Senior U.S. military officials say they are concerned about possible North Korean
transfers of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.
However, in testimony Wednesday to a congressional committee, they say U.S. and
South Korean forces are well-prepared to deal with any threats arising from the
Admiral Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and General Leon
LaPorte, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, say North Korea's nuclear
programs, ballistic missile production and illicit narcotics-related activities
pose a threat to the region and the world.
The possibility of North Korean weapons or nuclear materials falling into
the hands of terrorists is, said Admiral Fargo, "perhaps our biggest fear."
"I think our largest concern would be if nuclear material was sold to al-Qaida,
clearly. They have the will and the skill obviously to carry out a devastating
terrorist attack so that is kind of a nightmare scenario and that is why we
feel so strongly about a non-nuclear Korean peninsula," he added.
Admiral Fargo says the U.S. force structure in the Pacific is well-prepared
to respond to any threats and ensure diplomacy is backed by a strong military
For his part, General LaPorte says all signs point to Pyongyang continuing
to build its nuclear deterrent. As for the future of U.S.-South Korean military
cooperation, he said Seoul and Washington are committed to an "enduring" U.S.
presence. "Up to this point in time, in the 'Future of the Alliance' studies,
there has been no discussion of troop withdrawals. It has really been a discussion
of enhancing capabilities, shaping and aligning forces, for many reasons. But
it's an increase in commitment to the Republic of Korea by the United States,
we're not lessening our commitment at all," he said.
In General LaPorte's view, the impeachment of South Korea's President has
had no impact on the strength of the U.S.-South Korean military relationship.
Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee expressed frustration with
North Korea, saying it appears the situation is worsening.
Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said, "I'm troubled by what
I perceive to be a continuing worsening of the situation with North Korea.
And I say that because they continue to build what they call their deterrence,
but which we call nuclear weapons. They seem to be more arrogant in their approach
with every passing day."
Another lawmaker, Democrat Adam Smith, said Pyongyang appears to be on what
he called, an "inexorable march toward nuclear and long-range missile capability."
Other subjects raised included the situation in the Taiwan straits, and the
threat posed by terrorist groups in Southeast Asia.
Admiral Fargo said regional and local terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida
continue to pose serious threats to "U.S. and friendly interests," but adds
that governments in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, have
successfully thwarted a number of attacks.
Calling the issue of Taiwan still the "largest friction point" in the relationship
between Washington and Beijing, Admiral Fargo nonetheless said there is no
indication of an imminent military crisis, even though China continues to enhance
its military and expand the proportion of its budget devoted to the military.