Leaders Meet on Future of U.S.-South Korea Alliance
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 21, 2005 U.S. and South Korean defense leaders today revalidated the alliance that's helped keep peace on the Korean peninsula for more than 50 years and explored ways to improve it to better meet changing world circumstances.
Meeting here for the 37th annual Security Consultative Meeting, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Yoon Kwang-ung, the Republic of Korea's national defense minister, agreed on the continued need to maintain a U.S. troop presence in South Korea.
As part of that agreement, Rumsfeld reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to South Korea's security, including providing a nuclear umbrella consistent with the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.
While reaffirming long-held commitments, the defense ministers also addressed transformations taking place within both their militaries and their effect on the alliance.
The discussions covered changes in "the posture and makeup of U.S. forces in and around the peninsula," as well as South Korea's plans "to transform its forces and take on more responsibility for its defense," Rumsfeld told reporters during a joint news conference following the session.
Both defense ministers expressed satisfaction with progress on three previously agreed-upon actions involving U.S. forces in Korea: relocations of Yongsan Garrison and the 2nd Infantry Division and scheduled troop redeployments, defense officials told reporters on background.
Successful completion of U.S. Forces Korea bases "will serve as the cornerstone for the future of the ROK-U.S. Alliance," the ministers agreed in a communiqué released following the meeting.
The ministers agreed "to appropriately accelerate" talks about granting South Korea wartime operational control of its military forces during wartime. South Korea assumed control of its military during peacetime in 1994, but wartime control has remained in U.S. hands since the Korean War.
Such a shift would take place "at that moment when the Republic of Korea and the United States of America decided that it was appropriate," Rumsfeld said in response to a reporter's question about a possible timetable.
Recognizing the threat posed by global terrorism, the two ministers agreed bilateral cooperation on the issue would enhance the existing U.S.-ROK alliance.
Rumsfeld thanked the South Korean military for contributing more than 3,000 troops to support stability and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. "This is certainly a good example of how the Republic of Korea has emerged as a leading force for peace and stability across the globe," he said.
As the military alliance between the two countries evolves, Rumsfeld reaffirmed the United States' commitment to South Korea and to "preserve and strengthen the credibility of the deterrent against either over-aggression or nuclear blackmail."
"The commitment of the United States of America to the people of South Korea has been a significant one," the secretary said. "And today we see a relationship between our two countries evolving to recognize the important changes that have taken place over the past five decades."
Gone, he said, is the "impoverished and devastated" Republic of Korea that first entered into an alliance with the United States more than half a century ago. Today, South Korea "has one of the world's most powerful economies and is an important democracy with a large and increasingly capable armed force," he said.
Asked by a reporter if it's not the United States, rather than North Korea, that poses the greater threat to peace in South Korea and the region, Rumsfeld responded with characteristic frankness.
"The United States of America has invested the lives of a great number of Americans in helping the Republic of Korea to be free," he said. "We have invested a great deal of the American people's money to help the people of (South Korea) be free, and for this peninsula to be peaceful and stable."
Rumsfeld emphasized that the United States is part of the alliance at the Republic of Korea's request, and that the two countries, working together, have helped build a strong, stable South Korea.
"Thanks to the industriousness of the people of the Republic of Korea and to the peace and stability that the alliance between our two countries has provided this peninsula, you have seen the economic growth and success and energy and vitality and opportunity for the people of this country over a period of many decades now," he said. "And if there's anything that's clear in this world, it's that conflict and instability prevents economic opportunity and prosperity."
The United States and its people are "proud to have made that contribution to this peninsula in the interest of the people of this country and the people of this region," Rumsfeld said.