Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter got a close look at some of North Korea’s forces and spoke to some 300 of the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to deter them July 26.
“Within the [Asia-Pacific] region as a whole, nothing is more central than Korea,” he told the U.S. troops. “You have a mission that there’s nothing abstract about.”
To understand that mission, he added, they need only “look north.”
The deputy secretary concluded his 10-day Asia-Pacific tour with a full South Korea schedule. Carter met this morning with South Korea’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kim Sung-hwan, National Security Advisor Chun Yung-woo, and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
Early in the afternoon, Carter and U.S. Forces Korea commander, Army Gen. James B. Thurman – who accompanied Carter throughout the day’s events – flew north of Seoul to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.
The DMZ is a four-kilometer neutral zone stretching about 160 miles across the peninsula and spreading 2,000 meters on each country’s side from the line of last contact during the Korean War.
The armistice establishing the zone – signed 59 years ago July 27 – will remain in effect until the two nations come to a more permanent peace settlement. Meanwhile, the two nations still are technically at war.
The one place where North and South routinely come within staring distance is Panmunjom, where the military demarcation line at the center of the DMZ passes directly through a building – and even bisects a small conference table where the two sides have conducted all negotiations since 1953.
Carter stood inside that building today, and uniformed North Korean soldiers stood outside the windows on the northern end of the building. The North Koreans took photos, through the windows, inches away from the deputy secretary.
From the DMZ, the deputy secretary flew to Camp Humphreys, where he spoke to about 300 U.S. Army and Air Force members. Carter noted that previously in his career, he had accompanied an official government visit to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. “If you haven’t had the pleasure of being there, going there reminds you why you’re here,” he added.
Second only to combat units in Afghanistan, he said, South Korea-stationed troops must be ready every day to face and defeat aggression.
“And you are ready every day. That’s why you have the newest and best equipment — because your proficiency, your readiness, your capability, have to be tip-top for you to do what you do,” he said.
They and their fellow service members throughout the Asia-Pacific region “are at the fulcrum of the strategic change” that the United States is making, he said.
Repeating a message he has delivered throughout his trip, Carter said the era of Iraq has ended, and the U.S. and coalition mission in Afghanistan will transition from security lead to advise-and-assist over the next few years.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has been “amazingly successful and amazingly efficient” in Afghanistan, the deputy secretary said, but beginning now and increasingly over the coming years, the United States can turn “this great department … and the greatest military on Earth” to the challenges that will define the future.
Carter noted as the national defense strategy recognizes, prominent among those challenges is maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
During his stop at Camp Humphreys, Carter also listened to a briefing about the base’s ongoing transformation. Army Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, 8th Army commander, and Thurman gave the deputy secretary an update on plans to relocate to Camp Humphreys about 17,000 service members, civilian employees and their families now based at Yongsang Garrison on Seoul Air Base.
Both the U.S. and South Korean governments have agreed to the relocation, which with construction of new military and community facilities, is projected to cost $10.7 billion. Johnson said the South Korean government will pay 91.9 percent of that cost, with the remaining 8.1 percent coming from U.S. appropriated funds.
The deputy secretary’s Asia-Pacific tour, which Carter said he undertook at Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s request with the goal to begin implementing the U.S rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, also has included stops in Hawaii, Guam, Japan, Thailand and India.