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NEWS | Nov. 15, 2023

55th Security Consultative Meeting Joint Communique

U.S. Department of Defense

1. The 55th United States (U.S.)-Republic of Korea (ROK) Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) was held in Seoul, ROK, on November 13, 2023. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and ROK Minister of National Defense Shin Won-sik led their respective delegations, which included senior defense and foreign affairs officials. On November 12, 2023, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr., and ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Kim Seung-Kyum, presided over the 48th ROK-U.S. Military Committee Meeting (MCM). 

2. The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance is the linchpin of peace, stability, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond based on our shared values including freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Both sides assessed that these shared values have underpinned the Alliance for the past 70 years and contributed to its position as one of the most dynamic and premier alliances in the world. In particular, the two leaders reaffirmed the shared vision of "developing into a global comprehensive strategic Alliance" as stated in the historic April 2023 "Joint Statement in Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Alliance between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea," which was adopted by the presidents of the two countries. They emphasized that the Alliance will jointly respond to threats and challenges by promoting wide-ranging cooperation, deepening regional engagement, and expanding our strong bilateral relations. They highlighted the various exercises and events planned and organized by the two defense ministries on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Alliance, including the Combined Joint Live-Fire Exercise, Combined Amphibious Operation, and Incheon Amphibious Landing Operations Commemoration Ceremony. Both sides assessed that these exercises demonstrate the progress in our combined defense posture and Alliance coordination on the Korean Peninsula.

In commemoration of the 55th SCM during the 70th Anniversary of the Alliance, the two leaders endorsed the "Defense Vision of the U.S.-ROK Alliance" as a blueprint for the future in preparation for the Alliance's 100th anniversary. Through the announcement of the Defense Vision, the two sides presented three key pillars of Alliance cooperation for the next 30 years: enhancing extended deterrence efforts against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), modernizing Alliance capabilities by evolving into a science and technology alliance, and strengthening solidarity and regional security cooperation with like-minded partners.

The Secretary and the Minister assessed that the current U.S.-ROK Alliance is stronger than ever and reaffirmed the two nations' unwavering mutual commitment to a combined defense posture as stated in the U.S-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the ROK, and as reflected in the Washington Declaration. The two leaders also resolved to continue to strengthen the Alliances' deterrence and response posture against DPRK aggression and promote stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

The Secretary and the Minister noted that the SCM plays a pivotal role in the continued development of the U.S.-ROK Alliance as the main venue to discuss and affirm Alliance commitments and issues, as well as provide strategic guidance to the combined force. Both sides pledged to continue to develop the Alliance into a deeper and globally comprehensive strategic relationship based on the SCM.

3. The Secretary and the Minister reviewed the current security environment in and around the Korean Peninsula and discussed cooperative measures between the two nations. The Minister expressed grave concern that the DPRK has recently diversified its nuclear delivery systems and publicly reiterated its refusal to abandon nuclear weapons and to advance nuclear capabilities by adding its nuclear force policy to its constitution last September. The two sides condemned the DPRK's multiple missile launches, including ballistic missiles, its attempted launch of a DPRK-claimed "Space Launch Vehicle," and Russian-DPRK arms trade as clear violations of existing UN Security Council Resolutions. They noted that these actions present profound security challenges to the international community and pose an increasingly serious threat to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as around the world. Both leaders called on the international community to hold DPRK accountable for its actions. Secretary Austin reiterated the firm U.S. commitment to provide extended deterrence to the ROK, utilizing the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, missile defense, and advanced non-nuclear capabilities. He noted that any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the United States or its Allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime in line with the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review declaratory policy. They applauded the growing cooperation in our extended deterrence activities, including information sharing, enhancing our consultation mechanisms, joint planning and execution, as well as regularizing strategic asset deployments based on the Washington Declaration. The two sides also pledged to strengthen the combined defense architecture and accelerate expanding the ROK-side role in preparation against DPRK's nuclear and other WMD use and conventional threats.

The two leaders assessed bilateral mechanisms such as the U.S.-Korea Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD), the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG), and the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) serve to strengthen the Alliance combined deterrence posture. They pledged to continue close consultation through these mechanisms to identify means to further strengthen extended deterrence. The two leaders also agreed to continue to assess ways to synchronize and align U.S.-ROK bilateral defense mechanisms and engagements in support of Alliance objectives more effectively and efficiently.

