Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stressed that the goal of the U.S.-South Korean alliance is peace — not conflict — following meetings in Seoul, South Korea, today.
The secretary made the remarks at a news conference following a meeting with Defense Minister Lee Jung-sup. The secretary is in South Korea to discuss the state of the alliance in wake of unprecedented provocations from North Korea. He also discussed ways the two nations — acting together — can enhance stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region.
The secretary noted that the United States and South Korea have worked together for 70 years "to deter large-scale conflict, to strengthen our combined capabilities, and to defend the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure."
The North Korean provocations are disturbing, and they cement the commitment the United States has to stand with its South Korean allies. "Make no mistake: The United States stands united with the [Republic of Korea], and, together, we condemn these dangerous actions, which violate international law and threaten to destabilize the region," he said. "Our commitment to the defense of the ROK [South Korea] remains ironclad."
The secretary reiterated that the United States stands firm in its extended-deterrence commitment, which includes the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, "including our conventional, nuclear and missile-defense capabilities."
In an op-ed piece published today by the South Korean news agency Yonhap, the secretary wrote about the partnership between the two countries. "The deep cooperation between our armed forces reflects the same fundamental truth that U.S. and ROK leaders affirmed when they signed the Mutual Defense Treaty: We are stronger and safer when we work together," Austin wrote. "And over the past seven decades, we have built one of the most capable, interoperable and adaptable alliances in history."
The United States has put resources, military capabilities and, most important, people into the alliance. There are 28,500 U.S. service members on the peninsula alongside Korean allies. These troops work with Korean forces daily, and the U.S. military and South Korean military are extremely interoperable — to the point of having a combined division and the Combined Forces Command — Korea.
"Over the past year, our two countries have made great progress in deepening our cooperation," the secretary said. "We strengthened our combined readiness and training. We expanded the scope and scale of our exercises."
Together, the alliance increased cooperation in response to North Korean threats to include "bilateral and trilateral responses that demonstrated the capability and readiness of our combined forces," Austin said. "And let me underscore our mutual belief that trilateral cooperation with Japan enhances all of our security."
In addition, the United States has deployed fifth-generation aircraft to the region, and the USS Ronald Reagan carrier battle group has exercised in the region and made port calls in Korea.
South Korea, a country literally destroyed by the Korean War of 1950-1953, has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and is one of the leading economies of the world and an exporter of peace and security.
South Korea is increasingly working with partners in Southeast Asia and beyond to sustain a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The country is working with nations to build their defense capabilities.
The secretary went on to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. He also held meetings with Army Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command.