WASHINGTON — Heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula underscore the need for an increased military presence there and worldwide, according to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
In an appearance on Fox News on Sunday, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's recent military actions "erratic" and said adding U.S. military forces in the region could both act as a deterrent to North Korea and a diplomatic push to China to intervene.
"The most important thing is increase our military presence in the region and our military capability overall," Thornberry said. "China does not want to have the new carrier battle group in their backyard. They are not excited about the missile defense deployments in Japan and Korea. Well, the answer for China is to get a hold of this guy in North Korea, and that will reduce the necessity of us increasing military presence."
Last week, Defense Department officials ordered the strike group for the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson into the region in anticipation of regional instability. Almost 30,000 U.S. forces are stationed in South Korea.
On Monday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to South Korea and declared that "the era of strategic patience is over" with North Korea.
Administration officials have discussed possible military action against the North Korean regime, according to multiple reports. But for now, they seem to be moving ahead with other economic sanctions as a response to recent displays of military force in the region.
Over the weekend, North Korean forces conducted a failed test of what is believed to be a new medium-range missile just hours after the country’s regime showed off a host of military hardware during a national celebration.
Thornberry did not endorse any preemptive military action against North Korean forces, but did say he thinks it’s important that "you don't take options off the table."
"The most important thing we can do is increase our military presence, especially our missile defense in that area, because we cannot rely on his good judgment to prevent war," he said. "We have to have the military capability there to deny him that ability."
Thornberry, House Republicans’ top voice on defense issues, has been a past proponent of President Donald Trump’s plans to build up the U.S. military, arguing that service end strength has dipped too low and available equipment is slowly becoming outdated.
His committee is reviewing Trump’s long-term plans for a substantial military buildup, one that critics have lamented will be paid for by slashing diplomatic and domestic program spending.
But Thornberry applauded those efforts so far.
"(Trump) is sending a message that now the United States is going to stand up for our interests and make sure we have the military capability to prevail if we choose to use force," he said.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.