The latest North Korean crisis may finally be over, according to the top U.S. Army officer in the Pacific.
"It appears the rhetoric has died down in recent days," Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) said, while visiting the Pentagon on Monday.
"We're hoping that that cycle of provocation has come to its end point."
Wiercinski said the U.S. is not yet withdrawing the THAAD anti-ballistic missile battery deployed to Guam, but he indicated the region already may have returned to quiet.
"I've seen this for 34 years," he said. "Cyclical provocation from the grandfather to the father, now the son. It's nothing that I wouldn't have not expected."
This time, however, Wiercinski said he took it "very seriously" due to the nuclear threat that followed North Korea's demonstrated space launch last year. The Pentagon worries the boost-phase technology required to put an object into space is really part of North Korea's pursuit of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The North Korean regime is doing whatever it can to survive, according to a new Pentagon assessment which predicts that, despite international efforts, Pyongyang's leadership will continue to build more nuclear weapons and asymmetric warfare capabilities.
In its first annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said North Korea sees that its military power is falling behind that of its neighbors -- South Korea, Japan, and China. Instead of trying to match those capabilities, however, it has chosen to pursue nukes and small-war strategies.
But the regime may feel more threatened by its own people.
"The regime's greatest security concern is opposition from within," the Pentagon told Congress in the report. The regime's fear of external threats is that they will foster internal revolt. As such, the North Korean military is as involved in maintaining oppressive "internal security" as it is in threatening South Korea or the United States.
The Pentagon believes the North Korean military's provocations are calculated to avoid triggering a full-scale counterattack. But DOD is worried about "miscalculation that could spiral into a larger conflict."
"Although North Korea is unlikely to attack on a scale that it assesses would risk the survival of its government by inviting overwhelming counterattacks by the ROK or the United States, we do not know how North Korea calculates this threshold of behavior."
If war happens, the Pentagon would face an aged military.
"The KPA fields primarily legacy equipment, either produced in, or based on designs of, the Soviet Union and China, dating back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s," said the report, though last year's NorthKorean military parade revealed some new tanks, artillery, and infantry hardware.
The North Korean air force has not purchased new fighters since a 1999 buy of MiG-21s. It has more than 1,000 planes, but its most capable are Soviet-era MiG-29s. The regime's naval forces are barely worth a mention, though the Pentagon said a mini-submarine was able to sink the South Korean ship Cheonan.
The one threat the Pentagon shows concern over: ballistic missiles and the progress toward nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
"North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and Allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs."
In a late addition to next week's Asia tour, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit in South Korea on Sunday, the E-Ring has learned, as tensions between North Korea and U.S. allies show signs of easing.
Dempsey takes off on Friday for a long-scheduled trip to China, his first visit, and Japan. Pentagon officials wanted to gauge the North Korean standoff closer to his departure date before deciding whether to touch down in Seoul.
The visit gives Dempsey a chance to makeup a face-to-face meeting with South Korea's Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, which was supposed to happen this week during U.S.-Republic of Korea talks at the Pentagon. But because of the Korean crisis, Jung remained home on the peninsula, as did U.S. Forces Korea commanding general, Gen. James Thurman, who would have been in Washington for the talks and to appear before the House Armed Services Committee. The bilateral talks instead were conducted as a secure video teleconference, and included the U.S. Pacific commander, Adm. Samuel Locklear.
In a joint communiqué, Dempsey and Jung declared the U.S.-ROK alliance "stronger than ever," on Wednesday.
"They also reaffirmed that both countries will respond firmly to any provocation by North Korea," according to the document. In October, both sides will seek approval on the specifics for a new command structure for combined forces on the Korean Peninsula.
Dempsey leaves Washington on Friday and after stopping in Alaska will visit South Korea on Sunday. He then is scheduled to spend four days in China, visiting with his counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, and other senior defense and political officials.
Dempsey may meet China's Presiden Xi Jinping, according to the chairman's staff, but Chinese officials have yet to finalize their schedules.
Dempsey also will visit several People's Liberation Army units, which officials declined to name, citing security measures.
In his second visit to Japan as chairman, Dempsey will meet his counterpart Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of the Joint Staff, to talk about North Korea and the gamut of "regional issues," a Dempsey spokesman said.
DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen
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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Cheng S. Yang/Released
U.S. Army photo
DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett
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White House vows response to North Korean launch
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Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.