Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III praised the international alliance committed to securing lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula as United Nations Command member states gathered today for the coalition’s inaugural defense ministers’ meeting in Seoul, South Korea.
Austin underscored the critical role of the member states in deterring aggression in the face of growing nuclear threats posed by North Korea.
“Seventy years after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, your presence here today makes it clear that we all share an interest in maintaining peace and stability on this peninsula,” the secretary said during a ceremony kicking off the summit.
“And that’s why the United Nations Command is so important,” he said. “It helps maintain deterrence by ensuring that we could sustain our forces in theater in the event of a crisis or conflict.”
He added that the service members from each of the countries that fill the ranks of the coalition “are standing on the front lines to defend [South Korea] and the rules-based international order.”
“The United States is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you,” the secretary said.
The international coalition was formed in 1950 as the international community recognized the urgent need to restore peace and security in the face of North Korean aggression.
More than 20 countries contributed combat forces and medical assistance to the effort, and the international coalition has maintained a lasting presence on the Korean Peninsula under the United Nations flag.
The United Nations Command integrates multinational forces into the larger framework, including the Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, in place to deter North Korean aggression and respond in the event of a crisis.
“Our work together on the Korean Peninsula sends a powerful message that we stand united in the defense of peace and security,” Austin said.
He added that the international commitment to peace remains critical as North Korea continues to threaten regional security.
“[North Korea] continues to develop its nuclear, missile and cyber capabilities,” he said. “They threaten not just [South Korea] and the United States but also our allies and partners across the region.”
Austin noted growing concern that China and Russia are helping North Korea evade U.N. Security Council sanctions.
He also raised concern over the recent growth in military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, to fuel Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.
“These activities do not just threaten [South Korea],” he said. “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,” Austin said. “And our shared commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and to the peace and stability on this peninsula [that] will remain vital.”
The U.N. Command’s meeting capped Austin’s three-day visit to the South Korean capital. The visit is part of his ninth official visit to the Indo-Pacific, which also includes stops in India and Indonesia.
While in Seoul, Austin held talks with South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik and Japanese Defense Minister Kihara Minoru at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense headquarters.
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 Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at Camp David, Maryland.
Austin also participated alongside his South Korean counterpart in the 55th Security Consultative Meeting, an annual capstone event marking the long-standing U.S.-South Korean defense relationship.
This year’s meeting built upon President Joe Biden and Yoon’s commitment to further bolstering the U.S.-South Korean alliance amid growing nuclear threats posed by North Korea.
During the session, Austin and his South Korean counterpart shared their vision for the future of the alliance, which they recognize as a “staple for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific region and a stalwart protector of international norms.”
Austin will visit Indonesia for the final leg of his tour through the region.
While there, he will attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministerial Meeting-Plus. That includes representation from China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand in addition to the 10 ASEAN member states and the U.S. Timor Leste will attend in an observer capacity for the first time.