Brooks: Seoul to mull over nukes

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Brooks: Seoul to mull over nukes

South Korea will have to “contemplate” nuclear armament should the United States remove its nuclear umbrella, said the newly-nominated commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks on Tuesday.

Brooks, speaking at a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, pointed out, “I think they would have to contemplate that to maintain their own security,” responding to a question on whether the South Korean government will be motivated to develop its own nuclear capability if the United States were to withdraw its nuclear umbrella.

Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, further asked Brooks when the removal of the nuclear umbrella, which has been in place for 70 years, might be a good idea.

To this, Brooks, the current commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, replied, “I think that there could be a time when we do not have a nuclear hazard but we are not at that time right now, nor will be in the near future.”

McCain’s question stems from the recently renewed debate on the necessity of nuclear armament in South Korea following Pyongyang’s continued provocations and controversial remarks by Republic presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, which indicated he believes that Washington’s nuclear umbrella will not continue to cover Seoul or Tokyo.

Brooks is set to replace Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti as commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, as well as the UN Command and Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command. He spent 36 years in the military, of which 16 years have been in command with a strong background in the Asia-Pacific region, including serving in the infantry battalion command in Korea and commanding U.S. Army Pacific the Army.

During the hearing, McCain also highlighted that it costs Washington less to station U.S. troops in South Korea, discrediting Trump’s repeated remarks that Seoul does not pay its share.

Brooks agreed with the senator and replied, “The Republic of Korea is carrying a significant load and is dedicated to our presence there.”

In addition to paying about 50 percent of U.S. personnel cost, which is increasing, he also pointed out that South Korea shoulders some $10.8 billion of the cost needed to relocate U.S troops to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, which he called the “largest [Department of Defense] construction project we have anywhere in the world.”

Regarding ongoing discussions over the deployment of a U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery in Korea, Brooks called the anti-ballistic missile system “a needed capability.”

Whether it be the Thaad or “something like that,” he said, “there needs to be that layer of protection added to a broader sense of ballistic protections against ballistic missiles.”

Brooks also encouraged Seoul to continue to develop its indigenous ballistic missile defense capabilities and to make sure that they are interoperable with U.S. capabilities.

These remarks appeared to be in reference to Seoul’s locally-developed Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system.

However, he said the issue of Thaad is a bilateral one between Seoul and Washington that “is not an issue for China.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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