US, South Korea eye shift in rules of engagement on North Korea
Seoul's top general and US Adm. Mike Mullen did not formally announce a shift in rules of engagement. But South Korean analysts believe they are shaping the first possible strategy shift since the Korean War.
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US support for any shift in rules of engagement is essential in view of the US-Korean military alliance, dating from the Korean War, and overall US command responsibility for all forces in the South in time of war. The US would not assume command of South Korean forces in response to a relatively minor attack, such as that on Yeonpyeong island, but US agreement is wanted for any essential policy shifts.Skip to next paragraph
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Buildup of tensions
Mullen arrived here just as a newly appointed defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, who had also served previously as chairman of South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, was settling into his post with a mandate to vastly improve South Korea’s defenses. South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak appointed him amid widespread criticism of the poor state of the South’s defenses.
Mr. Kim in the past few days has been saying that South Korean planes would attack North Korean targets in the event of an attack similar to that on Yeonpyeong Island. He’s under orders from Mr. Lee to build up fortress-like defenses on the Yellow Sea islands and also south of the 155-mile-long demilitarized zone that has divided the Korean peninsula since the end off the Korean War in 1953.
Intrinsic in the buildup is a commitment by the US for more exercises such as those last week in which the aircraft carrier George Washington led a US strike force into the Yellow Sea for war games with South Korean forces. South Korean forces engaged in still more exercises this week off the east, west and southern coasts despite North Korean threats of “all-out war.”
Mullen emphasized, meanwhile, the need for China to pressure North Korea not to carry out more attacks. He spoke after a trilateral meeting in Washington among Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign minister of Japan and South Korea. At the same time, James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, planned to go to China next week bearing the same plea.
The Chinese have “unique influence,” said Mullen, referring to China’s position as North Korea’s only real ally and the source of most of its food and fuel. “Therefore they bear unique responsibility.”