Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with PACOM commander, Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., in Hawaii on Sunday while en route to Asia to meet with allies about heightening tensions with North Korea.

General Dunford’s trip is intended to “improve military-to-military ties during a complicated time in the region,” and is slated to include stops in South Korea and Japan, as well as with diplomatic opponent, China.

Effective military-to-military relations are important for our allies — we have to have transparency in our planning efforts — and we need to have effective military-to-military relations with China so there is no miscalculation,” Dunford said during an interview with reporters traveling with him. “During this trip I will work to improve our already strong military-to-military relationships in Seoul and Tokyo and to continue to develop the relationship I have had with [Chinese] General Fang Fenghui since our first conversation 16 months ago.”

North Korea’s two most recent long-range ballistic missile tests demonstrated that Kim Jong-un’s regime now possesses the technology to potentially reach targets as far away as America’s East Coast.  Soon thereafter, a new U.S. Intelligence report indicated that North Korea does indeed possess the necessary technology to create a compact enough version of a nuclear warhead to mount on such a missile.  Since then, the United States has adopted a more aggressive stance regarding Kim Jong-un’s threats of nuclear strikes.  This shift in rhetoric has left many concerned that the U.S. is moving further toward war with the reclusive state.

No one is more reluctant to go to war than those of us who represent the men and women who actually have to pay that sacrifice,” Dunford said. “[We’re] also mindful of the civilian sacrifice that could occur in a war.”

“As a military leader I have to make sure that the president does have viable military options in the event that the diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign fails,” Dunford went on. “But even as we develop those options, we are mindful of the consequences of those options, and that gives us a greater sense of urgency to make sure we are doing everything we absolutely can to support Secretary Tillerson’s path.”

It seems likely that, during Dunford’s stop in China, he will continue the American effort to convince the Chinese government to use their sizable economic leverage over North Korea to force Kim to stand down his nuclear arsenal.  Despite controlling an estimated 90% of North Korea’s total import and export market, China has continued to emphasize that the onus is not on them to create change on the Korean peninsula.

When I go to Beijing, my primary objective will be to continue to develop our military-to-military relationships, to mitigate the risk of miscalculation in the region and to have cooperation where those opportunities exist,” the general said.

Although the general emphasized on multiple occasions that diplomacy remains the United States’ preferred option as the situation develops with North Korea, he also made it clear that if diplomacy were to fail to bring about an acceptable outcome on the peninsula, the U.S. will be prepared to use kinetic options to force a resolution.

I think it is important as I go over there that the president has already outlined what the policy is, and one of the things he said is there has to be a credible military option in the event the diplomatic and economic campaign to denuclearize the peninsula fails,” the general said.


Image courtesy of the Department of Defense