Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III underscored the close bonds between the U.S. and Korea in a ceremony honoring veterans from both countries at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul today.
The secretary credited the continued strength of the 70-year alliance to the shared sacrifice and examples for future generations set by those who served.
“I think our relationship, our alliance is as strong as it was because of the work that you did and the support that you continue to provide to our troops to our families,” Austin said while meeting with veterans from both countries before a wreath laying ceremony in honor of Veterans Day.
He said the troops serving today stand on the shoulders of those who served before, noting the more than 36,000 U.S. troops who were killed in action during the Korean War.
“We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude that we can never repay,” Austin said. “We owe you a gratitude that we can never repay.”
The U.S. and South Korea have remained staunch allies well beyond the cessation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula ushered by the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953.
The U.S. maintained a continuous presence of land, air and sea forces that serve on the peninsula alongside their South Korean partners in deterring aggression throughout the region.
To date, the U.S. remains as South Korea’s foremost defense partner and the two countries have for years completed large-scale, combined exercises aimed at enhancing joint operability.
South Korea has also been a key U.S. partner in conflicts abroad, deploying troops in support of U.S.-led efforts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Austin said during the ceremony that both countries’ militaries “are as strong as they’ve ever been.”
“Around the world, as you see our troops deployed and working together, it is impressive,” he said. “The United States military is the most powerful military in the world, and we absolutely take pride in our relationship with our Korean counterparts.”
Austin attended the ceremony after holding talks with South Korean Minister of National Defense Shin Won-sik, and Japanese Defense Minister Kihara Minoru at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense headquarters in Seoul earlier Sunday.
Those discussions built upon the progress made in deepening the ties between the three countries at the August summit between President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida and South Korean President Yoon at Camp David.
During the summit, the three heads of state jointly ushered a new era of trilateral cooperation grounded in a commitment to advance a shared vision of peace and prosperity.
The leaders agreed to advance high-level consultations on trade and national security, strengthen security cooperation, deepen economic and technology cooperation and expand global health and people-to-people cooperation.
Following today’s talks, U.S. defense officials announced that Austin and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts have decided on a mechanism to facilitate the exchange of real-time missile warning data to improve each country’s ability to monitor missiles launched by North Korea. That mechanism is slated to be fully operationalized by the end of December.
The defense ministers also encouraged the development of a multi-year trilateral exercise plan which is scheduled to be finalized by the end of this year.
Austin also reaffirmed during the talks the United States’ steadfast alliance with both countries and the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence backed by the full range of its capabilities.
The secretary’s visit to Seoul is part of his ninth official trip to the Indo-Pacific which also includes stops in India and Indonesia.
In addition to meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul, Austin will also attend the 55th annual Security Consultative Meeting and the United Nations Command inaugural meeting of member states’ defense ministers before departing for his final stop in Indonesia.