US Forces Korea commander nominee Gen. Paul LaCamera said he will advocate for inclusion of the USFK in contingency plans in the Indo-Pacific region, if it is confirmed he will take up the post.
“Given the global role of the US military and, increasingly, the international reach of the South Korean military, opportunities are emerging for (Korea-US) alliance cooperation beyond the Korean Peninsula,” LaCamera said in his answers to advanced policy questions ahead of his confirmation hearing at the US Senate on Tuesday.
“USFK forces are uniquely positioned to provide the US Indo-Pacific Command commander a range of capabilities that create options for supporting out-of-area contingencies and responses to regional threats.”
LaCamera said that if he succeeds the role, he will advocate for inclusion of USFK forces in US Indo-Pacific Command contingency and operational plans supporting US interests and objectives in the region.
He also said that forces already in Korea and the US Indo-Pacific Command have been discussed as options to support operations elsewhere.
The US military has constantly spoken about the USFK supporting out-of-area contingencies, suggesting their possible deployment in nearby areas of military conflict with China, such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, should contingencies arise.
About the transfer of wartime operational control to the Republic of Korea, LaCamera said he believes “all three conditions of the bilaterally agreed-upon conditions-based operational control transition plan must be fully met before the alliance changes to a ROK four-star led command.”
“I would caution against any effort to apply a time-based approach to this important endeavor,” he said.
He said “there remains considerable work to be done” for South Korea to “completely acquire the military capabilities necessary to meet critical combined defense leadership roles and correct current capability gaps to conduct specified and implied tasks.”
The USFK expects it will take several years for South Korean forces to complete all the requirements, he added.
The South Korean government under President Moon Jae-in has been seeking an early OPCON transfer.
Multiple government sources have said that the military has been working to lay down a specific year for the OPCON transfer.
LaCamera also stressed the importance of military cooperation between South Korea and Japan, as well as among the two neighbors and the US, saying he will encourage South Korea to conduct bilateral and trilateral military domain activities with Japan.
“The effect of military cooperation between Japan and South Korea has a unique deterrent effect all its own,” he said.
The US general also said joint field exercises between South Korea and US are “extremely important” to maintain their readiness, adding that he will work for the resumption of field exercises if confirmed.
About North Korea, LaCamera said the country’s leader Kim Jong-un “is prepared to take provocative and coercive steps with long-range missile tests or possibly even demonstrate its nuclear capability.”
Noting that North Korea is unlikely to surrender its nuclear stockpile and production capabilities, he said Kim “may use nuclear weapons, if he feels the regime’s existence is threatened and on the verge of being eliminated.”
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org