On Aug. 14, 2014, the North Korean military fired three short-range missiles into the waters to the east of the Korean Peninsula less than an hour before Pope Francis was scheduled to land in Seoul, South Korea, for the start of his first papal trip to Asia. Shortly after his arrival, two more missiles were fired. Some observers said it was typical of the North wanting attention when something big was happening in the South. Others said it was a protest in advance of war game exercises between the U.S. Navy and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy scheduled for the following week.
Whatever the motive, the provocation was an example of the tensions and dangers that exist between the two nations that share a peninsula divided at the 38th parallel by the terms of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement. The signing of that document ended hostilities after the three-year Korean War, though technically the two sides are still in a state of war because no “final peaceful settlement” has yet been reached.
The bilateral exercise that followed the missile firings was one of approximately 20 each year carried out by the U.S. 7th Fleet and the ROK Navy that are designed to enhance the maritime security around the peninsula and promote readiness and deterrence.
Last August U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti and her staff at U.S. Naval Forces Korea helped plan and coordinate the naval portions of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise that involved more than 30,000 U.S. and Korean service members.
A Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps graduate, Franchetti ’85 is the first woman to serve as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea and one of fewer than 40 female admirals in the U.S. Navy. An expert military tactician and strategist who has commanded a guided-missile destroyer and served as a commodore of a destroyer squadron, she is the U.S. Navy’s representative in the Republic of Korea whose main job is to strengthen collective security efforts in the region.
“Our number one mission here is to be ready to meet any challenges in defending the Korean Peninsula,” explains Franchetti during an October interview at her office at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul. “The U.S. and ROK alliance is prepared to fight tonight should deterrence fail.”
She leads a team of naval personnel and civilians who work to promote the strong alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea and the two nations’ navies, and to enhance the partnership in the defense of the country. Franchetti emphasizes that Korea and the United States are full partners. “Katchi kapshida — we go together,” she says, using the Korean phrase.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen today, we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” she says, “but our job on the peninsula is to be ready.”
The George Washington Strike Group and Republic of Korea Navy ships participate in tactical maneuver training in international waters near the Korean Peninsula. Photo by Mass Communication Spc. 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman. Map above by Michael Newhouse.
North Korea has the fourth-largest army in the world, with more than 1 million troops. More than 70 percent of its ground forces are deployed near the Demilitarized Zone — just 35 miles north of Seoul — that separates the two countries. The country is led by a young, inexperienced, secretive and often unpredictable dictator, Kim Jong-un, who aspires to make his country one of the world’s nuclear powers.
Given the volatility of North Korea’s leader and the country’s confrontational actions against South Korea and the United States through missile launches, recent cyberattacks and nuclear warhead development, the alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States has never been more critical.