Defense Issues: Volume 10, Number 100-- Alliance Forged in War, Tempered by Regional Challenges
The friendship and the alliance between the United States and South Korea were forged in a crucible of a terrible war -- a war which ended in a stalemate, but a war which preserved the freedom for the people of South Korea.
Since then, the Korean Peninsula has been free of war, but it has not had peace. North Korea continues to spend one-fourth of its gross national product for its military. It has an army of more than 1 million men -- two-thirds of which are based within 100 kilometers of the border. And it has missiles deployed or under test capable of reaching all of South Korea and Japan.
To counter this threat, we have built the U.S.-Korea alliance like a large building with a very firm foundation. Together, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea troops comprise a formidable fighting force, one that is integrated at all levels: from the foxholes among the DMZ [demilitarized zone] to the front offices of a combined military command in Seoul.
Several times each year we conduct major exercises to test our powerful combined capabilities. Though these exercises are purely defensive in nature, they send a clear message, a message that any attack against South Korea would be met by overwhelming forces. This is not only a powerful force, it is a force at high levels of readiness.
Any attack, then, would be met with overwhelming force and would end in the certain defeat of the attacker. We believe this, and, more importantly, the North Koreans believe it and that has led to the deterrence of war now for more than 45 years.
Last year, this military balance was threatened when North Korea's potential nuclear weapon threat began to emerge. Let me remind you of just how serious this threat was. Early last year, North Korea was threatening to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty. They were threatening to reprocess the spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor and to vastly expand its dangerous weapons program.
Had they continued with this reprocessing, which they were on the verge of doing, they would have fuel for about six nuclear weapons. And they could have achieved those nuclear weapons by this time. In other words, had that continued last year, they would be this time actually have about half a dozen nuclear bombs. And the program they embarked on would have given them the capabilities that would make about 10 nuclear bombs a year, on into in the future.
We regarded this threat as so serious that we told the North Koreans that we would apply severe sanctions against them if they did not agree to stop and immediately stop the reprocessing. The application of sanctions would have dealt a crippling blow to an already sick economy in North Korea. North Korea responded by announcing publicly and loudly that any impositions of sanctions would be considered an act of war.
Thus last June, when we were within days of the North Koreans beginning the reprocessing, President Clinton convened his security council, and he had two issues in front of him. One of them was a proposal to impose the sanctions. And the second was to simultaneously embark on a major reinforcement of our forces in Korea.
I made those proposals to the president. I'm very aware of how serious we regarded the issue. On that very day, indeed, during that meeting, we received word that the North Koreans were prepared to stop the reprocessing and sit down and discuss the proposal to stop their entire nuclear weapon program.
These talks, which began a week after this meeting I described to you, led by October of that year to what we call the framework agreement. The resolve and determination of the United States and South Korea and Japan forced North Korea to shut down this dangerous nuclear weapon program and accept the framework agreement.
This agreement goes a long way to lowering tensions by taking nuclear weapons out of the security equation and by encouraging North Korea to establish more normal relations with South Korea and with other countries in the world.
This week is the one-year anniversary of this agreement. The agreement, in time, will take about 10 years for full implementation. But in this past year we have already made great progress. North Korea's nuclear program remains frozen. And we expect to soon begin putting the dangerous spent fuel rods into secured containers preparatory to moving them out of North Korea.
And another important step, North Korea has agreed to negotiate with the business consortium that will provide reactors to replace the fuel producing reactors that North Korea presently owns. This consortium was made up of a number of countries, including South Korea.
That is a reminder to all of us, but especially to the North, that the real key to tension reduction and a lasting peace on the peninsula is a reconciliation between the two parts of Korea. But while the agreed framework lowers the tensions that could lead to conflict, it is not in and of itself a move towards normalization on the part of North Korea.
The new power structure of North Korean, which came into power shortly after the agreement was signed, has embraced the old thinking and the rhetoric of the Cold War. The threat to the alliance appears to be the same. ...
Now maintaining the peace on the Korean Peninsula is the most pressing security problem in the Asia-Pacific region today. But the security interest of the United States extends to the entire Asia-Pacific region. So, I'm constantly faced with the issue of how do we extend -- how do we protect -- these security interests in such a large and such a diverse area.
