General Richard Myers Roundtable with Japanese Media

General Richard Myers
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
January 12, 2004

Embassy Press Officer: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. We're pleased to have you all with us today. We are on the record today. General Myers will give a short statement and then he'll take your questions. We have approximately 20 minutes. We're sorry we're running a little bit late today, but we'll try to get all your questions in.

General Myers: First, good morning. It's indeed a great honor to be back in Japan again.

The first thing I'd like to do is express my appreciation for all our Japanese counterparts and the folks that have been called in on this national holiday, and yourselves as well. I apologize for that. It was not in my calendar as we came into the country. I lost track of that. But we appreciate people coming out.

We're going to meet, have last night and will continue to today, meeting with our counterparts to review the state of the alliance, renew our friendship, and to visit some U.S. troops that are stationed here.

Let me state at the outset that the U.S.-Japan security relationship is absolutely vital to both our countries not only in this region but I think internationally as well. We will continue to strengthen that alliance as best we can.

We certainly value Japan's many contributions to the global war on terrorism. Whether it's in Afghanistan, whether it's financial support, logistics support - and by the way on Afghanistan there's been great progress in Afghanistan I think you would admit with the adoption of the constitution. The Constitutional Loya Jurga is a big step forward in that country's progress and we're looking forwards to elections there in June.

In addition, of course, is the monetary and soon to be people that will be helping with the reconstruction and other support in Iraq. It's truly a historic move by Japan and one that's appreciated I think by many in the international community. It's certainly an excellent way to begin the 50th Anniversary celebration of Japan's Defense Agency, and I think it will soon be the 44th anniversary of our mutual security treaty as well. In terms of the war on terrorism, because of the strong international support I think we're actually winning that war on terrorism. To do so, though, the people of the world have to be patient and we have to be committed and we have to show our resolve. International terrorists, of course, think they can beat us on all three fronts. That they can outlast us or that their will is stronger than our will. Whether the attack occurs, terrorism attack occurs in Riyadh or Islamabad or New York City or London or, God forbid, Tokyo, the outcome is the same. It affects all countries on this planet, not just the country where the act occurs. So this is a scourge that we're going to have to deal with like we've dealt with other scourges in the past. The one that comes to mind is the slave trade. That's no longer accepted. International terrorism, terrorism has to fall in that category at some point.

With that, we'll take your questions.

Satoru Suzuki, TV-Asahi, Tokyo: General, as you may know we have the advance team from the Ground Self Defense Force leaving for Iraq shortly. Could you please share with us your assessment of what's involved in Iraq, especially in the possible danger to them in that part of the country, in the city or somewhere? We are somewhat new at generally covering something like that. [Laughter]

General Myers: I think --

Satoru Suzuki: Should we be prepared for casualties?

General Myers: I think, clearly I think as your Prime Minister has stated, as our Ambassador has stated in a recent editorial I think this weekend, operations in Iraq are not without risk. It doesn't matter really where you are in that country, there are going to be challenges.

Currently if you look at the country the, north and the south are, compared to the central and western regions of Iraq, the north and the south are perhaps more stable and there is less conflict there. But you just need to look at the type of threats we're up against with former regime elements and perhaps foreign jihadists inside Iraq have attacked the U.N., the United Nations, the International Red Cross. They've attacked other coalition partners besides the United States and the United Kingdom. So you can never say that you're free from risk. There will be challenges.

I think what you have to think about is going back to my opening statement and say okay, why are we doing this? Why is the international community trying to help develop an Iraq that's going to be a peaceful Iraq, not a threat to its neighbors, no WMD, that is a fairly modern country and democracy? The reason is because it will be one less place where terrorists can plan and operate, or a country to be a hazard to the region.

This is a very significant event if we're going to be successful. The only way we'll be successful is with strong international efforts, and Japan has decided to be part of that strong international effort. It has the potential to change the dynamics not only in that region but in the world. And it also says to terrorists, even though there are risks, even though there are great risks and I think Japan knows that. You lost two very prominent civilians not too long ago in that country. But it says to international terrorists that we understand these risks. We, Japan, we understand these risks and we're willing to be there to do our part to make the world a safer place and to give some hope to the 25 million Iraqis who have lived under horrible conditions for many decades.

Ryoichi Nishida, Sankei Shimbum: General Myers, it's almost a month since U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein. Has the security situation relaxed, been getting worse, getting better or worse? What is your assessment? And based on that, how many more months or years do you think U.S. forces will participate in Iraq?

General Myers: On the security situation after the capture of Saddam Hussein, I think you've read and it's accurate that with his capture we also obtained information about the structure of the former regime elements, those mainly Ba'athist party members and other folks that were loyal to Saddam Hussein and his way of doing business that allowed us to go capture some of these cell leaders. We've rounded up hundreds, actually, of these cell leaders. So that was one of the benefits.

