Strengthening the Ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance

Office of the Spokesperson

“America’s alliances are our greatest asset, and leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.”
– President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., February 4, 2021

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III will travel to Seoul, Republic of Korea (ROK), March 17–18 to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our Alliance and to highlight cooperation that promotes peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.

Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin will attend a U.S.-ROK Foreign and Defense Ministerial (“2+2”) hosted by the ROK’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Minister of Defense Suh Wook.  Secretary Blinken will meet with Foreign Minister Chung and other senior officials to discuss issues of bilateral and global importance.

Secretary Blinken will also meet virtually with Korean youth leaders and host a virtual roundtable with emerging Korean journalists to discuss the importance of a free press and the U.S.-ROK Alliance.

Addressing the Challenges of Today and the Future

  • The U.S.-ROK Alliance is the linchpin of peace, security, and prosperity for Northeast Asia, a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and across the world. U.S.-ROK military and defense ties are unwavering, and our ever-increasing economic, technological, diplomatic, people-to-people, and values-based bonds are strong and enduring.
  • ROK engagement in the Indo-Pacific and across the world is essential, as demonstrated most recently by its response to COVID-19. In the early months of the pandemic, the United States and the ROK collaborated to establish robust travel screening measures to preserve air links between our countries and assisted with repatriating each other’s citizens.  The ROK donated critical medical supplies to the United States, including 2.5 million protective masks, and facilitated the purchase of 750,000 COVID-19 tests.  U.S. and ROK experts and policymakers continue to regularly share best practices on fighting COVID-19.
  • The ROK is a major donor and leader in development efforts, including health security, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian assistance. Through our ongoing dialogues on the Indo-Pacific in coordination with the ROK New Southern Policy, the U.S.-ROK Alliance is focused on a future-oriented partnership, including cooperation on health security, climate change, science and technology, renewable energy, law enforcement, cyber security, and cooperation with the Pacific Island countries the Mekong sub-region, and ASEAN.

Comprehensive Economic Ties between the Korean and American People

  • The United States is the ROK’s second largest trading partner, and the ROK is the United States’ sixth largest trading partner. The United States is the second largest investor in the Republic of Korea.
  • ROK foreign direct investment in the United States continues to grow and has more than tripled from $19.7 billion in 2011 to $61.1 billion in 2019, making the ROK the second-largest Asian source of foreign direct investment into the United States. The United States is the largest foreign direct investment destination for ROK investors, ahead of China and Vietnam.  In recent years, ROK companies have made major investment announcements in automotive components, industrial equipment, green energy, consumer electronics, and other sectors.  U.S. firms also play an important role in key sectors of the Korean economy.
  • The United States and the ROK hold an annual Senior Economic Dialogue during which policymakers coordinate on bilateral, regional, and global economic issues and advance regional economic cooperation.

An Alliance Built on People-to-People Ties

  • Over 1.7 million Korean students have enrolled in the United States since 1955. During the 2019/2020 academic year, more than 49,000 Korean students came to the United States.  The ROK is the largest per capita source of foreign students in the United States.
  • More than two million ROK citizens visit, work, or live in the United States, and over 200,000 U.S. citizens reside in the ROK. More than 10,000 U.S. and ROK citizens have participated in USG-sponsored exchanges, including 3600 Fulbrighters and almost 2000 International Visitor Leadership Program participants.
  • Prominent alumni include nine ROK Prime Ministers, countless dozens of National Assembly members, and two former ROK Presidents, including Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Strengthening U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea Cooperation

  • The Biden-Harris Administration is working to strengthen America’s relationships with our allies, and the relationships between those allies. No relationship is more important than that between the ROK and Japan.  The United States continues to promote expanded U.S.-ROK-Japan cooperation to tackle COVID-19 and combat climate change, as well as reinvigorate trilateral cooperation on a broad range of global issues, including the denuclearization of the DPRK.
  • A robust and effective trilateral relationship between the United States, the ROK, and Japan is critical for our joint security and interests in defending freedom and democracy, upholding human rights, championing women’s empowerment, combating climate change, promoting regional and global peace, security, and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific and across the globe.

Securing Peace, Stability, and Prosperity in Northeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific

  • The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK remains ironclad.  The Alliance continues to work toward our shared goals of securing peace, stability, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and throughout the Indo-Pacific.
  • The United States and the ROK work together to combat regional and global threats, as well as promote peace, security, and prosperity.  The United States maintains U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula in support of its commitment under the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty to help meet the common danger posed by external threats. North Korea poses a serious threat to international peace and security and the global nonproliferation regime.  The United States remains committed to strengthening deterrence against and the denuclearization of North Korea, as well as the protection and promotion of human rights in North Korea.
  • The Biden-Harris Administration is conducting a North Korea policy review in close consultation with the ROK, Japan, and other key partners, including reviewing  the potential for future diplomacy.

