Engraved in the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is the eulogy: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” The people of the Republic of Korea are sincerely grateful for the noble sacrifice and commitment that U.S. service members have shown and the blood they shed for peace and liberty over the course of the Korean War. It is out of this gratitude that Koreans seek to pay their respects to the Korean War Veterans Memorial whenever they visit the U.S.
Shortly after the Armistice Agreement, the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953 broke grounds for the foundation of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Since then, the ROK achieved economic development and redefined itself as a developed country, based on the ironclad ROK-U.S. combined defense posture. Hand in hand, the ROK-U.S. alliance has been recognized as the “most successful alliance in the world” and an “alliance forged in blood.”
Now the ROK is contributing to the interests of its ally in the spirit of mutual benefits upon the world-class economic and defense capabilities it has attained. By constructing Camp Humphreys, one of the best of its kind base in the world, the ROK contributed to stable stationing conditions for the United States Forces Korea, or USFK. Through defense cost-sharing, combined exercises and training, overseas deployment, and the purchase of cutting-edge weapons systems, the ROK is further strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance and the combined defense capabilities.
In 2020, the ROK and the U.S. will set foot on new leaps toward a “Great Alliance” that is mutually reinforcing and future-oriented. The ROK and the U.S. are designing a new combined defense system in which the wartime operational control, or OPCON, is transitioned to the future Combined Forces Command led by a ROK four-star general. In 2018, the ROK minister of national defense and the U.S. secretary of defense signed the alliance guiding principles that will be applied after the OPCON transition at the 50th Security Consultative Meeting. It was also confirmed during the 50th SCM that the USFK will continue to be stationed on the Korean Peninsula and that United Nations Command is to retain its role even after the OPCON transition.
In 2019, the initial operational capability certification assessment was successfully performed, and efforts are underway to conduct full operational capability certification assessments systematically and proactively in 2020. Should the new combined defense system — reinforced with the future command structure and organization — be completed in the near future, the ROK-U.S. alliance will no doubt lend greater support for the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the Northeast Asian region.
There have been some voices casting concerns about the combined defense posture and the alliance during ongoing security discussions between the ROK and the U.S., while the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are at the same time seeking to usher in an era of peace. However, the strength of the ROK-U.S. alliance that has persisted nearly seven decades has never been stronger. Even now, countless service members of our two nations are consolidating the military readiness posture with a “fight tonight” spirit by effectively engaging in various revised combined exercises and training side-by-side.
Meanwhile, the relationship between United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, the United States Forces Korea and the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff continues to develop in a harmonious manner with a spirit of mutual respect; and the defense burden-sharing negotiations are being held so that it may be concluded with mutual trust, and yield reasonable as well as fair results that would be a win-win to both nations.
There is a saying in Korea that “a deep-rooted tree suffers no storm.” The spirit of the ROK-U.S. alliance that has deeply found root in all of us over the past seven decades will be unwavering, come what may. It was the robust ROK-U.S. alliance that served as the foundation upon which the ROK and DPRK were able to cease hostile activities toward one another and induce changes toward peace after the Comprehensive Military Agreement was signed. The ROK government and the Ministry of National Defense are hoping for the ROK-U.S. alliance to actively cooperate with the international community so that the “transformation of the DMZ into an international peace zone” may be achieved.
The year 2020 will also be one in which the ROK and the U.S. sail through key security issues with wisdom, support the efforts to achieve denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula with strength while maintaining a robust military readiness posture, and take strides toward the next five decades and the next century.
Jeong Kyeong-doo is the defense minister of South Korea.