The Secretary and the Minister endorsed the 2023 Tailored Deterrence Strategy (TDS), which was revised for the first time in ten years. They recognized that the 2023 TDS revisions render it into a flexible and robust document that serves as a strategic framework to effectively deter and respond to advancing DPRK nuclear and other WMD and non-nuclear capabilities with strategic impacts. Also, both leaders noted that the 2023 TDS reflects guidance on ways to leverage the full range of U.S. military capabilities, including U.S. nuclear capabilities and ROK conventional capabilities, in preparation against DPRK nuclear and other WMD attacks across armistice, crisis, and wartime. The two leaders agreed that the 2023 TDS will further strengthen Alliance posture and capabilities in preparation for any possible DPRK nuclear employment scenarios, as a document to inform our respective planners. The Secretary and the Minister applauded the successful DSC Table-top-exercise (TTX) held last February in Washington, D.C., which focused on a DPRK nuclear use scenario for the first time and pledged to hold simulations and TTXs regularly involving U.S. and ROK policy, government, and military personnel to continue the joint planning and coordination process. The two leaders assessed the work of the newly inaugurated NCG following the Washington Declaration and agreed that the NCG will serve a key role in developing combined defense posture as a bilateral consultative body to strengthen extended deterrence, discuss nuclear and strategic planning, and manage DPRK threats to the Alliance and to the nonproliferation regime posed by the DPRK. In particular, the Secretary and Minister recognized that the ROK and United States have been formulating the Alliance's effective response measures in preparation of the DPRK's nuclear use through the NCG of which work streams include joint execution and planning for ROK conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations in a contingency. In addition, both leaders noted they look forward to continued close coordination in the NCG and receiving regular updates on NCG progress activities at future SCMs.

4. The Secretary and the Minister agreed to pursue expanded cooperation of the U.S. Shared Early Warning System (SEWS) to enhance the Alliance's detection capabilities against advanced DPRK missile threats. They also commended the work of the Counter-Missile Working Group (CMWG) and agreed to initiate a "Joint Study" to further develop the Alliance's comprehensive counter-missile strategy. Further, they assessed the work of the Program Analysis Working Group for the U.S.-ROK Missile Defense (PAWG), which addresses evolving DPRK missile threats, and pledged to continue relevant cooperation.

5. To achieve the complete denuclearization of the DPRK, the two sides pledged to continue coordinating on efforts to deter DPRK's nuclear threat with the Alliance's overwhelming strength, while continuing to pursue efforts through sanctions and pressure to dissuade DPRK's nuclear development, and pursue dialogue and diplomacy. In this regard, Secretary Austin expressed support for the ROK's Audacious Initiative as well as the vision for a unified Korean Peninsula. The two sides pledged to continue coordinating on efforts to encourage the DPRK regime to move toward denuclearization.

Both leaders stressed the importance of the international community's role in driving the complete denuclearization of the DPRK and emphasized full implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) by the entire international community, including the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Russia, both permanent members of the UNSC. The two sides emphasized the need for the international community to actively impede and counter the DPRK's reckless activities so that DPRK will choose to abandon its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development. To this end, the two leaders agreed to work closely with each other and the international community to combat the DPRK's malicious cyber activities, cryptocurrency theft, overseas laborer dispatches, and ship-to-ship transfers. The Secretary and the Minister concurred that the Armistice Agreement remains in effect as an international norm guaranteeing the stable security order on the Korean Peninsula, and that all parties of the Korean War should abide by it while it remains in force. Minister Shin further conveyed the ROK's position that the Northern Limit Line (NLL) has been an effective means of separating ROK and DPRK military forces and preventing military tension. The two leaders reaffirmed that they would continue to closely cooperate in pursuit of these objectives, recognized diplomatic efforts as the most preferred path to secure peace on the Korean Peninsula, and concurred that such diplomatic efforts must be backed by a robust and credible combined defense posture by the two countries' defense authorities.

