President Moon Jae-in stressed the importance of the nation's military strength and alliance with the United States on Monday, the 70th Armed Forces Day.
"Now we have launched our ambitious journey toward lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. The path we are walking on is a path that no one has walked before, and so it is hard to predict what difficulties lie ahead. And therefore, strong defense is more important than ever," the president said while meeting with 200 war veterans and military officials.
Top commanders of the U.S. Forces Korea also attended the meeting, held over lunch at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon's remarks followed his recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, in which they reaffirmed their joint efforts to completely denuclearize the peninsula and further promote detente.
In their first summit on April 27, Moon and Kim agreed to immediately halt their countries' hostile acts against each other. In their third and latest summit last month, the two signed what Seoul officials have called a de facto non-aggression pact, in which the countries agreed never to use military force against each other under any circumstances.
"The reason we were able to win concessions for an agreement in the military sector at the Pyongyang summit was because we had our military's confidence in its defense of our nation," President Moon told the meeting.
"Peace can last only when we have the strength and confidence to defend ourselves," he added.
The president highlighted the need for a military reform to build a stronger military.
"The driving force in making peace is a strong military. The force that supports a strong military is the people's trust," Moon said. "The military reform we are pushing for now is a move to prepare for a time of peace by becoming a stronger military that can effectively counter current and future threats."
"As the commander in chief, I will not hold back any support to complete the military reform," the president added.
The president also stressed the importance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
"The South Korea-U.S. alliance too is developing into a 'great alliance' that actively creates peace on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. Forces Korea will continue to carry out its mission as a defender of peace on the Korean Peninsula while also contributing to the stability and peace of Northeast Asia," Moon said.
Moon's earlier call for efforts to enhance the country's defense capabilities invited strong reactions from North Korea, with which the South Korean president is seeking to declare an official end to the Korean War and eventually sign a peace treaty.
The president insisted a strong military will ensure peace by reducing or eliminating the possibility of confrontation.
"Peace does not come at once. We must not forget that peace can last when it is based on our strength. Now is the time for our military to stand in the very front of peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said in a formal ceremony held later at the War Memorial of Korea involving some 3,500 people and service members.
"(Securing) peace with force is the military's mission, and a strong military is the true hero in the era of peace," he added.
Moon also stressed the need for joint efforts.
"We win when we work together. (The military) must work with the people, and commanders must work with their soldiers. The Army, Navy and Air Force must work together, and we must work with our allies and other friendly nations," he said.
"We are now moving toward an era of peace. Our honorable soldiers will write a new chapter in the history of the Korean Peninsula. I have endless faith in our soldiers and will always work with you all," the president said. (Yonhap News)