Seoul-D.C. alliance intactWashington’s policy on North Korea and the Korean Peninsula won’t likely derail from its long-held traditional position under the administration of President Donald J. Trump. Top officials in charge of defense, security and foreign affairs all reaffirmed the Korea-U.S. alliance and stern response to North Korean nuclear and missile threats. Their comments suggested distance from Trump’s unconventional ideas floated during his campaign such as a possible pullout of U.S. forces from Korea and having one-on-one negotiations with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un about nuclear weapons.
Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine, in his confirmation hearing made it clear that U.S. traditional alliances would remain intact. “We must embrace our international alliances and security partnerships. History is clear: Nations with strong allies thrive and those without them wither,” he said. The 66-year-old veteran known for his combat record and blunt ways under the Marine motto of “No better friend, no worse enemy” called North Korea a “serious threat” and said that he believed “we got to something about [North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.]” Asked if he would take use of U.S. military force off the table when under North Korean attack, he said: “I don’t think we should take anything off the table.”
Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for U.S. Secretary of State, stressed the U.S. will watch the increasing threat from North Korea’s advancement in nuclear programs and continue U.S. engagement on the issue. He maintained Washington would push Beijing to do more to enforce sanctions on North Korea. “It’s going to require a new approach with China in order for China to understand our expectations of them, going beyond certainly what they have in the past which has fallen short.” He also assured that Washington won’t resort to solo actions on North Korea. Military engagement to deter North Korea from acting out requires work “with our allies in the area, Japan, South Korea in particular, because anything we do will have a profound impact on them.”
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s choice to run the Central Intelligence Agency, also noted North Korea has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. The reassurance on the traditional U.S.-Korea alliance from top officials of the incoming U.S. administration would give much-needed relief as Korea has been under multiple challenges from China and Japan over Thaad and the “comfort women” statue.
Kim Kwan-jin, chief of Korea’s National Security Office, flew to Washington for talks with Michael T. Flynn, his D.C. counterpart to confirm the bilateral relationship remain a “sticky rice cake.” Despite opposition from Beijing, Thaad is necessary against increasing North Korean nuclear missile threats. Seoul must keep up efforts regardless of the leadership vacuum to tend to building and maintaining an alliance with Washington as it is a pivotal deterrent against North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 14, Page 26