U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Monday reaffirmed Washington's commitment to defending South Korean despite a shrinking Pentagon budget.
"The commitment to the alliance is part of the Asia-Pacific rebalance, and we will ensure all the pieces of our defense relationship will continue to move forward, and this will occur despite the budgetary pressures in the U.S.," Carter told reporters after he met South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
"In particular, we remain steadfast to our commitment to extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. We'll ensure all of our resources will be available to our alliance."
This also includes the presence of a B-52 bomber during ongoing joint military drills. The participation of this Cold-War symbol of hard U.S. power in Asia "is routine," Carter said, but it has never before been publicly announced.
The bombers are capable of dropping nuclear bombs.
The B-52 comes from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and is to take part in flight training and a simulated bombing exercise on Tuesday.
"Carter's remarks showed that the U.S. has the ability and will to punish the North, including nuclear retaliation, if it should attempt a provocation," Prof. Park Won-kon of Handong Global University speculated.
U.S. defense spending is expected to shrink by about 9 percent. This has led to fears that Seoul will have to shoulder a bigger share of the upkeep cost for the U.S. Forces Korea from the current 42 percent. But Carter said the cuts will not affect the current share.