6. The Secretary and the Minister also reflected on the critical role that U.S. forces in the ROK have played for more than 70 years and reaffirmed that U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) continues to play a decisive role in preventing armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, and in promoting peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Secretary Austin also noted that the Indo-Pacific region is the Department of Defense's priority theater and reiterated the U.S. commitment to maintain current USFK force levels to defend the ROK. He highlighted the increased frequency and routinization of U.S. strategic asset deployments this year, including a U.S. SSBN's visit to the ROK for the first time in more than 40 years, and two iterations of Carrier Strike Group deployments. The Secretary also reaffirmed that these strategic asset deployments are consistent with President Biden's commitment to enhance rotational deployments of U.S. strategic assets in and around the Korean Peninsula, as tangible evidence of the U.S. commitment to defend the ROK. In addition, the two leaders reaffirmed the two defense authorities will work closely together to implement the commitment from the Washington Declaration that the United States will further enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula as well as expand and deepen coordination between their militaries.

Secretary Austin and Minister Shin reaffirmed the role of the United Nations Command (UNC) in implementing, managing, and enforcing the 1953 Armistice Agreement, deterring DPRK aggression, and coordinating multinational contributions to security on the Korean Peninsula. Both leaders shared a common understanding that UNC remains a model for international solidarity to enable peace, security, and stability on the Korean Peninsula. They reaffirmed that the UNC has successfully contributed those aims for over 70 years and will continue to carry out its mission and tasks with the utmost respect for ROK sovereignty. Both sides applauded the first "ROK-UNC Member States Defense Ministerial Meeting" to be held in Seoul this year on the 70th anniversary year of the Armistice Agreement. The Secretary and the Minister also expressed their expectation that this meeting will serve as an opportunity to strengthen cooperation and solidarity between the ROK, as the host nation of the UNC, and UNC Member States moving forward. In this regard, the two leaders agreed to explore ways to expand combined exercises and enhance interoperability between the ROK and UNC Member States to increase UNC's contributions to security on the Korean Peninsula, while seeking ways to support UNC in implementing the Armistice Agreement. To these ends, the two leaders agreed to seek to broaden UNC membership through the participation of like-minded countries that share the same values with the ROK and the United States, anchored in the principles and mandates of the UN Charter.

7. The Secretary and the Minister received and endorsed the MCM Report to the SCM presented by the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command (CFC) Commander, General Paul J. LaCamera. Based on the report, they committed to enhance combined defense capabilities against DPRK threats, strengthen nuclear and WMD deterrence and response posture, conduct the systematic and stable transition of operational control (OPCON), develop relevant operation plans (OPLANs), and expand U.S.-ROK-Japan security cooperation. The two leaders also assessed that there was significant progress in effectively responding to a variety of security challenges following changes to the strategic environment.

8. The Secretary and Minister assessed that the Freedom Shield 23 (FS 23) and Ulchi Freedom Shield 23 (UFS 23) exercises contributed to bolstering combined readiness. In particular, the Alliance conducted UFS 23 under a realistic operational environment that reflected the DPRK's advancing nuclear and missile threats as well as the possibility of a rapid transition to wartime conditions, significantly enhanced the Alliance's crisis management and all-out war execution capabilities. The two sides also assessed that the combined field exercises performed in conjunction with FS and UFS exercises enhanced combined operation execution capabilities. Further, considering DPRK's advancing nuclear and missile capabilities and institutionalization of its nuclear force policy, they pledged to further discuss the inclusion of a DPRK nuclear use during a future U.S.-ROK combined exercise. Both leaders pledged to work closely to expand the scale and types of field exercises in line with combined exercises in 2024, noting that training for defensive and deterrent purposes is a critical component of maintaining Alliance readiness. The two sides assessed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance must continue to focus on combat readiness and on the combined defense posture to address dynamic changes on the Korean Peninsula.

9. The Secretary and the Minister emphasized that ensuring stable training opportunities for USFK is critical to maintaining a strong combined defense posture. Secretary Austin noted the efforts of ROK MND to improve the training conditions for U.S. and South Korean troops and concurred on the importance of maintaining ongoing communication and close cooperation between USFK and MND to coordinate the joint use of ROK facilities and airspace for U.S. and ROK training. 

10. After reviewing the progress on directed tasks from the Conditions-based Wartime OPCON Transition Plan (COTP), the two leaders discussed the way forward for wartime OPCON transition to the Future Combined Forces Command (F-CFC). The Secretary and the Minister also reaffirmed that the conditions stated in the bilaterally approved COTP must be met before the wartime OPCON is transitioned in a stable and systematic manner.

