On Thursday, October 13, 2011, The Institute of World Politics hosted a special lecture on the topic of bilateral relations with South Korea, delivered by LTG Dave Valcourt (Ret.), former chief of staff of US Forces Korea and commanding general of US Army forces in South Korea.
LTG Valcourt described several aspects of bilateral relations with South Korea, including the sensitive strategic environment of northeast Asia, and what he termed its "regional importance to US national interests." He highlighted northeast Asia is the fastest growing part of the global economy. He then explained that although the North Korean conventional military threat is antiquated, it is still very dangerous, especially considering the North's proximity to Seoul. He explained that the difference between the two countries is striking. While the South Koreans have a capital which is modern, prosperous, globally engaged, and like a "New York City without crime," the North Koreans have almost nothing to lose.
The current armistice is a delicate balance in the region, and the United Nations Command is working to preserve peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. LTG Valcourt underlined the main challenge with which he dealt during his post in South Korea - "how to break the cycle of provocation" between the North and South. Even the crab-fishing season is a potential area for provocation, he said, because both North and South Korean fishing boats go out to catch the same group of crabs.
He explained that North Korea knows that any provocation it creates will also create tension for the United States, but elements within the ROK also know take actions that provoke the North Korean regime - such as releasing balloons carrying pamphlets containing anti-regime propaganda, cell phones, etc. Meanwhile, LTG Valcourt pointed out, there is an increasing number of South Koreans who operate and own factories in China, further complicating the international situation and implications of a potential conflict.
LTG Valcourt described Korea as "a fantastic place to serve," and noted that under current bilateral agreements, in the event of war, U.S. commanders have overall responsibility in the theater.
This lecture was part of IWP's Distinguished Military Speakers Series.