1. The 52nd United States (U.S.)-Republic of Korea (ROK) Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) was held in Washington, D.C., on October 14, 2020. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and ROK Minister of National Defense Suh Wook led their respective delegations, which included senior defense and foreign affairs officials. On October 13, 2020, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Won In-choul, presided over the 45th U.S.-ROK Military Committee Meeting (MCM).
2. The Secretary and the Minister noted that the SCM has played a pivotal role in the development of the U.S.-ROK Alliance. The two leaders recognized that the SCM would continue to be a cornerstone venue to discuss and affirm national commitments. Both sides pledged to continue to develop the Alliance—the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia—in a mutually reinforcing and future-oriented manner. The Secretary and the Minister also noted that future defense cooperation, mutual trust, and shared values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law—on which the relationship is built—would be further enhanced through continued commitment to the objectives set forth in the Joint Study for the Future Defense Vision of the ROK-U.S. Alliance.
3. The Secretary and the Minister reviewed the current security environment on the Korean Peninsula and in the region and discussed cooperative measures between the two nations. The two sides additionally had an in-depth discussion on North Korean military activities. In recognition of the significant threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to international security, both sides reaffirmed the need for close coordination and cooperation to establish a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as dismantlement of its ballistic missile program, consistent with multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The Secretary and the Minister urged North Korea to fulfill its commitments under the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula, the Singapore Summit Joint Statement between President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, and other relevant arrangements and agreements.
4. The Minister noted that the various measures carried out by the ROK and North Korean military authorities for the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) set conditions for the easing of military tensions and reducing the threat of war on the Peninsula. The two leaders concurred that the cessation of hostilities on the ground, and in the sea and air, through the inter-Korean implementation of the CMA, and continued United Nations Command (UNC) enforcement and management of the Armistice Agreement, maintained stability and significantly reduced the possibility of accidental clashes. The Minister reaffirmed the ROK’s commitment to ensure that the implementation of the CMA contributes to the establishment of peace on the peninsula. The Minister also expressed his expectation that the buffer zone, agreed to through the CMA, would contribute to preventing accidental clashes and supporting military confidence-building measures on the Korean Peninsula. He expressed that the CMA implementation efforts should continue, including: the withdrawal of guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and the establishment and functioning of the inter-Korean joint military committee. Both sides decided to continue to seek means of enhancing our security dialogues to better meet today’s security environment.
5. The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed the role of the United Nations Command (UNC) in maintaining and enforcing the Armistice Agreement. Both leaders affirmed that the UNC has contributed to the successful maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula for 67 years and continues to carry out its mission and tasks with the utmost respect for ROK sovereignty. The Minister additionally noted that the Northern Limit Line (NLL) has been an effective means of separating ROK and DPRK military forces and preventing military tension to date. The Secretary acknowledged that military confidence-building measures are important for establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula, and he noted the important role performed by the UNC in implementing the Armistice Agreement and enabling confidence-building measures on the Korean Peninsula. The Minister affirmed his support for the roles and responsibilities assigned to the UNC in accordance with the Armistice Agreement and the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
6. The Secretary and the Minister assessed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance is strong and reaffirmed the two nations’ mutual commitment to a combined defense as agreed in the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the ROK. The Secretary and the Minister noted that U.S. forces in the ROK have played a critical role in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula for more than 67 years, and reaffirmed that U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) are to continue to play an important role in preventing armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, and in promoting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The Secretary reaffirmed the unshakable commitment of the United States to the combined defense of the ROK, as enshrined in the Mutual Defense Treaty. The Secretary also reaffirmed the continued U.S. commitment to provide extended deterrence to the ROK using the full range of military capabilities, including U.S. nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities. The Secretary and the Minister committed to ensure that the Alliance deterrence posture remains credible, capable, and enduring. To this end, the two leaders pledged to enhance deterrence through the implementation of many of the policy recommendations from the Extended Deterrence Joint Study. The two leaders committed to make a long-term plan to establish the conditions for the stable stationing of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery at Camp Carroll as part of this commitment. The two leaders also pledged to explore jointly measures to enhance the Alliance deterrence posture and implement the Tailored Deterrence Strategy while considering the effects of changes in the security environment on the Peninsula and in the region.