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    What GAO Found Like most medical institutions nationwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faced difficulties obtaining medical supplies, including personal protective equipment for its medical workforce, particularly in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-standing problems with its antiquated inventory management system exacerbated VA's challenges. GAO found VA obligated over $4 billion for COVID-19-related products, such as ventilators, and services, such as information technology to support VA's telework environment, as of May 2021. GAO also found that some vendors were unable to deliver personal protective equipment, which resulted in VA terminating some contracts, particularly early in the pandemic. VA also took additional steps to screen vendors. VA has several initiatives underway to modernize its supply chain and prepare for future public health emergencies, but each faces delays and is in early stages (see figure). For example: Inventory management. VA intended to replace its system with the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support (DMLSS), with initial implementation in October 2019, and enterprise-wide implementation by 2027. Prior to the pandemic, however, this schedule was at significant risk. VA hopes to accelerate full implementation to 2025, and has received COVID-19 supplemental funds to help, but it is too soon to tell if this will occur. Regional Readiness Centers. VA planned to establish four centers—as central sources of critical medical supplies—by December 2020. As of March 2021, VA has not completed a concept of operations or implementation plan for the project. VA faces an additional year delay in achieving full operational capability, which is now expected in 2023. According to VA officials, the pandemic, among other things, contributed to delays. Warstopper program. VA seeks participation in this Defense Logistics Agency program, which would allow VA emergency access to critical supplies. Legislation recently was introduced to require VA participation. However, as GAO reported in March 2021, several questions remain, such as the range of products the program will cover, the amount of funding needed, and the way the program links to Regional Readiness Centers. Department of Veterans Affairs' Selected Ongoing and New Supply Chain Initiatives, Fiscal Years 2021 through 2028 Why GAO Did This Study In March 2020 and March 2021, Congress appropriated $19.6 billion and $17 billion in supplemental funds, respectively, for VA's COVID-19 response effort. VA also authorized use of emergency flexibilities and automated aspects of its inventory system. In accordance with Congress's direction in the CARES Act to monitor the exercise of authorities and use of funds provided to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the pandemic, relevant committees requested our sustained focus on VA. GAO was asked to assess VA's acquisition management during its COVID-19 pandemic response. This report examines VA's efforts to obtain and track COVID-19-related products and services amid its ongoing struggle to improve its inventory and supply chain management. GAO reviewed federal procurement data, analyzed selected VA contract documents, reviewed selected interagency agreements, assessed VA documents on modernization and other initiatives, and interviewed VA officials and staff.
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  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Cost and Schedule Risks in Modernization Program Echo Long-Standing Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found While the Department of Defense (DOD) approaches its full-rate production decision point (which would formally authorize DOD's transition from development to full production), the F-35 program is producing nearly 25 percent of the total planned aircraft in low-rate initial production before satisfying the criteria for full-rate production. As it approaches this major milestone, the program has taken steps to but has not fully addressed a number of challenges, even though GAO recommended that it do so, such as the need to: resolve critical deficiencies with the aircraft; ensure critical manufacturing processes are mature; address supply chain issues that strain production and sustainment; and take steps to ensure reliability and maintainability goals are met. Compounding these production issues is the fact that the program has not completed operational testing on the aircraft to ensure warfighters get the capabilities they require, primarily due to increasing delays with the aircraft simulator. In August 2020, the program office determined the simulator—to be used to replicate complex test scenarios that could not be accomplished in real-world environment testing—did not fully represent F-35 capabilities and could not be used for further testing until fixed. Since then, program officials have been developing a new plan to ensure the simulator works as intended. Until this happens, the full-rate production date remains undetermined (see figure). F-35 Operational Test Schedule and Key Events through 2021, as of June 2021 At the same time that the program is resolving risks with the baseline program, DOD is encountering similar cost and schedule increases with its F-35 modernization effort. In the 3 years of Block 4 capability development, the total estimated cost of Block 4 increased from $10.6 billion to $14.4 billion. This increase is, in part, a recognition of all costs, past and future, estimated to be required to complete the effort. As GAO recommended in May 2020, DOD now reports all Block 4 costs, not just those associated with the near term. While DOD added another year to the Block 4 schedule, in March 2021 GAO found the remaining development time frame is not achievable. Unless the F-35 program accounts for historical performance in the schedule estimates, the Block 4 schedule will continue to exceed estimated time frames and stakeholders will lack reliable information on when the modernized capabilities will be delivered. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program began development in 2001 and remains DOD's most expensive weapon system program. Currently, the program is more than 8 years delayed and $165 billion over original cost expectations. As the program progresses toward completing operational testing of the aircraft's baseline capabilities, it still faces risks. DOD is also 3 years into an effort, called Block 4, to modernize the F-35 aircraft's capabilities. Block 4 is loosely based on Agile software development processes. With this approach, DOD intends to incrementally develop, test, and deliver small groups of new capabilities every 6 months. This testimony discusses acquisition-related risks in the F-35 program. It is based largely on findings in GAO's March 2021 and May 2020 annual reports (GAO-21-226; GAO-20-339) on F-35 acquisition.
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