SEOUL, South Korea, Sept. 30, 2013 – The U.S.-South Korean alliance that began here 60 years ago was based on mutual defense, but has grown into a force for global peace and stability, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here today.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, second from right, stand at the Ouellette Observation Post at the Demilitarized Zone separating North Korea and South Korea, Sept. 30, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hagel spoke at a state dinner hosted by South Korean President Park Geun-hye and honoring the 60th anniversary of the alliance.
The secretary noted this week’s events cap a year’s celebration of that anniversary.
“In May, I had the privilege of welcoming President Park on her first visit to the United States,” he said. “And in July, I was honored to join President [Barack] Obama … and many others at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, where we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.”
Hagel noted that tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the armistice’s signing, and it also Armed Forces Day, the anniversary of the day “South Korean forces punched back through the 38th parallel during the Korean War.”
Both celebrations represent an alliance formed on shared sacrifice, the secretary said. He noted that today he visited the Demilitarized Zone, a 4-kilometer stretch of neutral territory separating democratic South Korea from communist North Korea.
Hagel said the DMZ, bristling with barricades, mines and electric fences, is “a chilling reminder of the threat North Korea poses not only to this country, but to the region, and to the United States homeland as well.”
But the alliance stands vigilant against any threat from the North, he said, and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division “is proud, ready, and prepared to ‘fight tonight’ if it has to.”
The secretary also met with Park today, and he observed joint U.S.-South Korean military training, where he spoke to soldiers from both nations.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command; and Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, joined Hagel in his meeting with the South Korean president at the Blue House here.
“Secretary Hagel thanked President Park for her strong commitment to the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance and, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the mutual defense treaty, Secretary Hagel expressed the unwavering commitment of the United States to the defense of South Korea,” Little said.
Hagel pledged to work closely with the South Korean Defense Ministry to continue to strengthen this alliance, is the press secretary added, calling the alliance “a linchpin of security in Northeast Asia.”
They also discussed the latest assessment of the threat from North Korea, and steps South Korean and U.S. forces are taking to more effectively respond together to provocations of any kind, Little said.
Hagel also commended the regular trilateral security cooperation with Japan to counter the North Korean threat, he said, and highlighted the importance the United States places on this type of cooperation.
At tonight’s dinner, Hagel said the 60th anniversary celebrations culminating here this week are about “more than what we have accomplished here on this peninsula — including this country’s transformation into an economic and military power.”
The alliance has grown into a global partnership that transcends national borders and regional boundaries, he said, and South Korea has stood by its promise of mutual defense.
“In every major military engagement the United States has undertaken since [the Korean War], we have lived by the motto ‘We Go Together,’” Hagel said, translating the Korean phrase “Katchi Kapshida,” the alliance’s motto.
“We have gone together in Vietnam, where I served alongside South Korean soldiers,” the secretary said. He added that in 1968, “they were some of the toughest, bravest fighting men I have ever encountered. And they were some of the most dependable.”
Since then, Hagel added, South Korean medical, engineer, transport and other troops have contributed to U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Lebanon, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The secretary said as the Afghanistan mission comes to “a responsible end next year, the U.S. military is proud to have served with our Korean allies once again.”
The alliance will continue to develop, Hagel said.
“While the root of our alliance will always be the defense of territory, building on that foundation will let us go together into the future as active strategic partners — both here on the Korean Peninsula, and around the world,” the secretary said.
“Tonight and tomorrow, as we celebrate this special milestone, let us also rededicate our commitment to building a long, secure, and prosperous future together,” Hagel said.
As the longstanding alliance reaches the 60-year milestone, Hagel reaffirmed its enduring quality.
“The United States and the Republic of Korea have stood together in the past, we stand together today, and we will stand together in the future,” he said.