U.S.-South Korea Alliance Mutually Beneficial After 50 Years

After more than 50 years, the U.S. alliance with the Republic of Korea remains beneficial to both sides, says Evans J.R. Revere, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

In a speech delivered May 2 to the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, Revere said that despite differences between the two nations, the alliance has been "remarkably enduring" and is "just as important now to both our countries as ever."

Looking to the future, the U.S. and South Korean governments have just concluded a two-year process known as the  "Future of the Alliance" (FOTA), Revere said.  Under FOTA, both sides will restructure and modernize their forces, and U.S. soldiers will be redeployed "to make the U.S. troop presence in Korea less intrusive to the Korean public."

The United States is implementing an $11 billion program of enhancements on the Korean peninsula and in the region to strengthen its deterrence capability in support of South Korea, he said.

Revere noted the need for "strategic flexibility," which is the ability for U.S. forces - no matter where they are located - to be able to respond to security challenges in any part of the world.

"Strategic flexibility," he said, "will enable additional U.S. forces to come to Korea from anywhere in the world in the event of a contingency and these forces would enable us to honor our treaty commitment to defend the Republic of Korea."

North Korea's nuclear program remains the foremost challenge to South Korea and the region, Revere said.  The United States shares South Korea's desire "to pursue peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue," he said.  He added that the best method to do so remains the Six-Party Talks, which include North and South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia.

Revere emphasized that the Bush administration has no intention of attacking North Korea and is willing to agree to multilateral security assurances if Pyongyang is prepared "to give up its nuclear weapons program, verifiably and irreversibly."

Pyongyang's "brinksmanship and threats only lead to further isolation," he said.  "It needs to return to the Six-Party Talks and pursue the opportunity that forum presents."

"The road to a future on the Korean Peninsula - one in which the threat of nuclear weapons is gone forever and in which the people of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] are finally able to reap the benefits of normal relations with other countries, including the United States - leads through the Six-Party Talks," Revere said.

Following is the text of his remarks

Korea Economic Institute
Evolution of the U.S.-Korea Alliance and
Future of Northeast Asia
May 2, 2005

Remarks by Evans J.R. Revere
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for
East Asian and Pacific Affairs


Thank you, Joe (Winder), for that kind introduction.

Former Foreign Minister Yoon, members of the National Assembly, delegation members from Korea, distinguished guests and friends: 

I am pleased to have this opportunity to offer a few thoughts on the U.S.-Korea relationship and some of the issues we confront. 


Despite differences between our two countries in terms of history, geography and culture, the U.S.-Korea alliance - now more than half a century old - has been remarkably enduring and beneficial for both nations.  That alliance - that partnership - is just as important now to both our countries as ever.

The Republic of Korea faced what some believed were insurmountable challenges when the armistice took effect in 1953.  But, over the past 50 years it has raised itself from the depths of wartime devastation and shaken off the shackles of authoritarian rule as it has transformed itself into a fully democratic nation committed to human rights, the rule of law, and economic prosperity for all its people. 

My own association with Korea goes back a mere 36 years, but I, too, have witnessed enormous change, perhaps the most remarkable of which has been the flourishing of democracy.  Those of us who follow Korea recognize that after almost two decades of free elections, political competition and unfettered media, public opinion and the people's will now play a key role in shaping policy-making in the ROK.  We know how the blossoming of democracy also has had profound effects on Korean attitudes toward external relations - with the DPRK, with Korea's neighbors, and with the United States. 

From the Washington perspective, we see a more confident and assertive foreign policy in Seoul, and one aimed at making sure that Korea never again suffers the fate it did a century ago.  President Roh's recent pronouncements on a "balancing" role for Korea in Asia respond, in some sense, to such aspirations for a greater Korean role in its region, indeed a role in world affairs.  Events of the past weigh heavily on the minds of most Koreans, and that is understandable.  Korea's history has often been tragic, and thus the bitter experience of the past has left its mark. 

However, Koreans have every right to cherish - and most of them do - the fact that they possess one thing today that guarantees Korea's future will not be at all like its past.  Today, Korea has a strong alliance partnership with the United States - a power that serves as a guarantor of Korea's independence and freedom.  The presence of such a partner at Korea's side is unique in Korea's history, and the United States is proud to stand by the Republic of Korea in playing such a role.   

Today, our alliance partnership is not without its share of challenges, foremost of which is how to deal with North Korea.  But if we look back over the recent past, there is much to be optimistic about in terms of what we are accomplishing together as full partners in a unique relationship.

Today, Korean and American forces are serving together to keep the peace in Iraq and in doing so are giving the Iraqi people hope for a better future.  Together, our two governments concluded a historic agreement on U.S. troop deployments on the Peninsula that lays the foundation for a stable long-term military commitment by the U.S. to the Republic of Korea.  Working together, we have made progress in the bilateral economic and trade sphere that may even allow us to start FTA negotiations. 


Let me say a few words about each of these developments. 

Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Republic of Korea was one of the early contributors to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and currently has 3,400 troops in country, making it the third-largest peacekeeper in Iraq.  The ROK Government has committed $60 million for Iraq's reconstruction and pledged an additional $200 million in assistance through 2007.  Korea has been a reliable partner in Iraq, despite a tragic hostage episode and - like many countries, including the United States - despite a considerable degree of domestic debate.  The Iraqi people and the United States are grateful for Korea's contributions to build a new and free Iraq. 

Let me also point out that we and the people of Afghanistan are equally mindful of Korea's willingness to contribute personnel and aid to assist that country to rebuild.   


Late last year, our two governments concluded the two-year Future of the Alliance (FOTA) process, with agreements on base relocations - including the historic return of the Yongsan Garrison - and other U.S. redeployments from the Peninsula.  At the same time, the United States set in motion an $11 billion program in force enhancements on the Peninsula and in the region to strengthen our deterrence capability in support of the Republic of Korea.

