(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel Thursday stood by the decision to fly B-2 bombers over South Korea during joint exercises with the country’s military. He said the move was not intended to provoke North Korea, but to send a firm message to the rogue nation’s regime.
“Their very provocative actions and belligerent tone has ratcheted up the danger. And we have to understand that reality,” Hagel told reporters at a joint press briefing with General Martin Dempsey. “We will be prepared — we have to be prepared — to deal with any eventuality there,” said Hagel.
Asked whether Kim Jung Un is proving to be more of a threat than his father, Hagel said that there were still a lot of unknowns about the new young leader, but that the U.S. isn’t going to take any chances, given his behavior so far.
“We have to take seriously every provocative, bellicose word and action that this new young leader has taken so far since he’s come to power,” said Hagel. “We’ve seen some historical trajectory here on where North Korea occasionally will go to try to get the attention of the United States, to try to maneuver us into some positions favorably to them…but the fact is that this is the wrong way to go, And the actions they’ve taken and the words he’s used is not going to project a more responsible, accountable relationship.”
Dempsey said that flying the B-2s was as much about sending a message to U.S. allies as it was to North Korea.
“The reaction to the B-2 that we’re most concerned about is not necessarily the reaction it might elicit in North Korea, but rather among our Japanese and Korean allies,” he said. “Those exercises are mostly to assure our allies that they can count on us to be prepared and to help them deter conflict.”
Dempsey also said that despite the reportedly hefty price tag of more than $100,000 per hour of flight for the bombers, the exercise was within the annual budget for these types of exercises. Even if it wasn’t, Dempsey said the Pentagon still would have greenlit the flights anyway, despite current budget woes.
“In light of what’s happened in North Korea and the provocation and the necessity of assuring our allies that we’re there with them, we would have found a way to do this,” Dempsey said. “[We’ve] got a readiness challenge, but we’re not going to put our security at risk in managing it.”
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