The other benefit was that I think just like when his sons were killed the capture of Saddam Hussein I think has emboldened some people to come forward without the fear of retribution and so we've seen an increase in the number of people who have come forward to offer intelligence on where weapons caches are, where improvised explosive devices are being built, those sorts of things.

Right now the security situation is actually improving in terms of the number of incidents, the number of people harmed and so forth, but it's too early to say if that's a trend line or just a snapshot that we've taken.

So personally I'm withholding any judgment on whether it's getting better or worse right now. It appears to be getting better, but I think time will tell.

How long we're going to be there, from the viewpoint of the United States, and this is a little bit outside my area of expertise, but our government has said that we're going to be helping Iraqis and will be there as long as it takes to allow them to develop into a more normal country. I don't think you can put a timeline on that. There are just so many things that have to come together. The governing process has to proceed in an orderly way; the economic situation and all the infrastructure that supports it has to continue, progress has to continue there as well; then the security situation has to continue to improve. So all these things have to move almost simultaneously. I don't think there's anybody who's smart enough to say how long that will take us.

A large piece of that will be up to the Iraqi people themselves. And as you know, the Iraqi people who are trying to make a better life for their country are also targeted by these folks that want the Iraq of old, but it's just not going to happen.

Yoichi Kato with Asahi Shimbum: North Korea. There is a group of experts that visit North Korea, and I was wondering what can you tell us about the findings that they see in North Korea. There is a report in the Washington Post that North Korea, can produce, they claim, plutonium, is it true? Do you see any change in the military threat as a result of the six party talks started in North Korea? Thank you.

General Myers: On the first part, I have not seen any of the reporting that has come out of, the formal assessment of that group that has come out yet. My understanding is they're just out and I'm sure we'll get more insight as they tell people what they saw. I think it's probably too early.

It's important to remember this was an unofficial - it was not an official U.S. delegation. They were invited there on their own. But I'm sure we'll gain some information. We'll just have to wait and see what that is. I personally don't know so I can't corroborate any of that information.

The six-party talks have been very very useful and I can highlight I think, again a little bit outside my lane of military matters, but I think it's widely conceded that Japan's role in the six-party talks are very very important. And clearly you would like to solve this issue of a nuclear North Korea, the chance for proliferation of fissile material, all those issues that should worry all of us a lot that our best chance for solving this dilemma right now is through diplomacy, through the six-party talks.

I don't know if the threat's changed a great deal at this point. They still have in North Korea over a million people under arms and a lot of them positioned very close to the demilitarized zone. At the same time I think as long as there are these diplomatic efforts that there's a chance we'll resolve this through diplomatic means, and that's what we've got to hope for and that's our strategy.

Hiroki Sugita, Kyodo News: We understand that the U.S. has decided to reconsider the redeployment of U.S. military forces overseas. My question is what kind of a change in your mind will it be making in the U.S. military posture in the decision? Is that going to reduce the troops in Japan or increase them?

General Myers: The first thing to say is that there are a couple of fundamentals that we need to keep in mind when we're talking about any - We call this the U.S. global posture, if you will, and how we are aligned.

The idea is that it's been a long time in some parts of the world where we've taken a hard look ourselves at how we are arranged around the world given this new security environment. A couple of just "for instances".

Some of the camps and the posts and stations where we are located now in South Korea, the Republic of Korea, are where we were in 1953 when the armistice was signed. We're still in the same places. In fact those places aren't the same as they were in '53. There's been a lot of buildup around them and so forth. It's not too different in other places in the world, Europe and so forth. So that's why we're looking at it.

But the fundamental part is that the United States is a Pacific nation and has a lot of interest in the Asia-Pacific region, and the interest is stability so economies can flourish, so our governments can flourish, so people can flourish. And that fundamental is not going to change no matter how we look at things.

The other fundamental is the security relationship we have with Japan. This is clearly the most important relationship we have in the Asia-Pacific region. That fundamental won't change.

Now to the specifics of your question. We are just at the beginning stages of discussions, mainly among ourselves, some with our Japanese counterparts on some of the things, some of the ideas we're thinking about, but we're a long way from making any decisions. In fact no decisions have been made. So this dialogue will go on for some time. It will take time to play out. Whatever we do will be in consultation with our Japanese counterparts and Japanese government. That's where we are right now.

Mr. Ichinose (Takashi Ichinose, NHK): I have a follow-up question on North Korea. I understand six-party talks, next one, six-party talks, has not been decided when it is going to be held. But at the same time there is a report that North Koreans are developing nuclear capability. How long can the United States wait until you think the military option is a viable option?

General Myers: Again, this is a little bit outside my lane in terms of the way - because it's being run by our State Department. I think the timeline, that we've got to give time for diplomacy to work. That's what the six-party talks are designed to do, and to come to some resolution.

Exactly what's going on in North Korea is a mystery to some degree and that's why the six-party talks and maybe what we learn out of this, the people that are returning here from the United States, maybe we'll learn more.

