SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 28, 2011 — The United States and South Korea are taking additional steps to advance their military cooperation into a strategic alliance of bilateral, global scope, both nations’ defense leaders said today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and his counterpart, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, held a joint news conference at the South Korean defense ministry building here following the 43rd Security Consultative Meeting executive session. The meeting is an annual gathering of U.S. and South Korean military and foreign affairs officials.
“Our talks focused on a number of issues critical to strengthening and transforming the alliance, which remains vital to the interest of both of our nations and a cornerstone of stability in Northeast Asia,” Panetta said.
The secretary said the two nations will “ensure a strong and effective alliance deterrence posture, including the United States’ nuclear umbrella,” to ensure North Korea never underestimates the alliance’s will and capability to respond decisively to aggression.
The South Korean defense minister said the two nations are cooperating closely in matters of defense policy and in provocation response planning.
Both defense chiefs responded to the question of what they would have to see North Korea do with its nuclear program to bring it into compliance with the international community.
Panetta said denuclearization is an important area for North Korea to address if it wants to improve relations with the alliance.
“It’s no secret that denuclearization means that they have to stop testing, they have to stop developing weapons, they have to stop enriching [uranium] in violation of international rules and requirements,” the secretary said. “They have to allow [inspections]. It’s all of those areas that would have to be addressed, and … are in the process of being discussed with the North Koreans.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Kim said a strong alliance force posture has proven to be an effective deterrent against further provocations such as North Korea’s 2010 sinking of the South Korean vessel the Choenan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island later that year.
Kim added it will only be possible to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula once North Korea itself feels the need to stop provocative behavior.
“Only then, I believe, will we be able to meet our objectives,” the minister added. “Obviously this will take some changes in policy from the North Korean perspective. What we must do is to prepare ourselves with a robust defense posture that will respond very strongly if North Korea ever conducts additional provocations.”
A joint communiqué issued after today’s meeting stated areas of enhanced cooperation between the United States and South Korea include establishing an ongoing defense policy dialogue, increased combined military exercises on the peninsula, and closer cooperation in peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and similar efforts.
The two nations also will strengthen cooperation in the space and cyberspace domains and work to increase resilience of critical infrastructure, the communiqué stated.
Panetta and Kim both said cyber attacks are the battlefield of the future, and they intend to expand the scope of their cooperation in that domain to effectively respond to new and emerging threats.
Both defense chiefs also said they are on track with the strategic plan that calls for moving U.S. troops from Seoul to different facilities at Camp Humphreys, and to transfer operational wartime control to South Korean command. The nations have agreed to complete both actions by the end of 2015.
Panetta — along with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea — also attended meetings earlier this week with Kim, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
U.S. and North Korean delegations met earlier this week in Geneva, but according to State Department officials, those meetings resulted in no agreements, and significant issues remain.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)