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Asia-Pacific commanders fear budget cuts would put security at risk

| Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 8:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Top U.S. military officers in the Asia-Pacific said on Tuesday that budget cuts could hurt the ability of American forces to respond to a security crisis, including on the Korean peninsula.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, Pacific commander, said U.S. allies are carefully watching American defense spending, and are starting to question U.S. “staying power” as a guarantor of security.

Locklear and Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who commands U.S. forces in South Korea, were testifying before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on the Defense budget for 2015, which trims spending and aims for a smaller, more modern force rather than a larger one less prepared for combat.

Some in Congress, however, view that as an approach that weakens U.S. capabilities in a period of growing uncertainty in Europe and Asia. Senators in particular voiced concern about the double-digit annual growth in China's defense spending and development of more and better warships and submarines, and the threat posed by a nuclear North Korea.

In prepared testimony, Locklear said budget uncertainties “ultimately reduce our readiness, our ability to respond to crisis and contingency as well as degrade our ability to reliably interact with our allies and partners in the region.”

Scaparotti said U.S. forces in Korea are “fully resourced,” but he voiced concern about the readiness of “follow-on” forces that would be needed if a security crisis broke out on the divided peninsula. The United States retains 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty.

Scaparotti said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is less predictable than his predecessor and so poses a greater threat.

He said a recent spate of tests of Scud missiles from a new, rapid-fire multiple rocket launcher were intended to demonstrate North Korea's capabilities to the United States and South Korea as they hold annual military exercises.

South Korea said North Korea fired what appear to be two mid-range ballistic missiles just hours after Pyongyang rivals South Korea, Japan and the United States met in the Netherlands to discuss the country.

A South Korean military official said the likely Rodong missiles flew about 400 miles off North Korea's east coast early Wednesday. It wasn't immediately clear where the missiles splashed down.

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