The first component of our security strategy in the Asian Pacific is a strong forward military presence. We have today, and we plan to keep, the forward presence deployment of 100,000 troops, including a large naval force afloat. This forward presence continues to provide a security umbrella for the entire region. And under this security umbrella, we've had an unprecedented era of economic growth and stability.
The second component of a security strategy is the promotion of multilateral initiatives to reduce tensions and promote peace throughout the region. We encourage participation in joint military training exercises and joint peacekeeping operations.
We make the full use of multilateral institutions in the area. ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the ASEAN regional forum offer opportunities where we can address mutual security challenges. And the APEC -- the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation -- can help us find ways to accelerate free trade and prosperity all through the region.
Last month, defense delegations from 34 Asia-Pacific nations, including many of the ministers of defense of those countries, joined me in Hawaii marking the end of the Second World War. That same weekend, we cut the ribbon on a new center -- a security study center in Hawaii where civilian and military personnel from all across the Pacific can practice security relations on a personal level.
This center, by the way, is the Asian counterpart to the Marshall Center, which is located in Germany, which has been very successful in providing the same functions of security studies in Europe.
A third component of our Asia-Pacific strategy is our policy of engaging China. We will not in the United States ignore China's record on human rights nor its sale and testing of dangerous weapons. These are issues of great concern to us. But we will not try to isolate China over these issues. It is foolhardy to try to isolate the world's largest population and one of the world's largest and fastest-growing economies, a country that has a strong military force in the region and a nation that borders areas of instability where our interests are very much at stake.
There is a lot to gain from engaging China. Through engagement, we can address a broad range of global and security concerns. Our military-to-military contacts put us in touch with the highest level of the People's Liberation Army, which has great influence in China.
In this way, we can encourage China to play a positive role in the region and remain a responsible member of the international community.
The fourth, and certainly the most important, component of our security strategy in Asia continues to be our alliances. Our alliance with Japan is the cornerstone of Asia-Pacific security strategy. This alliance has helped keep the lid on regional conflicts. It has guaranteed freedom of the sea. It's reduced the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoted democracy, respect for human rights and free markets.
We recently took stock of this alliance during a year-long joint security review, and both countries reached the same conclusion that our close partnership is vital to the economic and political health of the region, indeed of the world. We are two of the world's most powerful democracies. We have the world's two largest economies, and we share the common goals of seeing prosperity and freedom flourish throughout the globe.
At the summit coming up in November, both countries will make commitments in the security statement to even closer bilateral cooperation. Japan will commit to continue supporting our forward presence in the region and providing a substantial part of the cost of keeping our troops on its soil. Together, we will commit to expanding our contributions to regional security and to increase our mutual support for global security initiatives.
Complementing our alliance with Japan in regional security matters, of course, is the U.S. and South Korea military alliance. This alliance continues to be rock solid, as together we face the continuing security challenge from North Korea.
Next week, I will attend the security meetings with senior military and defense officials from both Republic of Korea and the United States. This is only one of the many high-level visits and meetings held each year where we discuss issues relating to security of both Korea and of the region.
The foundations for these alliances are indeed solid. But we must be sure that termites do not eat through the foundation. We must constantly work to maintain and improve our relationship through regular consultations and through military exercises.
And in particular we need to make the extra effort to educate and inform our citizens of the critical importance of the alliance. We need to get this message across to our citizens through the media, through government addresses, public forums -- all dealing with security issues in the Asia-Pacific region in general and in Korea peninsula in particular.
The alliance has kept the peace for over four decades. But with the continuing threats of North Korea, this work is not yet finished. Just how close our alliance has become is captured in two images from President Kim [Young Sam]'s summer visit to Washington, D.C. The first was when the two presidents unveiled the Korea War memorials recognizing the roots of our relationship.
The second occurred during a lighthearted moment when our two presidents went jogging together: two friends keeping pace together on a common path.
The United States and South Korea are on a common path because we share the values of democracy and freedom. We share a strong faith in market economies and a desire to bring a strong and lasting peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula and to the Asia-Pacific region.
Thank you very much.
Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/index.html