The Future of the Alliance initiative was a joint U.S.-ROK effort to restructure, modernize, and rationalize our force structure and basing arrangements and, at the same time, to make the U.S. troop presence in Korea less intrusive to the Korean public.  In concluding the agreements, we have set out on a path that will result in a stronger U.S. deterrent posture, and one that can endure into the future. 

With those agreements in place, our two governments have established the U.S.-ROK Security Policy Initiative, or SPI, to serve as a consultative mechanism for implementing those agreements and addressing new security issues.  One issue we have been discussing is "strategic flexibility," the concept that U.S. forces, wherever they are located - in Korea, elsewhere abroad, or in the United States - need to be able to respond flexibly to security challenges, wherever the occur.

Much has been written about strategic flexibility, but it is important that we keep in mind that strategic flexibility is not a one-way street.  Strategic flexibility is also the doctrine that will enable additional U.S. forces to come to Korea from anywhere in the world in the event of a contingency and these forces would enable us to honor our treaty commitment to defend the Republic of Korea. 

Before leaving security issues, let me also note that our two governments recently completed negotiations on a new Special Measures Agreement for defense cost-sharing, under which the Korean Government provides critical support for the non-personnel expenditures incurred by U.S. Forces stationed in the Republic.  These negotiations were carried out in an atmosphere of common purpose, and we appreciate the Korean Government's decision to continue its contribution at a substantial level.  We expect the agreement to be signed shortly.


Looking at other subjects, the United States and Korea enjoy a very broad and mutually beneficial economic and trade relationship.  As in any vibrant and complex bilateral relationship, we have outstanding issues, but we have enjoyed a constructive dialogue in addressing differences when they occur.  Notably, we are considering the possibility of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement, with a decision on that possibility by the end of this year.

I am also pleased to note that the ROK Government has made a commitment in principle to lift the ban on U.S. beef imports expeditiously. I would note, particularly since members of the National Assembly are here today, that this issue is being watched at the highest levels of our government and by many in our Congress.

Meanwhile, we are making good progress on intellectual property concerns.  As a result of the ROK's efforts on IPR, we have now been able to move Korea off the Priority Watch List to the Watch List.  Finally, our two governments are cooperating closely on several initiatives within APEC during Korea's chairmanship this year.


As I said earlier, our alliance is not without its challenges.  Foremost among them is how to deal with North Korea and the nuclear issue. 

The U.S. administration understands the special nature of South Korean concerns regarding the North.  We know the degree to which South Korean views of the North are the result of the complicated interplay of feelings of consanguinity, fear of the North's military might, and a desire to avoid destabilization on the Peninsula.  We also well understand that popular attitudes towards the North have evolved since the historic South-North Summit of 2000.  And we know that people in South Korea strongly desire to pursue peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue. That is precisely the U.S. position, as well.

The U.S. Government believes that the Six-Party Talks are the best means for resolving the nuclear issue diplomatically.  As you know, Assistant Secretary Hill has just returned from visiting Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo, where he discussed, among many issues, how to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.  None of us here today should underestimate the difficulty of that task. 

The essence of our approach to the North Korean nuclear issue was spelled out by Secretary of State Rice, who said in her confirmation hearing:

"We've made clear to the North Korean regime that the President of the United States has said that the United States has no intention to attack North Korea, to invade North Korea, that multilateral security assurances would be available to North Korea, to which the United States would be party, if North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons program, verifiably and irreversibly."

During her visit to the region, Secretary Rice repeated the elements of our position in al three capitals that she visited, and also acknowledged that we were dealing with a sovereign government in the DPRK.  President Bush, while reiterating his view about the nature of the North Korean regime, has also recently underscored U.S. desire to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically through the Six-Party Talks.

Meanwhile, the facts are clear about the DPRK's past and present provocative behavior:

- We know North Korea set out to acquire nuclear weapons decades ago.  Our estimates have long suggested a North Korean nuclear weapons capability; thus the DPRK's February 10 announcement about possessing nuclear weapons was a troubling, but not surprising, development.

- Other recent DPRK rhetoric, including its March 31st statement, has been similarly troubling, and can only serve to raise questions about the North's ultimate commitment to the Six-Party Talks.

- The DPRK failed to fulfill its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (indeed it withdrew from the NPT), failed to live up to its 1994 Agreed Framework obligations, and violated commitments made to the ROK under the 1991-92 South-North Denuclearization Agreement. 

- And, after three rounds of Six-Party Talks, the DPRK refused to return to table or formally respond to the U.S. proposal made in June 2004. 

Our diplomacy, and that of the ROK Government and others, has sought to drive home to Pyongyang the message that brinksmanship and threats only lead to further isolation.  As Secretary Rice has said, "The world has given North Korea a way out, and we hope they will take that way out." 

If North Korea truly wants to achieve its declared intent for a relationship based on cooperation and membership in the international community, then it needs to return to the Six-Party Talks and pursue the opportunity that forum presents.

If the DPRK moves to dismantle its nuclear programs, multilateral efforts can provide opportunities for better lives for the North Korean people.  And resolving the nuclear issue can open the door to improved relations with the U.S.  North Korea needs to understand that it is increasingly seen as an isolated, out-of-step country that is a threat to peace and prosperity in a region where most of the trends are going in the opposite direction, that is, to greater democracy and openness, economic growth and regional cooperation. 

The road to a future on the Korean Peninsula - one in which the threat of nuclear weapons is gone forever and in which the people of the DPRK are finally able to reap the benefits of normal relations with other countries, including the United States - leads through the Six-Party Talks.

The path the DPRK leadership needs to take is clear.  I hope they have to wisdom to do so.

Thank you.