“Just 48 miles north of us exists an existential threat, a threat that we must be prepared to deter, defend against, and, if required, defeat,” Lt. Col. Joshua McCullion, the inaugural commander of U.S. Space Forces-Korea, said Wednesday.
McCullion’s unit will provide “in-theater near-real-time detection and warning of ballistic missile launches,” according to the United States Forces Korea. The unit has formed against a backdrop of U.S. and allied unease about North Korea’s burgeoning missile program, exacerbated by a marked absence of cooperation on the issue between the United States, Russia, and China.
“The activation here today of U.S. Space Forces Korea, a subcomponent of U.S. Space Forces INDOPACOM, enhances our ability to defend the homelands and ensures peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” added U.S. Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, who commands U.S. Forces Korea.
North Korea’s ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons program has surged as a potential threat to the United States, South Korea, and Japan. U.S. and South Korean officials have accused North Korea of preparing a seventh nuclear weapons test, and international diplomatic initiatives to increase sanctions pressure on North Korea have been hampered by China and Russia’s opposition.
“To fundamentally resolve the [Korean] peninsula issue requires abandoning the old approach of imposing sanctions and exerting pressure,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun told the United Nations General Assembly in June. “Sanctions are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.”
American officials have not hidden their suspicion that Moscow and Beijing are using North Korea as a proxy bludgeon against the U.S. and its allies.
“Earlier this year, Russia and China pledged a ‘no limits partnership,’” Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said in response to his Chinese counterpart. “We hope these vetoes are not a reflection of that project.”
That remark was a reference to the joint statement issued by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin just weeks before Putin launched his campaign to overthrow the Ukrainian government. Chinese officials, for their part, tend to oppose defensive U.S. measures on the Korean Peninsula on the grounds that military systems such as the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense System could monitor the Chinese military as well.
“China’s commitment to [Korean] denuclearisation is not genuine but political,” Center for Strategic and International Studies Senior Vice President Victor Cha told the South China Morning Post. “They do not really share the same interest with South Korea, the US and Japan in terms of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula … Their unwillingness to cooperate is essentially an effort to punish the United States for its policy of strategic competition [with China].”
The new Space Force unit could monitor more than just threats from Pyongyang, another top general implied.
“With China as a pacing threat, the Indo-Pacific Command AOR (area of responsibility) is our top priority, and activating this command underscores our continued commitment to a free Indo-Pacific,” Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, the U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific commander, said Wednesday.