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U.S., Republic of Korea: Past, Present, Future Allies

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 1996 – A steady stream of visitors recently strolled past the Korean War Veterans Memorial that opened here in August. A lone, colorful bouquet adorned the monument's gray granite, triangular slab. A red ribbon bore the donor's name -- Kim Dong-Jin, minister of national defense, Republic of Korea.

Kim paid tribute to those who helped preserve his nation's independence during a trip to Washington for the 28th U.S.-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting. U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry hosted the meeting Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.


Kim's visit to the new memorial honored the historical relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea, while the annual security meeting focused on current defense relations between the two allies.


Nineteen larger-than-life American military men are now on eternal patrol at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Wearing ponchos, bearing radios, field packs and rifles, they stand frozen in time, moving across a symbolic rice paddy as they did more than 40 years ago.


The stainless steel statues and countless stone faces etched in a 164-foot-long granite wall at the memorial represent the men and women who served in what's become known as "The Forgotten War." They came from more than 20 countries to fight at places named Heartbreak Ridge and Pork Chop Hill. They fought to save a nation.


More than 54,000 Americans died in Korea during a war that essentially never ended. A military armistice signed July 27, 1953, left North and South Korea on a war footing. Today, more than 100,000 U.S. troops serve in the Asian-Pacific region, including about 36,000 stationed in South Korea.


"The strength and the firmness of this alliance has maintained peace and security on the Korean Peninsula for more than 40 years, but there is still no permanent peace," Perry said. This lack of peace underscores the need for continued vigilance and continued solidarity of our combined forces, he added.


Recent North Korea actions and statements have heightened political and military tensions in the region, according to U.S. and South Korean defense spokesmen.


Perry called a recent infiltration by North Korean submarine commandos a "provocative, hostile act." He said the United States strongly condemned the incident, which confirmed that North Korea continues to pose a significant threat to peace and stability in the region.


"The Republic of Korea and the United States stand more firmly united than ever in their determination to oppose such provocations in the future," Perry said.


The Washington security consultation was particularly meaningful and timely in light of North Korea's "irresponsible and adventurous" submarine infiltration, Kim said. He said the joint meeting "confirmed the cooperative relationships of our combined armed forces and the firm security alliance of our two nations."


The two defense leaders also expressed concern about North Korea's large conventional forces, buildup of long-range firepower and missile program, according to a joint communique issued after the session. They urged North Korea to hold peace talks with the Republic of Korea to reduce tensions.


Security on the Korean Peninsula is essential to stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, which in turn, is vital to the security of the United States and to world peace, according to Perry and Kim.


During the two-day meeting, Perry reaffirmed U.S. commitment to help repel any armed attack against the Republic of Korea and provide a nuclear umbrella. As the U.S. military modernizes, he said, U.S. forces deployed in Korea also change and improve.


"There have been many such changes of that sort made in the last two years," Perry said. "The net result is that the forces deployed in South Korea today are substantially more capable than they were a year ago and than they were two years ago."


Kim said his nation will continue to modernize its forces and assume more responsibility for its own defense.


Both defense chiefs agreed a robust schedule of combined exercises is vital to deter war on the peninsula and maintain readiness. They said both nation's forces need to continue to emphasize combined readiness, tactics, doctrine, professionalism, discipline, vigilance and high morale, the communique stated.


Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also met with his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Yoon Yong Nam, during a separate military committee meeting Oct. 31.

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