U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel joined South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye in celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the U.S.-South Korean alliance at a state dinner in Seoul on Sunday. During his first visit to the country since his appointment as Defense Secretary, Mr. Hagel praised the U.S.-ROK alliance as “a force for global peace and stability” that will continue to play an essential role in the region’s security dynamics, and he confirmed that there are no plans to reduce the 28,500 U.S troops currently stationed on the peninsula.
The purpose of Mr. Hagel’s trip was not only to mark the 60th anniversary of the alliance, but also to honor South Korean Armed Forces Day and to observe a live-fire training and certification exercise at Rodriguez Live-Fire Complex involving South Korean troops and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Secretary Hagel acknowledged the significant task facing the 2nd Infantry Division as “the only forward-deployed division we have in the United States Army in the world”, in helping protect SouthKorea and the region from the continuing threat presented by North Korea.
Secretary Hagel’s four-day trip to South Korea is an unprecedented amount of time for a U.S. defense secretary to remain in a foreign country and is testament of the high value that the United Sates places on the U.S.-ROK alliance. The secretary recalled his time during the Vietnam War when he had served with South Korean soldiers whom he described as “some of the toughest, bravest fighting men I have ever encountered. And they were some of the most dependable.”
During his visit he focused on reaffirming the opportunities for the U.S. and South Korea to work together as “active strategic partners” in securing a peaceful future for the Peninsula. Looking ahead, he explained that “The United States and the Republic of Korea have stood together in the past, we stand together today, and we will stand together in the future.”
Emily Coughlan is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and is currently spending a semester at Georgetown University in order to complete her M.A. in International Relations from Macquarie University, Australia.