7. The Secretary and the Minister received a report on the results of the U.S.-ROK MCM from the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command (CFC) Commander, General Robert Abrams, which highlighted that the combined defense posture is capable and ready to “Fight Tonight” and is prepared to respond effectively to any security challenge. The Secretary expressed commitment to the CFC Commander’s efforts to update operational plans and Alliance procedures to respond to situations on the Korean Peninsula or in the region, considering changes in the operational environment relevant to the current CFC.
8. The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed the need to continue to conduct combined exercises and training events on the Peninsula to strengthen Alliance readiness. The two sides also assessed that the 20-2 Combined Command Post Training, undertaken despite the COVID-19 pandemic and other combined training events performed throughout the year in a balanced manner, added strength to the U.S.-ROK combined defense posture and military readiness. Each side assessed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance must continue to focus on military readiness and on the combined defense posture to address the dynamic changes on the Peninsula.
9. The two leaders also emphasized that continuous training opportunities for USFK are critical to maintaining a strong combined defense posture. The Secretary and the Minister concurred in the importance of communication and cooperation between the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) and USFK to coordinate for more effective and productive joint use of ROK facilities and airspace for the USFK training required to maintain readiness within our strong combined defense posture. The two leaders also committed to continue cooperation on and set tangible milestones for the development of a combined joint multi-purpose live-fire training complex.
10. The Secretary and the Minister expressed appreciation for the CFC, which has played a central role in deterring war on the Korean Peninsula and defending the ROK since its establishment in 1978. The Secretary and the Minister reviewed preparations for the relocation of the CFC Headquarters (HQ) to Camp Humphreys. The two leaders also expressed their expectation that the CFC HQ relocation would contribute to an enhanced combined defense posture and shared the understanding that the relocation would be expeditiously completed as soon as the site was administratively and operationally suitable. Both sides also pledged to work together to carry out the CFC Headquarters relocation with purpose in a safe, seamless, and effective manner.
11. The Secretary and the Minister reviewed the progress on directed tasks from the Conditions-based Operational Control (OPCON) Transition Plan (COTP). The two sides noted progress made in the COTP and discussed the way forward for wartime OPCON transition to the Future Combined Forces Command (F-CFC) including the FOC certification. The two leaders reaffirmed that the conditions stated in the mutually agreed COTP must be fully met before the wartime OPCON is transitioned to the F-CFC. The two sides also reaffirmed the intent to comply fully with the 2015 COTP Base Plan as well as the 2018 COTP Change One. The Secretary and the Minister positively noted the development this year of a single set of bilaterally formulated strategic documents for use in the assessments of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and Full Operational Capability (FOC) for F-CFC. They further applauded the efforts of the Alliance to complete the F-CFC IOC certification assessment during the Crisis Management Staff Training (CMST) this Fall and the Secretary also noted the necessity of updating the 2016 Crisis Management Memorandum of Agreement (CM MOA) by the end of the year.
12. The Secretary and the Minister acknowledged that great progress had been made toward meeting the conditions for wartime OPCON transition through U.S.-ROK joint efforts. The two sides noted multiple Permanent Military Committee Meetings (PMCs) on COTP topics were held in 2020 and concurred that the activities of the PMCs promoted the credibility of the evaluation and understanding of the conditions. The Minister reaffirmed that the ROK military will continue to acquire defense capabilities established in the conditions-based plan signed in 2015 and its change in 2018, and would pursue the plan’s objectives in a systematic manner. The Secretary and the Minister also affirmed the necessity to cooperate closely to strengthen the Alliance’s combined defense capabilities and committed to continue efforts to meet the conditions for transition through a joint study on bridging and enduring capabilities. The Secretary committed to the provision of bridging capabilities, but noted the need first to understand ROK acquisition plans in order to determine what specific capabilities are needed, and for how long. Owing to South Korea’s economic and military advances, the Minister noted that the ROK will acquire, develop, and provide these capabilities, and committed to more robust discussions on ROK acquisition planning. The Minister reaffirmed the ROK commitment to acquire appropriate defense capabilities of the ROK military necessary for the defense of the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary and the Minister pledged to continue the joint study to optimize the bridging and enduring capabilities in conjunction with the development of the ROK capabilities. The two sides pledged to engage in regular evaluation and review of progress in OPCON transition implementation at the annual SCM and MCMs in order to maintain a steadfast combined defense system.
