USFK Chief Warns of Instability in N.Korea

Walter Sharp (left) and Robert Willard Walter Sharp (left) and Robert Willard

U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp has warned of sudden regime collapse in North Korea and called for urgent preparation for such an eventuality. Sharp was speaking at a subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

"We would also be mindful of the potential for instability in North Korea," he said. "Combined with the country's disastrous centralized economy, dilapidated industrial sector, insufficient agricultural base, malnourished military and populace, and developing nuclear programs, the possibility of a sudden leadership change in the North could be destabilizing and unpredictable."

South Korea and the U.S. are ready for any kind of contingency, he said, including local skirmishes, humanitarian support operations, and even the elimination of the North's weapons of mass destruction.

Commenting on the North's nuclear program, he said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's strategic goal is to survive and maintain the regime, and that his pursuit of the nuclear weapons program is the key part in this strategy. The North's nuclear program is now believed to have extracted enough plutonium to make several nuclear weapons, Sharp added.

Sharp again dismissed the option of delaying the handover of full control of South Korean troops to Seoul. He said the roadmap for the transition of operational control is "on track as planned and we are working hard to ensure that all conditions will be met" for a smooth transition in 2012.

Meanwhile, Adm. Robert Willard, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, commented on South Korea's participation in the U.S. missile defense system at the same House subcommittee hearing. Willard said Seoul has already developed its own missile defense system and it is up to the country to decide whether to expand it.

englishnews@chosun.com / Mar. 26, 2010 07:55 KST