General Walter Sharp, wearing the heavy triple crown of Commander of the United Nations Command in Korea, Commander of the Combined Forces [US & South Korean]; and Commander of US Forces in the Republic of Korea updated security issues on the divided Korean peninsula, on 14 July 2009, before a goodly number at the Korea Society in New York City.
A brief word about the Korea Society. Its senior officers are drawn from old boys from say the CIA, the diplomatic corps, presidential advisors, or private foundations, and its junior staff are well vetted and come from good universities or former religious. Koreans do not hold top posts, but the society's advisory board counts among its members people from Wall Street, eminent professors, former civil servants or lawyers, either American, Korean, or Korean American. Funding comes, it is said, from private philanthropy, the US and South Korean governments, or from private US or Korean corporations. The Korea Society within slightly flexible parametres, represents the carrot to the US administration big stick on the matter of North Korea. It has good access to high ranking North Koreans; helped arrange the New York Philharmonic's concert when it played in Pyongyang in February 2008; it has sponsored North Korean students and scholars on numerous academic projects on American soil; in brief it has kept the door open to Kim Jong il's government during the worst of times. It holds business lunches and forums; send US students to South Korea; sponsors cultural events and has drawn writers from the American born Korean community. In a word, it serves a worthy purpose.
General Sharp stood straight and tall, shoulders squared, impeccably pressed and iron in his military uniform as he addressed the line of Japanese, Korean, and Korean American television cameras, and a packed room of those who came to listen to him. [Looking at the list of attendees, about 30 per cent represented the Japanese, Korean, or Korean American media outlets, and two reporters who cover the UN and east Asia. Five or six belonged to the Society's staff, and the rest came from the financial community, academia, Korea watchers, the South Korean and Chinese missions to the UN. Before the public meeting, the Society's president Evans Revere held a 'private session' with the General and his staff and the 'more important and influential members of the Korea Society. What they heard may not be what Guam Diary presents below, though].
General Sharp is a walking advertisement, wot, with a handsome face, a personable appearance, a strong authoritative voice. Were he not in the US military, he does perhaps belong in a senior management corporate post or even that of Chairman of the Board; he presents a manicured appearance, and sports a haircut which John Edwards might envy. The general is tough; a graduate of West Point [class of 1974], he cut his teeth in Armour, and knows the rigours of the battlefield; he has seen combat in Desert Shiled and Desert Storm; he commanded troops in Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and the Multinational troops in the war in Bosnia. He is no stranger to the Pentagon's bureaucracy where he held positions, and he has a degree in operations research and systems analysis. He earned medals of high order. In brief, facing the public, General Sharp exudes the manners of an indulgent parent or wise and knowing clergyman.
Saying this, the general kept his words to a minimum, with the inescapable point that he was a commander with 3 commands; that he had come to assure us that the US and South Korean alliance is strengthening day by day; and finally that he is trying to improve the life and quality of service of US military personnel, Department of Defence civilians, and family members living in Korea. Then he threw the floor open to questions.
Guam Diary will consider some. The general was not surprised by any. He was talking to a friendly gathering, after all. A Korean captain serving on the UN raised the matter of the lack of any budget for the UN Mission to properly do its work in Korea. General Sharp dismissed the comment out of hand; for to address it properly would raise the fundamental Faustian bargain that the UN voted in July 1950 early in the Korean War. The UN agreed to allow the US represent the UN under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur, but, and here's the rub, the international body would have no say to anything nor receive any monies or form to function independently.
General Sharp never missed an opportunity to brand as 'irrational', 'illogical', wild eyed behaviour of North Korea and its leadership. They are a menace to peace in Korea, trigger happy and heady in the pursuit of testing and building nuclear weapons, and launching into advanced intercontinental missile capable of carrying atomic warheads. Yet, he did not go so far as to say that Pyongyang was threatening the Hawaiian Islands. Let's look at his answers when pressed on the growing strength and potential of threat of North Korea's materiel and conventional forces. The answer was a crisp. None. But the general went back to his manta about we're facing an irrational foe in Pyongyang.
A question of reports that North Korea's second 'nuclear' test on 26 May emitted no traceable atomic fallout, the smooth talking general took cover under the useful this touches on intelligence sources which as you understand, I cannot talk about. Fair enough! But had Ge neral Sharp or his staff had the curiosity to 'research' the question, he would have found an answer in a recent issue of 'Science' by Daniel Clery. In brief, an explosion was detected by geologic and nuclear monitors worldwide but over 200 atmospheric sensor stations in the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation found 'no measurable spike in artificial radioactive elements in the atmosphere globally, and not even in South Korea. No one at the meeting knew that, and the General may kiss but he won't tell.
He sidestepped the question of Kim Jong il's tearing up the 1953 Armistice Accord, by saying the US doesn't acknowledge Mr. Kim's actions, and that as Commander of the UN Forces, he monitors any violations of the accord. He dusted off that question and its implication that a torn up accord puts the frozen Korean War on to a potentially hot war track, with a repeated, 'we monitor any violations of the accord'. Not only that, he added that this not the first time the North tore iat up, but refused to give details.
On the question of Kim Jong il's alledged pancreatic cancer, the general wisely gave the sensible answer that he simply did not know.
On the question of joint military US ROK exercises, he reported that as in the past, they will continue on an agreed upon schedule, even though the questioner opined that mightn't a suspension of these exercises break the stand off between Washington and Pyongyang. No follow up on that point, however.
On the question of the general's budget for his triple command, he replied that he couldn't offer a comment. A standard reply. Had the questioner looked at the DOD's budget, he, too, mightn't find a detailed breakdown.
Interspersed among these points, were the usual chocolate eclaire questions which allowed General Sharp to again and again repeat the warning on how dangerous Kim Jong il & co. were.
On the matter of the outbreak war on the Korean peninsula, how would the general deal with the flood of refugees streaming across the 38 parallel. Mercifully, the general had no comment to make.
Overall, if one sifted through General Sharp's comments a useful nugget of information could be found. But not much. He came to deliver a message, which anyone could read in the morning newspapers, hear on the radio or the television. The message was: given the current state of affairs on the divided Korean peninsula, Pyongyang is to be treated with hostility, subjected to political boycott, and economic blockade. Of course, the general didn't use these very words, but they bear the complete sense of his remarks at the Korea Society; he spoke 'reasonably' but his intentions were none the less hardline and clear. He was ready for any military action if and when the time came.
Ultimately, the Obama administration has raised the Bush approach to North Korea to a higher level of tension. In a way, President Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State Robert Gates, and National Security pooh bah General James Jones have breathed life into a 59 year old Truman doctrine heavily dipped in General MacArthur's wild dreams.
After 45 minutes of questioning, the General present Korea Society president Evans Revere a plaque from his command. The audience applauded appropriately. The meeting ended.