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Opening Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at Republic of Korea-United Nations Command Member States Defense Ministerial Meeting (As Delivered)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, thank you, fellow ministers, and representatives. It is a privilege to join you for the inaugural ROK-UNC Member States Defense Ministerial Meeting. Minister Shin, thanks for bringing us together. Glad to see such a wide gathering from across the international community here today.

Seventy years after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, your presence here today makes clear that we all share an interest in maintaining peace and stability on this peninsula, and that's why the United Nations Command is so important. It helps maintain deterrence by assuring that we can sustain our forces in theater in the event of a crisis or conflict.

My friends, the service members that each of your countries have sent here are standing on the front lines to defend the Republic of Korea and the rules-based international order. The United States is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you.

Now, the UNC also plays a crucial role in facilitating dialogue with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, including by helping to repatriate the remains of fallen soldiers from the Korean War, and the UNC helps enforce the armistice by serving as a long-standing, multilateral coalition that responds to violations.

The UNC's unified command structure integrates multinational forces into a larger framework with the Combined Forces Command and the U.S. Forces Korea to deter and defeat the DPRK if conflict or crisis were to break out here. And so, our work together on the Korean Peninsula sends a powerful message that we stand united in the defense of peace and security.

Now, 73 years ago, countries from around the world came to the aid of the fledgling Republic of Korea and helped it repel invaders from North Korea. The UNC brought together more than 20 countries that contributed combat forces or medical assistance to help the ROK.

In the following seven decades, we've seen major changes in the regional security environment. The DPRK continues to develop its nuclear missile and cyber capabilities. They threaten not just the ROK and the United States, but also our allies and partners across the region, and we are deeply concerned that the PRC and Russia are helping the DPRK expand its capabilities by enabling it to evade sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.

We are also troubled by the recent growth in military cooperation between Russia and the DPRK. The DPRK is providing lethal aid to Russia to fuel Putin's cruel war of choice against Ukraine, and Russia is providing more support for the DPRK's wide-ranging illicit activities. Now, these activities do not just threaten the ROK; they also erode the rules-based international order that has brought prosperity and peace for the past 70 years.

So today, we come together to shore up our security for the next 70 years, and our shared commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and to peace and stability on this peninsula will remain vital. So I look forward to today's discussion with all of you about how we can keep working together through the UNC to maintain peace on the peninsula both today, and for decades to come.

Thank you very much.