SEOUL: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter promised Friday that the US would deploy state of the art weaponry in Asia, including the latest stealth bombers and cyber warfare units, to counter threats posed by the likes of North Korea.
“Our newest and best things are being deployed to this part of the world,” Carter said in Seoul—the second leg of a visit to the two key US military allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.
The Pentagon chief said his talks with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-Koo had included a “candid assessment” of the threat posed to the Korean peninsula—“and the US homeland”—by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
“As it demonstrated once again with the recent missile launches, North Korea is intent on continued provocation,” he told reporters.
The North fired two surface-to-air missiles off its west coast on Tuesday, just as Carter arrived in Japan on the first leg of his tour.
Earlier, it had test fired a series of short range ballistic missiles to express its anger with annual South Korean-US military exercises which Pyongyang condemns as rehearsals for invasion.
The United States has close to 30,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea and would assume operational command of both armed forces in the event of a conflict with the North.
The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
Stressing that military deterrence and readiness were “at a premium” on the divided peninsula, Carter said the US was investing in “advanced capabilities …. tailored to this dynamic security environment.”
Asked to expand, he cited new stealth bombers, F-35 stealth fighters and highly developed cyber warfare systems that could be rotationally deployed in the Asian theater.
North Korea has an advanced cyber warfare capability, which it has wielded in damaging hacking assaults on South Korean financial institutions.
The FBI has accused the North of being behind a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures, the studio behind the Hollywood film “The Interview”—a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
At the same time, he said his talks in Seoul had not touched on the sensitive issue of a missile defense system, known as THAAD, that Washington is looking to deploy in South Korea.
China and Russia are both vocally opposed to the THAAD deployment, warning that it would undermine regional peace and stability.
It’s a tricky issue for Seoul which must weigh the priorities of its most important military ally, the US, against its largest trade partner, China.
Carter insisted THAAD was not discussed in Seoul because the system was still in production.
“We’re not at the point yet where we would begin discussing its deployment with anybody,” he said.
Carter’s two-nation trip was partly aimed at underlining President Barack Obama’s commitment to a US strategic shift to Asia — a move complicated by tensions between its allies in Seoul and Tokyo.
Washington has pushed hard for the two neighbors to put simmering territorial and historical disputes behind them, and Obama even hosted a strained three-way leadership summit in March last year.
But relations remain extremely frosty, and Carter said there was only so much the US could do.
“We hope for healing and reconciliation, but it is not for the United States to interpose itself between the parties,” he said.
After the press conference, Carter visited a memorial to the 46 seamen who died in the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan.
A South Korean-led investigation involving a team of international experts concluded the ship was sunk by a North Korean submarine torpedo, but Pyongyang has always denied involvement.