>From a military standpoint I don't think we can, we've got to state how, the potential threat of having fissile material is, particularly the threat of proliferation, because North Korea is cash-starved and there are some countries out there with lots of cash that want a nuclear capability so that's always a possibility. I'm not saying that's what's happening, but that's always a possibility. That's why, you're right, the date's not been set on the next talks. But I can guarantee you that the folks that are working that are working it very very hard because in my view that's the practical and the strategic way of doing it.

Mr. Nose (Nobuyuki Nose, Fuji TV): You were asked before about the Block 2004 and missile defense issue. We heard that the Aegis cruiser, Block 2004, will be sent to Japan or not?

General Myers: What we have I think in terms of our relationship is some technical cooperation in missile defense. The Japanese government has decided to participate in some of the technical cooperation and they've put many millions of dollars towards that.

There is also what Japan can do in the short term to increase its capabilities against missiles and that includes the Aegis cruiser with the standard missile three. It also includes upgrading the Patriot missile system to the PAC-3 missile system.

We had very good success with the PAC-3 missile system and the major combat operations in Iraq. Those are two things that can be done.

Then there's the larger issue of what sort of concept of operations the U.S. and Japan and for that matter other countries in the world would have in putting together a missile defense system to thwart the proliferation of missiles and potentially with warheads that have weapons of mass effect on them.

So as far as I know that's where we are. The United States government is cooperating very closely with Japan on all those levels that I just talked about.

Nose: I'm asking about the Block 2004 EDC.

General Myers: Block 2004?

Nose: Yes.

General Myers: I think we're well on the way to working that issue with Japan.

Nose: Yes, I know it is the US Navy's

General Myers: Yes.

Nose: Will the U.S. deploy the Block 2004 Aegis cruiser?

General Myers: We deploy our cruiser.

Nose: Yes, to Japan or not?

General Myers: I don't know what we have deployed here. My guess is if it's required for the security of Japan, absolutely we would. But that's something we work all the time. We do mission security treaties to whatever direct threat we thought was important. I don't know what kind of Aegis cruisers they have right now in the fleet.

Maj. Gen. Tom Waskow, USFJ commander: As they go through upgrade we will be deploying that capability here.

General Myers: Okay, so as they go through the upgrade. Obviously not all of our systems are upgraded to the same level.

Michio Hayashi, Yomuiri: General Myers, North Korea again. Has the U.S. military decided, who's making a decision to move the forward troops in the DMZ of the Korean Peninsula. We understand that the Japanese government has requested the U.S. to consider to maintain the deterrence forces.

>From a military standpoint, we've been discussing the six-party talks. From the military standpoint what are the points of consideration to keep North Korea from doing something dangerous to us? I'm asking how the deterrence could be achieved from the military standpoint.

General Myers: We could spend a lot of time talking about that, just that particular subject. It's a very important one. Bear in mind whatever changes that occur in terms of the U.S. posture on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea and to North Korea, is all premised on the fact that the security of the peninsula will be stronger afterwards and not weaker.

There are lots of aspects to it. One is the one you mentioned, and that is sort of tied into what I said earlier in terms of we're still in places where we were in 1953. Now because of the population movement and so forth, we're in places where we can't train well, and also where we're an irritant to the local population. So for the long-term health, the relationship, for our security posture, we've looked at some hubs where we want to locate to that will enable us to be just as effective but be a less irritant in some of those areas that have really experienced great population growth. So that's part of it.

Part of it is also turning over some of the capability and some of the missions to the Republic of Korea military. But there is a list of things that we're trying to do that will be done, by the way, over a period of time. But in no case will anybody look at this and be able to say gee, you've lessened the security posture of the peninsula, at least from the South Korea viewpoint. It's going to be stronger in the end.

One of the things I think we have to think about and it's hard to change our thinking because we come out of the Cold War and we think about things a lot. We think about how many ships, planes, tanks and divisions and so forth. That doesn't necessarily equate to military effectiveness or your security capability.

We are now thinking much more in terms of what capability do we bring, and it doesn't always translate into numbers easily. That's sort of the transformation we're going through. You saw that in Iraq, in combat in Iraq. The old war plan that was on the shelf would have called for a much larger force than was actually employed. You saw it in Afghanistan when the Taliban fell and the al Qaeda were on the run in Afghanistan, we had about 2,000 U.S. forces on the ground. About 2,000 is all. And yet the Taliban were made to give up and leave.

So times change and we look more now at capabilities and that's what we're going to stress as we move forward with the Republic of Korea government and working more modern security arrangements. So it's not just whether we're north of the Han River or we're south, it's wherever we are. We're looking at our capabilities and the capabilities we bring to the task.

Embassy Press Officer: I'm sorry, we're going to have to cut it off. Thank you all for coming.

General Myers: Thank you.