US Admiral Mullen on DPRK stability threat by Chris Nelson

[The following commentary is taken from the 14 July 2011 edition of the Nelson Report, with permission of the author. –CanKor.]

Out there in the real world, at least the version known as Asia, Adm. Mullen wrapped up his very interesting four days in China with a visit to ally S. Korea, and jumped right into the domestic ROK debate over N. Korea…saying the Kim Jong-il/Kim Jong-un succession process helped prompt last year’s DPRK sinking of the Cheonan.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, speaks to incoming commander of combined U.S.-South Korea forces, U.S. Army Gen. James D. Thurman during a change-of-command ceremony for the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea at a U.S. military base in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, 14 July 2011. (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, speaks to incoming commander of combined U.S.-South Korea forces, U.S. Army Gen. James D. Thurman (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

Warming to a theme he’s been stressing to China since last December, Mullen spoke about “the whole provocation cycle” facing S. Korea, warning that the “threat remains very real” as the DPRK continues to improve its nuclear weapon capabilities, adding “I’m not convinced they won’t provoke again. I’ve said for a long time that the only thing predictable about N. Korea is their unpredictability”.

His conclusion: “We have a sense of urgency to essentially work on planning to deter the North from further provocations. Whether they will be deterred or not, that’s to be seen.”

So what’s Mullen up to here?

The context for these remarks begins late last year with his public warnings to China and the DPRK that further military “provocation” from the DPRK not only risked a “kinetic” ROK response, but that in such an event, the US military might very well be right beside its treaty ally.

In case anyone had forgotten, the new US force commander in S. Korea, Army Gen. James Thurman, today said the “alliance stands ready to counter any provocation intended to destabilize the Korean peninsula.”

Hold that word in your mind…”stability”…

In the past few days, Mullen summed up his conversations with his Chinese hosts as “The emphasis was on stability. It was, very specifically, stability in N. Korea and the responsibility we all have in this case, the United States and China, to do all we can”, and he went on to repeat the long-standing US pressure/request that Beijing “play a leadership role” in restraining Pyongyang.

Readers may recall our Reports from the IISS ShangriLa Dialogue in Singapore, and the implicit coordination of the remarks of then-DOD Secretary Gates and Defense Minister Gen. Liang about the mutual commitment for stability, on the Peninsula as throughout the region…and the surprising effort by Liang to try and reassure the audience that in fact, China was working with DPRK officials at literally every level of the regime.

We noted then, and repeat tonight, this mutual focus on stability and cooperation has been the agreed-upon “theme” in US-China relations since late last year, and was consummated, if you will, at the Obama/Hu summit of January, here in DC.

Matching desire with action is clearly being tested in the S. China Sea, and is perhaps enough to deal with for now…whether another cycle of “provocation” from N. Korea is in the cards clearly is on the minds of the leadership on both sides of the Pacific.

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