On a visit to South Korea, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is signaling that even in the face of steep defense cuts, the United States military will boost its presence in the region to deter North Korea.
Calling Pyongyang a “serious threat,” Panetta said in an op-ed published in South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo on Wednesday that the U.S. will work with South Korea to “bolster” the two nations combined defense.
“[T]he alliance is developing our combined capabilities to address ballistic missile threats from the North, boosting intelligence and information sharing, and strengthening operational planning to counter North Korean provocations,” Panetta wrote. “We are also enhancing the ability of our forces to work together and strengthening our combined military exercise program to maintain readiness.”
North Korea, Panetta warned, has demonstrated a “willingness” to target innocent lives, and continues to enhance its nuclear capabilities and ignoring its international obligations.
“The U.S. military presence in Korea and elsewhere in the region is critical to maintaining deterrence and communicating America’s resolve to defend its allies,” he said, vowing to ensure that there is an “effective nuclear umbrella” over the South so Pyongyang understands Washington’s “will and capability” to respond to nuclear aggression.
Seoul is Panetta last stop in an Asia tour that has included stops in Indonesia and Tokyo. The defense secretary has been an outspoken critic of sweeping defense spending cuts – the current deficit-reduction plan has $400 billion in defense spending cuts over the next 10 years.
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