WASHINGTON — A strong and robust US military presence in and around the Korean Peninsula is needed to help support the efforts to denuclearize North Korea, the nominee for commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command said Tuesday.
Adm. John Aquilino made the assertion while arguing that sanctions regimes alone will not lead to the denuclearization of North Korea.
“I do not believe sanctions alone will lead to the denuclearization of North Korea,” the Navy four-star admiral said in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee prior to his confirmation hearing.
“I believe that a robust force posture throughout the region to ensure the United States engages North Korea from a position of strength would be essential,” he added.
His remarks come amid a global defense posture review by the Department of Defense, which could affect the number of US troops deployed overseas. The US currently has some 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.
“Our current posture and presence in the ROK provides for the ROK’s mutual defense while deterring North Korean aggression against the US and our allies and partners,” answered Aquilino to a question asking what changes may be appropriate to the US defense posture on the Korean Peninsula. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.
“We must also continue to explore, improve, and resource our missile defense capabilities.”
Aquilino also highlighted the importance of US alliances in the region.
“The allies and partners that we have are clearly an asymmetric advantage, as the PRC has, I would argue, only one ally or partner and that’s North Korea,” he told the Senate hearing, referring to China by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.
Aquilino noted the North has yet to take any meaningful steps toward denuclearization while continuing to advance its missile and other weapons of mass destruction capabilities.
“Kim Jong-un continues to advance both his conventional and strategic capabilities, recently parading new tanks, rockets, and missiles,” he said, referring to the North Korean leader.
“There are both enormous strategic and military risks, and enormous costs associated with a potential conflict on the Korean Peninsula, despite efforts to lower tensions,” he added.
Currently the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Aquilino still highlighted the importance of enforcing sanctions on North Korea.
“Economic sanctions, combined with diplomacy and UNSCR enforcement, should continue to be applied to convince the regime to return to meaningful negotiations,” he said in his written answers to questions from Senate committee members.
He was referring to United Nations Security Council resolutions. (Yonhap)