By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2016) -- In North Korea, Kim Jong-un bragged this month about launching a missile from a submarine.
"That'll make 31 launches in four years," said Gen. Robert B. Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific Command, speaking at an Aug. 24 media roundtable. He said the former regime had nine launches in 17 years. "That tells you a lot about North Korea's intentions."
Brown said the U.S. Army presence on the Korean peninsula is solid, and stands ready to defend South Korea from any threat posed by its unpredictable northern neighbor.
"We have a lot of forces postured and ready to go should something happen in Korea," he said. "That's my No. 1 priority: readiness and the ability to fight tonight. And nowhere I believe is it more important to be ready to fight tonight, than in Korea."
A rotational brigade stationed in Korea now, on nine-month rotations, provides a new level of stability and predictability, Brown said. Currently about 4,500 Soldiers from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Hood, Texas, serve as the rotational brigade in Korea. They arrived there in early 2016.
Brown said that Army training for units that are posted in Korea or are shipping to Korea focuses on potential future conflict. Right now, as many as 25,000 American forces are in Korea to participating in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, along with 50,000 Republic of Korea soldiers.
"The more exercises we can do together, and all the contributing nations, the better prepared we will be should North Korea do something stupid and try to attack South Korea," Brown said. "We are constantly working on our readiness."
South Korea, Brown said, is worth protecting.
"We have maintained that prosperity for South Korea and (helped allow its) democracy to flourish," he said. "We've been there well over 60 years maintaining that peace. I am very worried, as you look at the trend. You have to be ready."
UNCERTAINTY IN PACIFIC
Elsewhere in the Pacific, there have been multiple instances of uncertainty, though Brown believes they are unlikely to affect continued U.S. partnerships with Pacific countries.
A 2014 coup in Thailand, for instance, has left the military there largely in charge. In the Philippines, the President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to withdraw from the United Nations in response to criticism from a U.N. human rights expert of his handling of drug crime (Duterte later backtracked on his threat).
The U.S. Army partners with the militaries of both of those nations as part of its Pacific Pathways operations, Brown noted. Additionally, the U.S. has five mutual defense agreements that are focused in the Pacific and include both the Philippines and Thailand.
Brown expects that, despite these recent developments, the U.S. Army will continue to participate in military-to-military partnerships and training opportunities with the militaries of both countries.
"With the Thai government, we mostly focus in our exercises -- Cobra Gold as an example -- on humanitarian aid and disaster relief, defense professionalization, and some of those areas," he said.
"We are looking to the Thais to get a democratically elected government ... but we continue to exercise in areas where we will build areas of mutual interest. We don't' see it slowing down."
Regarding the Philippines, he said, "we have maintained very close relations in the Philippines, and continue to do a number of exercises there ... The Marines are the lead in the Philippines, and so we work closely with our Marine partners there, and work with the Philippine army. But they are a treaty ally."
As with Thailand, he said the frequency of military-to-military exercises in the Philippines is not decreasing, but increasing.
"[I'm] excited about our relationship with India," Brown said. "When you look at the finalization of the logistics exchange, a memorandum agreement, for example, those agreements enable us to do even more together, exchange ideas, and cooperate and enhance the U.S.-India partnership."
The Pacific region is frequently hit by natural disasters that affect large numbers of people, Brown said, which makes it an area where maintain strong working relationships are crucial -- relationships with partners like India, for example.
"More people die in the Pacific from disasters than anywhere in the world," he said. "If you've worked together and you know each other and you understand and you can exchange ideas. Then when the crisis happens, you can save a lot of lives."
An upcoming exercise involving both the U.S. and India, the Yudh Abhyas exercise, should prepare U.S. and Indian forces for just such an occasion.