The two leaders applauded the progress made in completing the annual U.S.-ROK bilateral evaluation on the capabilities and systems for conditions #1 and #2 based on the assessment criteria and standards bilaterally agreed through the joint study and confirmed the progress had been made in many areas. Regarding condition #3, the Secretary and the Minister concurred that meaningful progress had been made in conducting the first assessment of the regional security environment, based on the bilaterally agreed assessment methods and criteria. The two leaders agreed to further advance the assessment process of the regional security environment through close coordination.

They also confirmed that notable progress had been made on conducting the Full Mission Capability (FMC) assessment of the Combined Ground Component Command (CGCC) and the Full Operational Capability (FOC) assessment of the Combined Special Operations Component Command (CSOCC) during Freedom Shield (FS) and Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercises in 2023. The two leaders pledged to redouble collective efforts to pursue CGCC, CSOCC and Combined Military Intelligence Support Operations Component Command (CMISOCC)'s transition to standing component commands under close consultation.

The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed that F-CFC FOC certification would be pursued when the results of the bilateral evaluation on the capabilities and systems of conditions #1 and #2 meet the bilaterally agreed-upon levels. In addition, they concurred on the need to closely cooperate to advance the comprehensive and interoperable capabilities of the Alliance. Both sides pledged to engage in regular evaluation and review of the progress in wartime OPCON transition implementation through annual MCM's and SCM's to strengthen the Alliance and combined defense capabilities via the Alliance's collective efforts to meet the conditions. 

11. The Secretary and the Minister decided to continue strengthening cooperation in space and cyber, to ensure an effective combined response against growing threats and to bolster comprehensive Alliance response capabilities. The Secretary and the Minister acknowledged the efforts of the respective defense authorities working to promote the security of critical infrastructure, including information and space systems. The two leaders applauded the work of the Space Cooperation Working Group and pledged to further strengthen the Alliance's space cooperation including expanding space situational awareness information sharing. The two sides also acknowledged that the Space Cooperation TTX, held this September for first time in six years, contributed to deepening discussions on the direction of bilateral space cooperation while enhancing common understanding of deterrence and threats in the space domain. As the leaders of the two countries committed to expand the Alliance's cooperation into cyberspace with the signing of the Cybersecurity Cooperation Framework in April this year, the Secretary and the Minister pledged to expand defense cyber cooperation to strengthen the joint response posture against cybersecurity threats. They highlighted the work of the May 2023 Cyber Cooperation Working Group and committed to further deepen coordination in the defense cyber domain including the establishment of the first bilateral cyber exercise and participation of the ROK in the annual U.S.-led Cyber Flag exercise.

12. The Minister and the Secretary concurred on the need to strengthen the national defense capabilities of the Alliance, and to establish more efficient and effective collaboration in the development, acquisition, and employment of these capabilities. While recognizing the increasingly significant linkages between advanced technology and national security, the two sides agreed to strengthen the Alliance's interoperability and interchangeability and continue to strengthen readiness through expanding cooperation in the areas of defense research and development, industrial cooperation, and capability acquisition. The two leaders noted the previous efforts to strengthen the connection between the two countries' defense industrial bases, including the Security of Supply Arrangement (SOSA), which will soon be concluded, and called for efforts to conclude a U.S.-ROK Reciprocal Defense Procurement Agreement to strengthen cooperation in the defense industry. They also concurred on the need to expand additional cooperation on weapon systems including ships to enhance security capacity in the Indo-Pacific region. The two leaders reaffirmed that U.S.-ROK defense science and technology cooperation has expanded in various domains such as space, quantum, cyber defense, artificial intelligence, autonomy, and directed energy. They also pledged to continue the dialogue between the MND and the DoD to use future-generation wireless communication technologies for combined operations. The Secretary and the Minister pledged to continue exchange activities between U.S-ROK consultative bodies that address defense research and development, as well as industrial cooperation, capability acquisition, lifecycle logistics, and technology security. The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to evaluate and evolve bilateral consultative bodies to strengthen efficacy and timeliness of cooperation in the aforementioned areas. In particular, they noted the beginning of discussions on the establishment of a senior-level consultative body to enhance policy and strategic cooperation in science and technology between the DoD and MND and pledged to continue to work together to advance the common interests of the two countries.

