As Prepared for Delivery
Greetings and thank you to General Jung for inviting me to speak as we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of our historic Alliance – one that made us not only allies for our shared security and defense, but ultimately partners in prosperity and the closest of friends.
As we mark the 70th year of the ROK-U.S. Alliance, we marvel at its enduring strength and reiterate our commitment to the defense of the Korean people. But in 2023, it is also true to say that the character of our Alliance has fundamentally changed.
It is an exciting time in our bilateral relationship, as we redefine shared security with a comprehensive global partnership that addresses the full spectrum of emerging threats, while creating new opportunities to promote prosperity and democratic values.
I thought about what shared security meant on a cold, clear February morning as I joined service members to repatriate the remains of an American soldier who gave his life defending the people of South Korea.
Of course, this soldier did not know it at the time, nor did his loved ones mourning his fate, but his sacrifice was for the freedom that ultimately paved the way for the advanced, respected, contemporary democracy that South Korea has become.
Further yet from his imagination, his sacrifice laid the foundation of a cutting-edge ROK-U.S. Alliance that is constantly adapting to new challenges and threats to ensure the security of future generations. He had no reason to anticipate we would put a man on the moon, much less that we would partner with the Korea he fought for to pursue the peaceful exploration of space.
Today – a lifetime later – our shared goals incorporate every aspect of global security, sustainable development, technological advancement, and economic stability. I like to think that soldier who finally went home on that February day in 2023 would take pride in the Alliance he fostered.
Likewise, I want to believe that the hundreds of thousands of Koreans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country would take pride in its role today as a global leader and strong partner to enhance collective security, preserve the rules-based economic order, and promote democratic values. Within a single generation, Korea evolved from a recipient of humanitarian assistance to a provider of it around the world.
That is truly remarkable.
The U.S. commitment to the defense and security of the Republic of Korea remains ironclad. And today, we are also inseparable partners in shared growth and prosperity. Korean soldiers who toiled in the trenches alongside those from the United Nations sending states never dreamed their children would continue to work together – off the battlefield – to build the world’s tenth largest economy.
Inspired by the determination and sacrifice of their forefathers, and enabled by the security of our Alliance, they rebuilt their country and became partners with the United States in trade, investment, and innovation.
The United States is among Korea’s largest trade and investment partners because leaders in business and industry see the mutual benefit in our bilateral economic cooperation, as do the Korean and American people.
We owe it to those who came before us to sustain and nurture the alliance they built. To expand networks and partnerships between Koreans and Americans with shared interests, shared passions, and shared values.
As we prepare for President Yoon and President Biden to meet for the State Visit to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the U.S.-ROK Alliance, I am sure many will take time to reflect on its legacy with a visit to the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It is a somber setting.
Soon, the name of that solider from the February repatriation ceremony here in Seoul will be etched into the wall of that moving memorial in the heart of our Nation’s capital.
There is an inscription on the memorial’s wall that reads, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” What it does not say is that along the way, they went from being people who had never met, to the best of friends.
Out of the horrors of war, irrevocable bonds and sincere affinity flourished. Americans who served in Korea in the 1950s in the decades since grew to understand just how much we have in common. They fostered friendships deeply rooted in trust and mutual respect that today define the close bilateral relationship between the people of our two nations. Those ties form the fundamental fabric of our alliance, and extend to every facet of business and industry, civil society, the arts, culture, and academia. They link communities, families, and friends.
There is another line carved into the stone of the Korean War Veterans Memorial as well. It reminds us that “Freedom is not free.” In the context of our alliance for the future, it serves as a caution; we cannot become complacent in all we have accomplished.
As we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. Alliance, we should also recall the words engraved on the ground in front of the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul: “If you want peace, remember war.”
Specifically: ensure peace by building a network of nations committed to defending democratic principles and the rules-based international order without resorting to violence and war.
Today, as we face unprecedented threats and open aggression by authoritarian states, we are reaching out with our ROK allies to redefine and reinforce the future of our shared security with multilateral initiatives that touch on every aspect of global security.
They include not only conventional defense, but also cyber security, the responsible use of space, crisis management and humanitarian assistance, health security, climate change mitigation, and much more. We are going beyond our borders to create an alliance that benefits not just us, but all in the Indo-Pacific region and the world.
Our efforts to enhance global security go hand in hand with promoting prosperity. As allies, we want to provide people across the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere a chance to thrive, because we know the world is a safer place for us all when others enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities we do. South Korea is an essential partner with the United States in diversifying supply chains and securing advanced technical production to bolster global economic security, as well as fostering sustainable development from South Asia to South America.
We are focused on joint research and development initiatives tied to critical and emerging technologies, because our shared history of excellence in innovation should serve the global community. The world can count on American and Korean businesses and industries to work together, making continued progress in areas like the digital economy, biotechnology, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and clean energy technology.
Whether it is solar panels or electric vehicle batteries, our successful advancement to sustainable green economies is interdependent, and progress on mitigating global climate change requires our shared commitment.
We are equally committed to helping other countries help themselves develop sustainably with the reliable infrastructure and human capital needed to build a better future. And because our economic cooperation is rooted in shared values, we trust our companies to respect human rights in the countries where they work and hold them accountable if they don’t. That’s what it means to have an alliance among global leaders deeply committed to the principle that transparent, accountable governance remains the best way to ensure lasting prosperity and peace.
Together, we will continue to strengthen alliance for the greater good because we know that freedom isn’t free, and the only way to avoid war is to actively invest in peace, stability, and security. I cannot speak for all of those whose names are etched in black granite on our memorials and to those lost in the Korean War, but my sense is that they would expect no less.
So, to mark this important 70th anniversary, I encourage everyone to remember those that sacrificed for the comforts and relationships we enjoy today and continue to remember them as we look to the next 70 years as allies, partners, and friends.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.