The Pentagon said Wednesday that it is not currently looking at moving military dependents, spouses and children, from South Korea despite a plea by a prominent U.S. senator to do so amid soaring tensions with North Korea over its nuclear arms and missile programs.
The Department of Defense “currently has no intent to initiate departures for military dependents, whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis, and no intent to modify the policy authorizing military dependents to accompany military members being stationed in South Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan said in an emailed statement to The Japan Times.
The warning by Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday came as the U.S. kicked off a massive five-day joint aerial exercise with South Korea involving 12,000 U.S. personnel and more than 230 aircraft from both countries, including advanced U.S. stealth fighter jets.
“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea,” said Graham, a member of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “So I want them to stop sending dependents. And I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.”
Graham, who is close to U.S. President Donald Trump, said the North’s Nov. 29 test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach all of the continental United States had made the threat of military conflict more of a possibility.
“We’re getting close to military conflict because North Korea is marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with the nuclear weapon on top that cannot only get to America, but deliver the weapon,” he said. “We’re running out of time.”
The Trump administration’s policy, he said, is “to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile. Not to contain it.”
“Denial means pre-emptive war as a last resort. That pre-emption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely.”
The DOD, however, attempted to tamp down fears, noting that it has “contingency plans” in the event of conflict erupting.
“Readiness, safety, and welfare of our service members, employees and family members is essential to the strength of the ROK-U.S. Alliance,” Logan, the Pentagon spokesman, said.
“The United States has many contingency plans in place all over the world to keep our military families safe.”
The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice and not a formal peace treaty, leaving the warring parties still technically at war.
Any move by Washington to evacuate dependents or other American nationals from the Korean Peninsula would heighten fears of military action against the North. It would also be a visible signal to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who could interpret the move as a precursor to a strike on his regime.