The U.S.-South Korea Alliance is special – it was forged on the battlefield and has been fortified by the common values and mutual respect of both peoples.
Indeed, the United States’ military efforts on behalf of South Korea have contributed to the modern economic miracle that South Korea has become. "This country has risen from occupation and ruin and become one of the most vibrant and open democracies in the world," President Barack Obama said on his recent visit to South Korea.
None of this was an accident. Freedom and democracy must be fought for, according to President Obama. The 38th parallel now exists as much as a contrast between worlds as it does a border between South Korea and North Korea, between a society that's open and one that is closed; between a democracy that is growing and a pariah state that prioritizes its nuclear weapons program over the well-being of its own people.
The stark contrast between North and South Korea is a result of the divergent choices North Korea and South Korea have made. North Korea has chosen to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. "I want to be clear," said President Obama, "the commitment that the United States of America has made to the security of the Republic of Korea only grows stronger in the face of aggression."
North Korea's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a path that leads only to more isolation. It's not a sign of strength. Indeed, real strength is allowing people to participate in an open democracy and choose their own leaders and their own destiny. Real strength is allowing a vibrant society to flourish by encouraging people to think, pray, and speak their minds as they please, even if it is against their leaders. Real strength is allowing the existence of free and open markets, such as in South Korea that have built thriving middle classes.
The leaders of North Korea have a choice. They can continue down the road of isolation, or they can join the rest of the international community. If they choose this path, the United States and its allies will help them build that future. But if they do not, the United States stands ready to defend itself and its allies.
The United States will continue to support the path that the leaders and the people of South Korea have chosen to take, the path of democracy, freedom and open markets – and our alliance with South Korea will grow stronger as a result.