Last month, as co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Korea, I had the privilege of visiting Seoul. Over the course of my three-day visit, I enjoyed robust policy discussions with Korean leaders on numerous topics, deepening old friendships while forging new ones. It was evident to me that the U.S.-Korea alliance has never been stronger.

As an ardent defender of our alliance, I know what the relationship means to the United States Congress and America as a whole. Without question, Korea is one of our greatest foreign policy success stories in the post-World War II era. Since the end of the Korean War, the Korean people and their flourishing democracy have continued to exceed everyone’s expectations.


Out of the ashes of war when the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, Korea has emerged into a global powerhouse, a model democracy, and a respected leader. For 60 years, the United States and Korea have stood shoulder to shoulder in defense of peace and freedom in the Korean Peninsula, and for 60 years, the Republic of Korea has survived and prospered. At every turn, no matter the challenge, we forged ahead together and have contributed hand-in-hand to security and stability around the world. Our alliance is truly a “Blood Alliance.”

The strength of our alliance is reflected in the facts. The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) has brought economic growth and productivity to both of our countries. Our bilateral trade volume reached $116 billion in 2014 and Korea now ranks as America’s sixth largest trading partner. American exports to Korea reached a record level of $44.5 billion last year.

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the Trade Subcommittee, I am personally committed to championing the benefits of KORUS and to resolving any issues over the course of the implementation in a constructive manner.

Further, as we look to the future of trade in the Asia-Pacific, I will continue to engage in a thorough review of the recently completed text of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and to engage in an equally thorough dialogue with my constituents regarding the agreement’s contents.  Should the TPP be approved by the Congress and enter into force, I would look at potential participation by Korea with great interest.

Additionally, I look forward to the benefits realized by the U.S.-Korea Civil Nuclear Energy Agreement. I’ve been a staunch proponent of the renewal of the 123 Agreement because it will create good jobs for American companies such as Westinghouse, which is headquartered in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, in the heart of my district. It will level the playing field for American energy companies to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy production, export, research, safety, and nonproliferation.

Taken as a whole, Korea is the linchpin of America’s foreign policy in Northeast Asia. Our alliance through the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953 anchors peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. We accomplish this through strength and vigilance as well as the 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that heroically serve to defend the Republic of Korea.

But this center of gravity continues to be tested by the menacing dictatorship in North Korea. Theirs is a brutal regime, committed to an inhumane ideology, and so we must always be ready to counter any and all provocations and acts of aggression. To this point, let me be clear: The United States must continue to stand firmly and confidently with the Republic of Korea. Any attempt by North Korea to create instability – whether through a missile or nuclear test or even a cyber-warfare attack – on the Peninsula must be met with an equally rapid and firm response.

Our two nations must also be guided by our core values to foster trust and mutual cooperation in the region. This is why I support President Park’s Dresden initiatives that she boldly outlined early last year as her vision for the ultimate unification of the Korean Peninsula. Her efforts aimed at “Trustpolitik” are also to be commended. A concrete and measurable trust-building process has the potential to yield important results aimed at reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

These efforts will not be realized overnight and cannot come at the expense of our vigilance with respect to the overall security situation on the Peninsula. However, where we can make inroads to convey our values to the North Korean people, we ought to do so with patience and conviction.

As I reflect on my visit to the Korean Republic, I’m reminded of the deep and abiding responsibility all American leaders should feel towards preserving the U.S.-Korea alliance. The vigor and vitality of the Korean people and their commitment to democracy, a free market economy, and the rule of law – our common values – is simply inspirational. We owe that commitment to our esteemed Korean War veterans—the 1.8 million Americans who fought and sacrificed so much in that awful conflict to help birth one of the greatest democracies and alliances in the history of civilization.

In the years ahead, this noble alliance will surely be tested but our faith and determination must never falter or waiver. The freedom and prosperity of millions depend on it.

Kelly has represented Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.