13. The Secretary and the Minister decided to continue strengthening cooperation in various areas, including space and cyber, in order to ensure an effective response against newly emerging threats and to bolster comprehensive Alliance response capabilities. The Secretary and the Minister acknowledged the efforts of the respective defense authorities working to promote critical infrastructure, including information and space systems, and to improve the security of such systems. The two sides expressed their shared goal of fostering closer space policy development for the Alliance. The two sides pledged to explore further cooperative measures to strengthen space capabilities as an Alliance, such as improving space situational awareness information-sharing systems, and expanding bilateral and multilateral combined exercises and training events to improve the Alliance space operation capabilities. The Secretary and the Minister also committed to exploring opportunities to develop space professionals. The two sides committed to maintain close communication and coordination regarding the cyber domain through sharing trends of cyber threats as well as discussing corresponding policy changes. They also concurred in the need for exchanges between the respective cyber commands with the aim of discussing and promoting mutual interests.
14. The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed their commitment to advancing Alliance priorities and plans in the areas of capability development, interoperability, acquisition, and sustainment by more effectively leveraging U.S.-ROK consultative bodies and activities that address defense research and development, as well as industrial cooperation, capability acquisition, lifecycle logistics, and technology security. The two sides also pledged to pursue expeditiously revisions of bilateral consultative bodies while continuing to coordinate objectives and activities across these areas to provide timely and integrated capability solutions to Alliance requirements.
15. The Secretary and the Minister also noted that U.S.-ROK science and technology cooperation has expanded in several domains such as cyber defense, artificial intelligence, automation, and directed energy. The two sides assessed that such cooperation is continuing to develop in a way that furthers U.S.-ROK mutual interests.
16. The Secretary and the Minister pledged to continue enhancing defense and security cooperation to address wide-ranging global security challenges of mutual interest given the complex security dynamics in the region and around the world. In that sense, they also emphasized the need to seek synergies in U.S. and ROK regional strategies. The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of the rules-based international order and adherence to international rules and norms, including those of freedom of navigation and overflight. They further expressed their intent to work together for that purpose. They also reiterated their commitment to peacekeeping operations (PKO), counter-piracy operations, stabilization and reconstruction efforts, regional security cooperation initiatives, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The Secretary highlighted the effective leadership of the ROK in response to COVID-19 and expressed appreciation for the personal protective equipment (PPE) support that the ROK provided to the United States earlier this year. The two sides committed to continuing close coordination and cooperation to deal with this global pandemic. The Minister also noted the COVID-19 support that the United States and the ROK were providing to various nations in the region and the stringent measures USFK was taking to ensure COVID-19 protection. The Secretary also separately expressed appreciation for the ROK’s dedication and contribution to various global security efforts, including the Proliferation Security Initiative. The Secretary and the Minister applauded the U.S.-ROK Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) efforts to enhance the Alliance’s combined response capabilities to prevent the acquisition and use of WMD, and, if necessary, to respond to mitigate WMD threats. They resolved to continue discussions about strengthening cooperation through the ROK-U.S. Counter WMD Committee (CWMDC), which has enhanced the Alliance CWMD capabilities.
17. The two leaders committed to continue U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral defense cooperation such as information-sharing, high-level policy consultation, including the defense trilateral talks (DTT), combined exercises, and personnel exchanges to maintain the peace and security of Northeast Asia.
18. The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed that expedited USFK base relocations and land returns including those of the Yongsan Garrison are in the interest of both countries and pledged to work together closely on relevant matters, including environmental conditions, to ensure timely base returns in accordance with the U.S.-ROK Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The U.S. side noted that seventeen sites are ready for return to the ROK Government at this time. The Secretary and the Minister confirmed their intent to continue to discuss relevant issues through the established processes of the U.S.-ROK SOFA Joint Committee.
19. The Secretary offered his appreciation for the ROK’s contributions toward ensuring a stable stationing environment for U.S. forces in Korea while emphasizing the importance of defense cost-sharing. The Secretary noted that the current lack of a Special Measures Agreement (SMA) could have lasting effects for Alliance readiness if an expeditious agreement is not reached. The two sides concurred in the necessity of expeditiously resolving the SMA negotiations, in a fair, equitable, and mutually agreeable manner, particularly in light of the impact of the lapse on the ROK-U.S. Alliance.
20. Secretary Esper and Minister Suh expressed appreciation for the courtesy, hospitality, and work by both sides that contributed to the success of this year’s SCM. The Secretary and the Minister both assessed that the discussions during the 52th SCM and the 45th MCM contributed substantively to strengthening the ROK-U.S. Alliance and further enhanced the development of the bilateral defense relationship into a mutually reinforcing Alliance. Both sides expect to hold the 53rd SCM and 46th MCM in Seoul at a mutually convenient time in 2021.