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ROK-US Alliance 60th Anniversary Dinner

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Seoul, South Korea, Monday, September 30, 2013

Good evening.  President Park, Minister Kim, General Paik, distinguished guests:  I am honored to be here in the Republic of Korea for this historic celebration.  I bring greetings, Madam President, from President Obama and the gratitude of the American people for your steadfast friendship.

This has been a year devoted to renewing our alliance of shared values and common purpose.  In May, I had the privilege of welcoming President Park on her first visit to the United States.  And in July, I was honored to join President Obama in hosting General Paik and many others at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, where we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the 60th Anniversary, the hwan gap, of the signing of our Mutual Defense Treaty.  It is also Armed Forces Day, as Minister Kim noted, the day that South Korean forces punched back through the 38th parallel during the Korean War.

It is appropriate that these celebrations fall on the same day.  The unwavering alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea has endured because it was forged through a history of shared sacrifice.

Those ties are embodied by General Paik Sun-Yup, in whose name we are presenting an award tonight, as well as its recipient, the late General Walton Walker, who led the defense of the Pusan Perimeter…Both generals were strong, decisive leaders during the war, and their courage has inspired and shaped our alliance.

In fact, General Paik was one of the first people to talk to President Eisenhower about the idea of a mutual defense treaty between our two nations – a treaty that became a linchpin of stability and prosperity throughout the region.

And that first word – mutual – is what makes it all work.  It’s what’s so important.

For sixty years, U.S. and South Korean forces have stood together against aggression on ‘freedom’s frontier.’  Earlier today, as Minister Kim noted, he and I visited with some of our troops stationed near the DMZ.  It was 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.  Yet we remain vigilant against any threat from the North.  The Second Infantry Division is proud, ready, and prepared to ‘fight tonight’ if it has to.

But our celebration tonight is about more than what we have accomplished here on this peninsula – including this country’s transformation into an economic and military power.  We are also celebrating the reality that our alliance has grown into a global partnership that transcends national borders and regional boundaries.

When the United States Senate was debating whether to ratify our Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of Korea, the Senate Majority Leader, William Knowland, said he had “no doubt that if this nation ever became involved in a war anywhere in the world … the Republic of Korea would be there.”

In hindsight, these words could not have been more prescient.

In every major military engagement the United States has undertaken since then, we have lived by the motto “we go together.”

We have gone together in Vietnam, where I served alongside South Korean soldiers.  They were some of the toughest, bravest fighting men I have ever encountered.  And they were some of the most dependable.

We have gone together in the Persian Gulf, where you deployed troops for medical and transportation support during Operation Desert Storm.

We have gone together in Somalia, in Lebanon, and Haiti, where South Korean troops helped with important humanitarian and peacekeeping missions.

We have gone together in Iraq, where you deployed thousands of combat medics and engineers to help with reconstruction and humanitarian aid. 

And we have gone together in Afghanistan, where you have sent not only troops, doctors, and engineers, but also a full [Provincial] Reconstruction Team.  As we bring that mission to a responsible end next year, the U.S. military is proud to have served with our Korean allies once again.

For sixty years, the words katchi kapshida – we go together – have defined this alliance. But the threats in this increasingly complex and dangerous world demand that we continue to go together.  And we will.

Even though our alliance has never been stronger than it is today, that does not mean we cannot grow and mature.  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.  As two prosperous nations, and highly capable militaries, there is much we can do to contribute to the security of this region, and the world, if we continue to go together.

I am told that the hwan gap is not only a celebration of longevity, but also a reaffirmation of hope for an even longer, more secure, and more prosperous life.  Tonight and tomorrow, as we celebrate this special milestone, let us also rededicate our commitment to building a long, secure, and prosperous future together. 

This alliance has changed a great deal over the past 60 years, and it will continue to change in the future.  But there should be no doubt – no doubt – that it will always change for the better. 

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. 

Thank you.

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