with U.S. and South Korean troops, and hailed the decision at the time as an “act of goodwill” toward North Korea.

According to Maxwell, the most important thing that the U.S. can do though is have the R.O.K/U.S. Combined Forces Command increase military messaging toward North Korea to demonstrate strategic reassurance and strategic resolve.

As an example, he said the U.S. military should direct its messaging toward “second-tier leadership” — those in North Korea who have military power but are not considered part of the elite — to make sure they understand not attacking South Korea will guarantee their welcome in a united Korea.

Likewise, he said it is critical to provide these military leaders with options as they navigate insecurity in Pyongyang.

“It is long past time to develop a robust combined information and influence campaign to target the elite, the second tier military leadership, and the Korean people living in the North with the right themes and messages,” Maxwell said.

How will Kim Jong Un respond?

Experts believe that Kim is observing how the U.S. has responded to escalations in Iran, such as killing Soleimani after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked, and understands there would be consequences for any significant provocation.

“Kim Jong Un doesn’t have a deathwish, I think he’s very aware that any major escalation would result in the U.S. responding quite harshly,” Botto said.

According to Maxwell, it remains a question mark whether the conflict between the U.S. and Iran will motivate Kim to keep a low profile or initiate a test of a new weapon — now that he is no longer in the spotlight.

“Assuming he is going to demonstrate his new ‘strategic weapon’ sometime in the near future will Soleimani’s death speed up or slow down the timing of the demonstration?” Maxwell said. “On the one hand he may be like a child acting out and calling for a return of the attention to him. On the other, he might be wise to delay until excitement over Soleimani dies down.”

Meanwhile, Lamb anticipates that Kim may attempt to ramp up rhetoric surrounding a united Korea in an attempt to push South Korea away from the U.S.

“I believe Kim moves regularly under heightened security,” Lamb said. “I think he definitely worries about ordnance coming his way. We may see him increase detente with South Korea to leverage ‘One Korea’ sentiment, tug at heartstrings, and drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea.”

But overall, Lamb is skeptical Kim will use the situation in the Middle East as a way to seek influence and instead, will monitor Trump’s behavior.

“I think Kim is watching President Trump closely and his perceptions will inform his actions,” Lamb said.

“I doubt that he leverages the chaos in the Middle East, he doesn’t want to share the stage,” Lamb said. “He’s more likely to monitor it and learn how President Trump operates.”


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