WASHINGTON — North Korea has not slowed down nor reduced its military abilities and attributes even though it has made progress in negotiations with South Korea, the top U.S. military commander told Congress Tuesday.
Gen. Robert Abrams, U.S. and U.N. Korea commander, said North Korea has continued to develop conventional military capabilities unimpeded. He also said that while U.S. and South Korean forces have altered large-scale military exercises as goodwill gestures, North Korea has not.
“Despite a reduction in tensions along the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and a cessation of strategic provocations coupled with public statements of intent to denuclearize, little to no verifiable changes occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities,” Abrams told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last June. Both sides pledged to take steps to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. However, analysts and satellite photos suggest North Korean has not taken any steps in that direction and, possibly, has expanded operations.
Abrams said that while North Korea has not slowed its military development efforts, there has been a “reduction in the tension on the peninsula,” which he credited to the Trump-Kim meeting. “It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017,” Abrams said.
Trump and Kim are scheduled for a second summit on Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Abrams said the reduction in the scope of U.S.-South Korean military exercises has not diminished capability of the forces that would confront North Korea.
“We are continuing to train, conducting combined training and exercises with our ROK (South Korean) counterparts,” he said. “That is continuing unabated.”
Abrams said he is planning for the annual Foal Eagle exercise, to be held in the spring. He said trainings have been recalibrated in size, scope and maneuvers to give space for diplomats, the similar reasoning offered by other Pentagon officials.
Abrams was joined at the hearing by Adm. Phillip Davidson, U.S. Indo-Pacific commander, who reiterated U.S. concerns about China’s increase militarization of contested islands in the South China and East China seas.