Army Gen. Walter Sharp, who also commands U.S. Forces Korea, spoke to reporters of the Defense Writers Group.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is in charge in the country – for good and bad, Sharp said. After a year of reports on his health and questions on potential succession, the general said, the despot still is in command. The nuclear tests, the missile shots, the release of the American journalists and family reunions between North and South Korea all indicate that “the Dear Leader” is in charge, he noted.
“We have seen him out in public many more times this year,” the general said. “Part of that is he wants to prove that he is in charge to his people. He has some paralysis of one arm and seems to be in decent health, but he is in charge and moving around.”
North Korea maintains a large, though aging, conventional force. The nation is concentrating on developing missile technology, enlarging special operations forces and perfecting nuclear weapons. “What we’re really looking at is the capability to defend against that missile threat,” Sharp said. “We’re working on Patriot missile systems and defending against that threat.”
U.S. and South Korean forces are working hard to learn the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan on improvised explosive devices and other types of weapons the North Koreans are developing. “Their [special operations forces] capability is really very large, and they will use these tactics,” he said.
Combating the nuclear weapons threat is a priority, but the general would say only that his command is working with others in the U.S. military on capabilities to counter weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea also is looking at cyber warfare. “The North Koreans probably realize that they could not win in an all-out conventional attack to reunify the peninsula by force,” Sharp said. “With our capability and the Republic of Korea capability, that’s a nonstarter.” Instead, he added, North Korea is looking at other vital nodes they can hold at risk, and asymmetric warfare is a possibility.
In addition to the main battle plan, Sharp’s command is looking at other likely scenarios involving North Korea. These run from refugee problems because of famine or internal struggles. “In every case, we have to be prepared to defend South Korea,” he said.
For the leaders in North Korea to hang on to power, they must convince the population that threats exist to the nation and that the military is the only solution. “It’s really a shame, because if Kim looked for other ways [to face the threats], the rest of the world would help North Korea,” Sharp said.