|From right to left, incoming commander, Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, and, outgoing commander, Gen. Robert B. Abrams salute during a change-of-command ceremony for the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea at Barker Field in Pyeongtaek in this July 2, 2021 file photo. AP-Yonhap|
South Korea's defense ministry on Tuesday stressed the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK)'s "top priority" on handling evolving North Korean threats, after a former USFK chief mentioned the possibility of USFK troops being deployed in case of a security crisis in Taiwan.
Retired Gen. Robert Abrams, who led the USFK from 2018-21, told Radio Free Asia earlier this week that the United States will preserve "all options" in determining what forces might be used in the event of a military conflict between China and Taiwan, "including those assigned to the USFK."
Last week, current USFK Commander Paul LaCamera also said commanders do "contingency planning" for "anything," spawning speculation that USFK troops could be mobilized to a Taiwan contingency at the expense of their primary role to counter North Korean threats.
"As current Commander LaCamera has said, the USFK, along with our military, has been maintaining a solid combined defense posture," Col. Moon Hong-sik, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. "He has also said that the USFK places top priority on missions to deter and respond to potential North Korean aggression."
Moon added the allies have been maintaining systems for close communication and cooperation to ensure "what citizens are worried about would not occur."
There have been debates at home and abroad over whether U.S. forces stationed in South Korea can be tasked with carrying out missions that go beyond the geopolitical scope of the Korean Peninsula in the name of "strategic flexibility."
Alongside these debates is another tricky question: whether South Korea, as a key U.S. treaty ally, would have to play any direct or indirect role should a conflict break out between China and Taiwan.
In an interview with CNN in New York last week, President Yoon Suk-yeol voiced concerns that a possible military conflict between China and Taiwan could raise the chances of North Korean provocations and highlighted the "top priority" of the South Korea-U.S. alliance on dealing with North Korean security challenges. (Yonhap)