N. Korea poses serious regional threat, but U.S. remains ready to deter aggression: USFK chief

March 9, 2022

North Korea poses a serious threat to Northeast Asia but the combined forces of South Korea and the United States stand ready and capable to deter any aggression, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Wednesday.

Gen. Paul LaCamera made the remarks in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on national security challenges and U.S. military activities in the Indo-Pacific region.

“While the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to pose multiple threats to the region and international security, this (South Korea-U.S.) alliance remains the linchpin of regional stability and has prevented a resumption of the hostilities that shredded peace on the Korean Peninsula some 72 years ago,” the U.S. Army general said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

His remarks come after North Korea staged nine rounds of missile launches, including seven missile firings in January alone making the largest number of missile tests the North conducted in a single month.

Pyongyang has also fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile shortly after threatening to consider restarting “all temporarily-suspended activities” that many believe suggested the North’s lifting of its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing that has been in place since late 2017.

In its Annual Threat Assessment report released Tuesday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the North may resume its nuclear and long-range missile testing before the year’s end.

Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, agreed North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs pose a serious threat.

“North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs also constitute a serious threat to the United States and our allies and partners,” he told the full committee hearing in Washington.

LaCamera noted the North may unlikely be willing to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, at least for now.

“When it comes to DPRK. I think he is focused solely internally on protecting his regime, and that’s what this nuclear testing and missiles is really about — protecting his position in the world,” said the USFK chief, who is also the commander of U.S.-South Korea Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command in South Korea.

LaCamera highlighted the need for adequate U.S. assets such as intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISRs) to deter possible aggression from the North, saying it is important to make sure that “we can see what he (North Korea) is doing.”

The USFK commander said he currently had enough ISRs in South Korea when asked, but added the challenge was “placement and access, given the comprehensive military agreement between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK,” apparently referring to the non-aggression military pact signed between the ROK and the DPRK in 2018.

Still, he said U.S. forces in Korea remained ready to “deter aggression, protect U.S. interests and, if needed, defeat any adversary.”