Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

U.S. Should Boost Korea Presence, House Defense Panel Chief Says

May 15, 2018Roxana Tiron

The U.S. should increase its military presence on the Korean peninsula and boost its missile-defense technology even as President Donald Trump attempts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said.

“The important thing is to not only continue what we have, but continue to augment our military presence, because I am absolutely convinced that our growing military presence in the region, as well as sanctions, as well as pressure from China, as well diplomatic isolation all have contributed to Kim Jong Un at least believing that he needed to do something different on the PR front,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast today.

As Trump prepares for a summit with Kim in Singapore on June 12, Thornberry voiced skepticism about how far the North Korean dictator will go to “permanently and verifiably give up his nuclear program.”

“Our military pressure has been a key element of convincing him, and China by the way, that they had to do something different,” Thornberry added.

The fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill (H.R. 5515) backs an additional 20 missile=defense interceptors as part of a buildup to guard against North Korea’s nuclear incursions. Despite forthcoming talks, those interceptors as well as accelerating missile-defense technology and building an East Coast missile-defense site are all necessary, according to Thornberry.

“Missile technology is not going to go away any time soon,” Thornberry said. “We have to be able to defend our country against missiles.”

The House next week is scheduled to take up the $717 billion defense authorization bill, which sets funding levels and military policy. While Thornberry said he expected debate over the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, he offered an optimistic prognosis about the measure becoming law before December—as has been the case in previous years. Thornberry said he hoped to see the massive measure become law by Oct.1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

Pentagon Audit

Separately, Thornberry said he expected the Pentagon’s first-ever audit of its $2.4 trillion in assets to unearth “more problems than any of us can fathom.”

“It will be ugly, I promise,” Thornberry said.

The House Armed Services Committee will hold the Pentagon “accountable” for fixing the problems that will be revealed, according to Thornberry.

“It’s very important for us to not punish the Pentagon for finding problems,” he said. The Defense Department should have a plan in place and “whatever problems they find start with the most important first and work systematically to make it better,” he said. “There is no reason the Pentagon can’t have a clean audit.”

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