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)