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S. Korean, US defense chiefs to discuss broadening military partnership

Inaugural Seoul-hosted meeting of UN Command meeting to be held in connection with SCM

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Nov. 9, 2023 - 15:29

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The South Korean (left) and US flags. (123rf) The South Korean (left) and US flags. (123rf)

The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States are set to convene in Seoul to discuss critical alliance matters, encompassing escalating North Korean threats and extended deterrence, as well as their joint efforts to broaden the horizons of their military partnership into domains such as defense science and technology or the arms industry.

South Korea's new Defense Minister Shin Won-sik and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will hold the 55th Security Consultative Meeting, an annual bilateral defense ministerial talk, Monday, South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.

The SCM, to be held at the Defense Ministry headquarters, will be Shin's first face-to-face meeting with Austin since assuming office in October.

Shin and Austin will engage in discussions across a spectrum of topics, including ways to strengthen US extended deterrence in closer coordination with South Korea in a bid to flesh out measures for implementing the April 26 Washington Declaration signed by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden, a senior official, who wished to remain anonymous, said in a closed-door briefing.

Another important item on the agenda will revolve around "expeditiously enhancing security cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan," strengthening alliance coordination concerning North Korea policy and addressing regional and global security concerns.

"Both sides will also engage in in-depth discussions regarding the direction of development in the defense sector, looking ahead to the next 30 years, which marks the 100th anniversary of the South Korea-US alliance, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the alliance," the official told reporters.

In this context, Shin and Austin will discuss defense science and technology cooperation and arms industrial cooperation to develop and expand the South Korea-US alliance into a "science and technology alliance."

The official emphasized the significance of fostering collaboration in the sectors considered "highly crucial."

"It seems that the South Korea-US alliance has historically focused heavily on issues related to North Korea and extended deterrence," the official told The Korea Herald in separate comments. "But matters related to defense science and technology, as well as defense industry cooperation, were primarily discussed within agencies like Defense Acquisition Program Administration."

The official said Seoul and Washington will address these topics on par with other key alliance matters, including North Korean threats, making a shift from previous SCMs where they received less attention.

The defense science and technology cooperation is rooted in the shared recognition of the imperative "to modernize the alliance and swiftly provide game-changing technologies to the warfighter," as outlined in the statement from the 23rd Korea-US Integrated Defense Dialogue conducted this September.

The upcoming SCM marks the first time it will be held in conjunction with the inaugural defense ministerial meeting between South Korea and United Nations Command member states, slated for Tuesday in Seoul.

Shin, along with defense ministers and representatives from 17 UNC member states, including Austin, will convene for their first-ever meeting hosted by South Korea.

The primary objectives of the meeting are to assess the roles and contributions of the UNC over the past 70 years and to explore avenues for enhancing cooperation between South Korea and UNC member states, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

During the Korean War, there were 16 "sending states" — countries that fought alongside the US-led UN Command and shed blood with South Korea — and six other countries that provided vital assistance, including medical personnel and essential medications. Among them, 17 countries have remained UN Command member states.

The key missions of the UN Command -- which was founded in July 1950, one month after North Korea's surprise illegal invasion of South Korea -- include enforcing the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement that enabled a cease-fire on the peninsula and providing military support and reinforcements in the event of war.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said participating countries will "adopt a joint declaration affirming the commitment of UN Command member nations to respond collectively in the event of any contingencies on the Korean Peninsula."