Bell outlines plan to make South Korea a choice billet
Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-day series in which Stars and Stripes interviewed Army Gen. B.B. Bell on a wide range of issues he faces as the new head of U.S. Forces Korea, the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command. ; Part I was published on April 23; Part II appeared April 24.
SEOUL — In Sunday and Monday’s editions, Bell discussed issues ranging from his first impressions on the country and the alliance to future challenges.
Today he comments on the North Korean threat and proposed end-state for a transformed U.S. military presence in South Korea.
On North Korean threatThe North Koreans are postured right now with a wide range of various missiles, all pointed at the Republic of Korea. Those are not anti-aircraft missiles; those are strike missiles.
[The North Koreans] are dangerous and they’re capable and they are modernizing their offensive strike-missile capability through a fairly aggressive testing program.
So as their missile threat improves, it is incumbent on the United States and the Republic of Korea … to be able to defend against it. And that’s air-defense mechanisms, both in terms of Army air defense, it’s airborne air defense in terms of strike aircraft that would destroy missile launch facilities, etc.
So it’s holistically … intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance to know what they’re doing with their missiles, if we can, and to give us a clear picture.
Oh, by the way, the North Koreans also proliferate missiles and missile technology. They sell to other countries. So they’re continuing to develop longer-range missiles that are not required for their use offensively against South Korea because of their range. Some of these … if proliferated in other countries could escalate tensions in other parts of the world. Or certainly could threaten other parts of the world from North Korea, whether it’s Japan, whether it’s even the continental United States.
It would behoove the North of course … to turn away from the militaristic society that they have, choose a path of joining the international community of nations, provide for the development of free-market economies and allow the people of North Korea to achieve a standard of living that the human beings of the 21st century deserve.
On the future of U.S. forces in S. KoreaWhen I served here before, it was a philosophy of unaccompanied command. You couldn’t bring your family. One year in, one year out. Very difficult command environment to achieve and maintain standards. Very difficult to ensure continuity of command because people were always coming and going. And difficult to establish long-lasting relations with our ROK allies because as soon as some members showed up and established a relationship, they were gone.
So, while we had a good war-fighting capability, I’m not sure that we had the depth of the alliance mechanisms that I see in place today and that are growing from the USFK perspective.
The move of U.S. forces from north of Seoul to consolidated bases … is terrific in this environment today. It is the right approach and it allows the Republic of Korea to assume missions that were independently executed by the United States in earlier years. All proper and all correct.
I want to continue those programs. I want to keep building. I want more families, more accompanied forces. I want deeper engagement with our ROK allies. I want the Good Neighbor Program to expand for deeper partnership with our friends. I want the alliance to benefit from all those apparatus while our U.S. servicemembers benefit from that kind of stability.
On making S. Korea the assignment of choiceI think you’ve got to do that by building infrastructure that makes it normal and gives opportunity for longer tours and more accompanied tours. You’ve got to have the schools, you’ve got to have the hospitals, the medical, you’ve got to have the child development, you’ve got to have terrific housing.
Our single servicemembers have got to have the same apparatus for them. And you’ve got to build kind of in a consolidated way so you can take advantage of synergy by combining things as opposed to having inefficient little things.
I’ve got a philosophy and I’m not kidding you.
If a servicemember is married and (is) satisfied with the environment … he or she will do all these jobs with a passion. But if they think their family is getting a raw deal, they’ll probably get out. Or they’ll be less apt to do their jobs with pride and honor. You take care of the family and the servicemember will take care of the mission. And if you take care of the single servicemember, he or she will take care of the mission too.
Take care of them and they’ll give back a full measure of their courage, their commitment, their bravery and their gut and grit. No doubt about it. They’ve done it over the years; they’ll keep doing it.