Chuck Hagel, U.S. Defense Secretary, on a visit to Korea, affirmed continued military presence in South Korea despite questions of reduction due to the U.S. budget crisis. Hagel’s visit corresponded with the 60th signing anniversary of the treaty between the United States and South Korea for security of the Asia-Pacific area.
“There is no margin for error up here,” said Hagel while touring the demilitarization zone. “This is probably the only place in the world that we have always a risk of confrontation. Where the two sides are looking clearly and directly at each other all the time.” The North Korean soldiers had a visible presence as Hagel spoke with the media in the DMZ.
Hagel acknowledged North Korean officials were likely observing the international response of Syria in the use of chemical weapons against its own people. North Korea has a huge array of chemical weapons at its disposal. It’s unclear how the North while gauge international response to Syria’s predicament and the U.N. will likely make an example of Syria to send a clear message.
Chuck Hagel was resolute in his affirmations of no military reduction in the region and believes a U.N. resolution would send a clear warning of international intentions. Chinese and Russian supporters of the North Korean regime have agreed to back U.N. resolutions about the issue. Observers have commented on the inability of the U.S. to follow up on earlier threats against Syria saying it could be viewed as a weakness.
Bonnie Glaser, Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and international studies commented, “If we had used force, I would guess that from North Korea’s point of view that would be seen as potentially more threatening, because it would demonstrate a real willingness for the US to use force.” However, internationally the U.S. could be viewed as a declining power.
During Hagel’s tour of the region exercises were carried out by U.S. and South Korean forces to demonstrate the effectiveness of its fighting power. Apache helicopters were put in play for demonstrations and soldiers from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division displayed offensive moves with the use of tanks. Armored vehicles were used and light mortar fire was a part of the military activities during the arms display.
The DMZ contains a wall that separates North and South Korea, with the South containing about 77 observation posts used for defense. Hagel toured an observation post during the exercise noting the non communications between the two sides in the DMZ. North Korean soldiers have not answered phone calls from the South Koreans between the posts.
Chuck Hagel affirmed to the media that the U.S. has no plans for military reduction in Korea. During his tour of the DMZ, he attracted a lot of onlookers from the North and the military exercises raised the eyebrow of North officials. Hagel plans to meet with South Korean representatives in celebration of the 60th anniversary signing.
By Thomas Barr