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Scaparrotti Discusses Russian, North Korean Threats at Aspen Forum

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2016 — The participants in the Aspen Security Forum received a “two-fer” last night as Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti and “Washington Post” journalist David Ignatius spoke about the general’s experiences Korea and Europe.

Scaparrotti took over as commander of U.S. European Command and as Supreme Allied Commander Europe in May. His previous assignment was as commander of Combined Forces Korea. The title of the Aspen, Colorado, presentation was “From the Frying Pan to the Fire.”

The two men started by discussing Russia and the challenges that President Vladimir Putin’s country poses to global security. The general said his career has almost come full circle. He noted that when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, the enemy was the Soviet Union. “I knew their formations, and as a young officer went to Reforger on a number of occasions,” he said. Reforger -- the REturn of FORces to GERmany -- was the annual exercise aimed at practicing reinforcing NATO in case of Soviet aggression.

‘Russia is Back’

Then the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union dissolved and his next interaction with Russian forces was in 1996 when his airborne unit conducted a relief-in-place with a Russian airborne brigade. “Then you come full circle to the job I had today, and Russia is back,” he said.

And the Russian military is back with improved equipment and discipline in its ground forces, Scaparrotti said. “They are learning, they are pretty agile and thinking,” he said. “They are taking a look at the world as they see it and adjusting their doctrine … which is impressive.”

The Russian military has been reorganized and is more professional, and they have clearly modernized their equipment and are learning from U.S. operations, he said.

“We have an adversary we need to take very seriously,” Scaparrotti said. “They are going to continue to improve in their capabilities.”

Invest in Capabilities

The United States and NATO have to be strong and continue to invest in capabilities to outpace the capabilities of the Russian military, he said.

Russia is using asymmetric tactics against Europe and NATO as well, Scaparrotti said. “We see the activity in cyberspace, we see influence in Europe in terms of political parties funding, [we see] some misinformation to build facts on the ground that really aren’t true, and … I believe that is part of their doctrine,” he said. “When you look at the spectrum of conflict, it begins at activities below the threshold of conflict in order to set conditions and perhaps even be successful in their objectives without even approaching a conflict.”

The general believes the West can combat this doctrine, but it will be difficult. Freedom of the press, truth and rule of law must be at the heart of any counterstroke, he said.

Turkey Situation

Scaparrotti also addressed Turkey, noting he has been in touch with Turkish chief of defense Gen. Hulusi Akar since the attempted coup earlier this month. The Turkish general pledged to continue Turkey’s strong support of NATO and of countering Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant operations, and he invited Scaparrotti to visit soon.

Ignatius then steered the conversation to the topic of North Korea. In the next few years, Scaparrotti said he believes North Korea will develop nuclear warheads and the means to launch them.

“[North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] is very focused on developing his military capability in specific areas that are difficult for us,” Scaparrotti said. “He’s focused on developing his ballistic missile capability. My estimate is that he is testing and he is solving problems. He has a submarine-launched missile that he is working on, as well.”

North Korean Developments

North Korea also is continuing work on its nuclear capabilities, Scaparrotti said.

“I think we need to continue in every way we can to put pressure on this country to bring them to follow the United Nations Security Council resolutions,” the general said. “I am very concerned about what he has today, but I am more concerned about what he will have in three or four years -- when he has a proven intercontinental capability, when he has perhaps figured out the submarine capability and when he has built more nuclear devices.”

The general said he believes that the sanctions brought against Kim Jong Un was a good step and looks for ways to bring China into the mix to control North Korea. He also agrees with the decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system to South Korea.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

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