WASHINGTON -- The American commitment to the U.S.-Republic of Korea Treaty remains ironclad, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today following the ROK-US Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting in Seoul.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken joined Austin for talks with South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong and Minister of National Defense Suh Wook. The ''Two-plus-Two'' meeting is part of the American delegation's first overseas trip to meet with allies and friends. It is a clear indication of the importance the Biden administration places on reinvigorating the network of allies and partners at the heart of American strategy.
After the meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Austin and Blinken met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in who thanked the American leaders for the constructive meetings.
South Korea is an important military ally. American and South Korean forces fought together during the Korean War, and South Korean soldiers deployed to combat alongside American in Vietnam. They also supported efforts in the fight against violent extremists.
Austin noted that the interoperability among the two forces today may be the best in the world. The military is only a part of this, however. The two nations share common interests and values beyond the Korean peninsula. "With the many challenges we face, our bond — forged through shared sacrifice – is more important now than ever," he said. "[The alliance] is critical not only to the security of the Republic of Korea and the United States, but also to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia and a free and open Indo-Pacific region."
Austin said the U.S. commitment to South Korea covers the full range of capabilities America brings. The alliance is defensive in nature and the two nations maintain a robust combined defense posture.
North Korea continues to act against United Nations resolutions calling on the nation to stop its nuclear weapons program. The United States and South Korea "remain committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he said. "There is no daylight between us on this point."
Austin stressed the importance of maintaining military readiness. "Our force remains ready to 'fight tonight,' and we continue to make progress toward the eventual transition of wartime operational control to a [Republic of Korea]-commanded, future Combined Forces Command."
Combined Forces Command is currently commanded by Army Gen. Robert Abrams, but the command is truly a combined headquarters. "While meeting all the conditions for this transition will take more time, I’m confident that this process will strengthen our alliance," Austin said.
The secretary said the United States and South Korea together must address global security challenges and engage in long-term strategic competition with China. China, more than Russia, is the Defense Department's "pacing threat" for the years ahead, the secretary said.
The meeting served to help the leaders of the two nations to identify areas where the United States and South Korea can work together to uphold the rules-based international system that has served the region so well. The meeting also looked at how to help partner nations build capacity and capabilities to support their own sovereignty.
Although a State Department document, Austin noted he was pleased at the initialing of the Special Measures Agreement with South Korea. It is part-and-parcel of the new administration's efforts to revitalize the network of alliances and partnerships, he said.
"That is why we also reaffirmed our commitment to the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral defense cooperation, because we recognize the value of 'multilateralism' and we value a forward-looking agenda to address both current and future shared challenges," Austin said.
The combined meeting of foreign affairs and defense ministers reflects the U.S. belief in leading with diplomacy with backing from a strong military posture. Allies and partners are key, the secretary said, to American strategy. "Working closely with our allies and partners will allow us to meet every challenge and outmatch any competitor," Austin said.