To lead the nation always under threat from North Korea, backbone is required. As the president of South Korea has demonstrated over her past two days in Washington, she is a vital figure at this time in history.
Park Geun-hye has been referred to as the “Iron Lady of Korea.” It is a fitting moniker since it honors not only her, but also Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Two principled leaders, reaching out to others but willing to risk criticism to achieve a bold vision for their country. As Lady Thatcher observed, “Consensus is the absence of leadership.”
The U.S. and South Korea have stood together for 60 years. Repeatedly during her visit, Park affirmed the continuing need for the alliance that has kept peace on the Korean Peninsula for decades. Although Pyongyang may have toned down its threats of the past two months, the military threat remains. North Korea’s million-man army remains poised near the demilitarized zone, and the regime continues expanding its nuclear and missile arsenal.
The allied effort responding to the North Korean invasion in 1950 provided the shield that saved South Korea and enabled it to develop into a vibrant democracy embracing free-market principles. Today, despite its relatively small population of 50 million people, South Korea is America’s seventh largest trading partner. The economic partnership was further strengthened last year with the passage of the Korea–U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement.
This is her first visit to Washington as president. At the Korean War Memorial, she expressed on behalf of her nation “our profound gratitude to America’s veterans. Their blood, sweat and tears helped safeguard freedom and democracy.”
President Park commented how moved she was by the words etched in granite at the memorial: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” At a dinner celebrating the alliance, Park honored U.S. veterans, speaking eloquently of how “freedom is not free…peace is not free.”
That hard-fought freedom bears fruit—not only for South Koreans, but also for the world. Park highlighted how her nation, once a recipient of foreign aid, is now a major donor to the aid of others. Once the beneficiary of support by armed forces of other nations, South Korea now lends its support to other nations in defense of their freedom. Park articulated her vision where her country would lead an initiative for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia, overcoming historic differences by working toward common objectives.
The U.S.–South Korea military, political, and economic relationships are currently the strongest they have ever been. Indeed, there may be no better example of the benefits to the United States of looking beyond its borders and defending friends who share common values.
The United States has a strong partner in President Park Geun-hye and South Korea. We should honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Korean War by maintaining America’s unequivocal support for a trusted ally and friend with shared values of freedom and democracy.
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