13. The Secretary and the Minister shared a common understanding that U.S.-ROK security cooperation plays a critical role in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific that is connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient. To this end, the Secretary and the Minister pledged to continue promoting security cooperation to better respond to the increasingly complex regional and global security situation. In this context, the two leaders committed to share the two countries' policy direction and cooperation status and seek specific cooperation in implementing the ROK's Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, lawful unimpeded commerce, and respect for international law including freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful use of the seas, including the South China Sea and beyond. The Secretary and the Minister also acknowledged the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as reflected in the April 2023 "Joint Statement in Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Alliance between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea." They pledged to continue promoting regional defense and security cooperation. They also reaffirmed support for Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) centrality and the ASEAN-led regional architecture. In particular, the two leaders noted the importance of creating cooperative synergies as part of implementing both the ROK and U.S. respective strategies for the Indo-Pacific. They agreed to leverage the newly established Korea – United States Regional Cooperation Working Group (RCWG) to strengthen defense cooperation with ASEAN members and work together with the Pacific Island Countries to contribute to maritime security.

The two leaders concurred on the need to promote democracy, safeguard human rights, and the rule of law. They assessed that various efforts, including counter-piracy operations, stabilization and reconstruction efforts, peacekeeping operations, regional security cooperation initiatives, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, contribute to peace, stability, and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

14. The Secretary and the Minister concurred that the Camp David Summit marked a new chapter in U.S.-ROK-Japan security cooperation and reviewed the progress of the defense-related deliverables agreed upon by the three leaders. The two sides applauded the finalization of the trilateral arrangement to share DPRK missile warning data in real time. They also reviewed the status of institutionalizing a multi-year trilateral military exercise plan and pledged to conduct trilateral exercises in a systematic manner from next year based on the exercise plan after finalizing the exercise plan by the end of 2023. The Secretary and the Minister also reaffirmed their commitment to continuing to promote and expand trilateral security cooperation including senior-level policy consultations, trilateral exercises, information sharing, and defense exchange cooperation.

15. Amidst the DPRK's continued development of nuclear and missile programs, the Secretary and the Minister recognized the need for sanctions enforcement in the region and welcomed continued multinational contributions to counter-proliferation activities in the region. The Secretary expressed appreciation for the ROK's contribution to global security efforts, including hosting the Proliferation Security Initiative's 20th Anniversary High-level Political Meeting and Multinational Maritime Interdiction Exercises. Both leaders concurred on the importance of upholding and fully implementing all relevant UNSCRs. The Secretary and the Minister applauded the work done over the last year in the U.S.-ROK Counter WMD Committee (CWMDC) to enhance the Alliance's combined response capabilities by expanding information sharing to practically respond to DPRK's WMD threats and pursuing cooperation in the area of consequence management. They reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing cooperation to address existing DPRK sanctions evasion tactics and illicit cyber activities, and committed to seek additional opportunities for responding to WMD threats from the DPRK. Additionally, the two leaders resolved to continue strengthening cooperation to enhance CWMD capabilities through measures including CWMDC and U.S. DOD Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs, which have enhanced Alliance CWMD capabilities

16. The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed that expediting the relocation and return of U.S. military bases in the ROK is in the interests of both countries to ensure the balanced development of the ROK and the conditions for the stationing of U.S. forces in the ROK, and agreed to work closely on relevant matters to ensure the timely return of the bases in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and related agreements. The two leaders reaffirmed their joint commitment to expedite the return of Yongsan Garrison for the complete construction of Yongsan National Park, and to discuss the return of other U.S. military bases through regular consultations through SOFA channels to reach mutually acceptable outcomes in the future.

17. Secretary Austin expressed his gratitude that the ROK is contributing toward ensuring a stable environment for U.S. Forces Korea. The Secretary and Minister also assessed that the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) has greatly contributed to the strengthening of the U.S.-ROK combined defense posture.

18. Secretary Austin and Minister Shin expressed appreciation for the courtesy, hospitality, and work by both sides that contributed to the success of this year's SCM. Both leaders affirmed that the discussions during the 55th SCM and the 48th MCM contributed to substantively strengthening the U.S.-ROK Alliance and further developing the bilateral defense relationship. Both sides expect to hold the 56th SCM and 49th MCM in Washington, D.C., at a mutually convenient time in 2024.