On the brink? Gen. James Thurman hopeful for peace but ready for war on heavily armed Korean border

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

On the Radar

As North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un continues to escalate the rhetoric of war-- and has even moved a missile to the east coast of the country-- the top U.S. commander in South Korea says the threats are being taken seriously and his troops stand ready to fight if necessary.

“If they [North Korea] decided to, you know, resume hostilities, I think we've got to be ready to go,” Gen. James Thurman tells On the Radar from the Demilitarized Zone along the border between North and South Korea. “Readiness is number one. If you ask every one of these soldiers that are out here, it's about fighting tonight. It’s not a bumper sticker; it’s we've got to be able to do that."

Thurman says that while it's hard to know for sure what Kim Jong Un's intentions are, he emphasizes that the young leader's "reckless" behavior will not be rewarded.

“He’s trying to intimidate the South Koreans and intimidate the region, and we're not gonna let that happen,” says Thurman.

Thurman describes his mission as Commander of U.S. and combined forces in Korea as one of “deterrence and assurance.” He explains that the missile destroyers and stealth fighters the U.S. sent to the region this week are part of an attempt to get North Korea to dial down its rhetoric, which describes “as high as I’ve seen it,” while also restoring a sense of stability to the region.

Gen. Thurman’s biggest concern is that North Korea will make an “impulsive decision” that would cause a “kinetic provocation.” But he is optimistic that tensions will soon ease and is even wistful that there will be a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula one day.

“I’m hopeful that one day we're not faced with this fence out here, and all these land mines, and the threat of hostilities resuming,” says Thurman.

To hear more of the interview with the commander of the United Nations Command in Korea, including his assessment of whether a Korean missile could reach the U.S. mainland, check out this episode of On the Radar.

ABC's Brian Hartman, Eric Wray, Betsy Klein, and Michael Conte contributed to this episode.