US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel toured the Korean demilitarised zone yesterday, under the watchful eye of North Korean soldiers, and said the Pentagon had no plan to reduce its 28,500-member force in the South despite budget constraints.
"This is probably the only place in the world where we have always a risk of confrontation," Hagel said after touring a single-storey building with a corrugated metal roof where talks are held with North Koreans on Conference Row in the truce village of Panmunjom.
As Hagel walked through the building, which spans the military demarcation line between North and South, two North Korean soldiers peered through the windows on the northern side filming his movements.
"There's no margin of error up here," Hagel said.
He also visited a hilltop observation post, where he looked across a valley into North Korea and received a briefing from South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
Hagel's visit came on the first full day of a four-day trip to South Korea to celebrate the 60th anniversary of a mutual security alliance.
He said that while the Pentagon was under pressure to reduce projected spending by nearly a trillion dollars over the next decade, the US military had no plans to reduce the size of forces in Korea.
"We'll continue to do what we've got to do to manage those [spending] reductions, [and] at the same time assure our partners ... specifically here in the Asia-Pacific that our commitments still stand," Hagel said.