Panetta Calls South Korea Key U.S. Global Partner

SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 26, 2011 – Calling South Korea a key global partner of the United States, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta termed the security partnership between the two nations a great force for peace, stability and prosperity on the Asia-Pacific region.

In a commentary published in today’s South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Panetta wrote that the United States and South Korea are increasing cooperation in intelligence and ballistic missile defense to counter the „serious threat“ North Korea poses.

Panetta arrived here in the South Korean capital today for his first visit to the country as defense secretary. He wrote that he vividly recalls the moment when, as a boy, he heard the news that U.S. troops were fighting on the Korean peninsula.

„Americans were gripped with fear of another world war,“ the secretary wrote. „Thanks to the heroism of U.S. and Korean forces, however, the North’s invasion was repelled, and six decades later, the United States remains fully committed to the security of [South Korea].“

The North Korean government in Pyongyang has demonstrated willingness to conduct provocations that target innocent lives and continues to defy the international community as it enhances its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, he wrote. The U.S. forward presence in Korea and the region is critical to maintaining deterrence and demonstrating resolve, the secretary added.

„In addition, we will ensure a strong and effective nuclear umbrella over [South Korea] so that Pyongyang never misjudges our will and capability to respond decisively to nuclear aggression,“ he wrote.

While the United States is committed to a robust regional presence, the nation’s leaders also are sensitive to local concerns about the impact of that presence, he acknowledged.

„Our relocation program for the Yongsan Garrison is one way … we are consolidating our presence to improve efficiencies, minimize impact, and facilitate transition to [South Korean] leadership during a wartime situation,“ he wrote.

Both the garrison relocation and transition to South Korean lead during wartime are part of Strategic Alliance 2015. That plan originally was set for completion by 2012, but was postponed to 2015 at the South Korean government’s request.

Both governments agreed to the plan, which calls for the transfer of wartime authority in South Korea to that nation’s equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. forces in Korea will be structured as a warfighting command that supports North Korean forces, who would assume operational control in case of war in South Korea.

Yongsan Garrison in Seoul is home to about 17,000 service members, civilian employees and their families. As part of Strategic Alliance 2015, those troops will move to Camp Humphreys, south of Seoul, with the South Korean government as final authority in decisions relating to the move.

Panetta noted the U.S.-South Korean alliance has borne results beyond the peninsula: South Koreans have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the two nations work as part of a multilateral coalition to protect shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden from the threat of piracy.

The two nations also are working to apply their shared strength to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, and to United Nations-led humanitarian relief and economic and political development efforts in Haiti, Sudan and elsewhere, Panetta wrote.

„As a steward of this alliance, I am committed to further elevating this relationship so that it remains a hallmark of stability, openness and prosperity in the region,“ he wrote.

Panetta arrived here after visits to Indonesia and Japan earlier this week. During his visit, the secretary has meetings scheduled with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan. He also will take part in an executive session of the security consultative meetings and will visit U.S. and South Korean troops.

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)