LaPorte confident in strength of U.S., S. Korean forces against N. Korean threat
SEOUL — The number of North Korean nuclear missiles does not change the balance on the Korean peninsula, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte said Wednesday.
“The U.S. and the Republic of Korea retain our ability to deter North Korean aggression and if required, to decisively defeat the North Korean threat if they were to threaten South Korea,” LaPorte said during a radio interview on Pyunghwa Broadcasting Corporation.
Jang Sung-min, a former South Korean congressman, hosted the program, called “Open World, Today.”
Jang, also a former Korean National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee member, asked LaPorte for the USFK assessment of North Korea’s nuclear missile capability.
“Well, USFK believes the North has one to two nuclear weapons at a minimum,” LaPorte said. “North Korea continues to develop, produce, deploy, and sell ballistic missiles and ballistic missile technology of increasing range and sophistication, augmenting its large operational force of Scud and No Dong class missiles. North Korea continues to develop its Taepo Dong 2 intercontinental ballistic missiles. This missile could deliver a nuclear warhead to parts of the United States if a third stage was added.”
When Jang asked if a missile defense system would be able to intercept nuclear missiles fired at U.S. troops in South Korea or Japan, LaPorte provided few details.
“The United States and its allies continue to develop countermeasures for the proliferation of both weapons of mass destruction and missiles that North Korea has developed and is continuing to develop,” he said. “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on our exact capabilities or to speculate on reactions to attack, but let me just tell you we continue to develop our capabilities.”
LaPorte also declined to speculate on what actions the United States and South Korea might take should North Korea conduct a nuclear test.
“My job is not to make policy,” LaPorte said. “My job is to execute policy decisions that are made by the Republic of Korea and the United States government. Any decision relative to the use of military force would come as the result of political interaction and decisions made by the ROK and U.S. governments.”
Jang also asked if deploying 12 F-117 Stealth Fighters to South Korea was a precursor to a U.S. attack on North Korea.
“The deployment of F-117s is not a precursor to a U.S. pre-emptive strike,” LaPorte said. “The deployment … was a normal training rotation that had been scheduled for many months in advance.
“We periodically bring in forces from the Pacific region and the United States for training and familiarization within the Korean theater of operation,” LaPorte said. “It is unfortunate that the media has misinterpreted this as anything other than routine familiarization and ROK-US interoperability training.”
Jang also asked about U.S. and South Korean leaders’ differences in reference to Operational Plan 5029, which he described as an abortive joint operational plan for sudden changes in North Korea, and with greater strategic flexibility for U.S. forces.
“Can the differences be solved …” Jang asked. “Has an accord been reached?”
“President Bush and President Roh discussed these issues recently and in close consultation with our ROK (Republic of Korea) allies, we continue to plan for contingencies as directed by the ROK-U.S. national authorities,” LaPorte said. “As our presidents discussed at their recent summit, contingency planning is important to the safety and continued prosperity of the South Korean people. As the commander of Combined Forces Command, I will work with the chairman of the ROK JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) to reduce threats to the Korean people. And I think through discussion and dialogue, we will be able to solve any issue.”