November 07, 2022 10:59
South Korea and the U.S. agreed last Thursday to conduct joint nuclear deterrence exercises every year to respond to the threat from North Korea.
Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made the decision at the annual Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon in Arlinton, Virginia.
They agreed to conduct an annual "table-top-exercise… in response to recent changes in [North Korea's] nuclear strategy and capabilities."
They "also reaffirmed the commitment of the U.S. to deploy... strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary... and identify new steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of [North Korea's] destabilizing activities."
The two countries are seeking an alternative to the idea of deploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula, which has met with resistance in the U.S.
In a press conference after the meeting, Lee pledged to make sure that such "timely" -- i.e. occasional -- deployments of U.S. strategic assets here will be carried out as efficiently as any permanent deployment.
Nuclear deterrence drills have been carried out only twice over the past five years, but now they will become an annual fixture.
"It's an opportunity for us to learn how to operate strategic assets by participating in the U.S. exercises," a military officer here said. "We'll have more say about the U.S. nuclear deterrence if these drills are staged regularly."
"Various types of joint operations, including escorts by South Korean fighters, will be possible, when U.S. stealth fighter jets are deployed to the Korean Peninsula from Guam, which lies just a two-hour flight from the peninsula," the officer added.
But Washington resisted South Korean calls to deploy tactical nuclear weapons or allow South Korea its own nuclear weapons.
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