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A Sturdy Support for US-Korean Relations

US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-Hwan on Apr. 5, 2009 in Tokyo. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-Hwan on Apr. 5, 2009 in Tokyo. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, February 25, 2010 - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said that there are three legs to the stool of American foreign policy: defense, diplomacy, and development. According to U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Kathleen Stephens, the analogy also applies to South Korea.

In a breakfast briefing here before a corporate audience, Stephens talked about how those three legs have built a sturdy U.S.- ROK alliance. She recalled that one of the very first Korean phrases she learned in the 1970s was literally "the relationship/alliance forged in blood." Looking back from 2010, which marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and 57th anniversary of the armistice, she said, "a defense shield between the U.S. and Korea, behind which development and diplomacy have taken place, has led Republic of Korea to the prosperity it enjoys today." Stephens applauded USAID for their assistance with education and land reform in South Korea in the 1970s, citing Korea’s transformation from a recipient nation to a donor nation.

In terms of diplomacy, the Republic of Korea joined the United Nations in 1992, and 18 years later the UN's Secretary General is a former South Korean Foreign Minister. "That's a great success for Korean diplomacy, and we in the United States can be proud to play a role in supporting Korea in its emergence."

Beyond the three legged-stool analogy, the Ambassador offered her own direct observation of economic and political transformations of the past few decades. "In the 1960s, South Korea’s per capita GDP was less than Kenya's and Burma's. Now it is the world's sixth largest trading nation,” Stephens said. The U.S.-Korea two-way trade in goods and services exceeded $100 billion for 2009, and a Free Trade Agreement is awaiting ratification. In addition, the Presidential election in 1987 and the outreach to North Korea by former President Kim Dae Jung proved the flowering of democracy in the Republic of Korea.

The third transformation includes cooperation between the U.S. and Korea on their shared goals in the global economic and development arena, including demilitarizing the Korean Peninsula as well as climate change and green energy issues.

Stephens' connections to South Korea are numerous. She was a Peace Corps volunteer there from 1975 to 1977. From 1984 to 1987, she served as chief of the internal political unit in Seoul, and was principal officer of the U.S. Consulate in Busan, Korea afterward. She was confirmed as Ambassador to the Republic of Korea in August 2008.

Reported by Szuhan Chen