South Korea and the United States are discussing joint planning and implementation of U.S. nuclear operations to counter North Korea and hope to hold tabletop exercises soon, officials from both sides said on Tuesday.
The plan comes amid a push by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to beef up America’s extended deterrence — the US military capability, especially its nuclear forces, to deter attacks on its allies — since taking office in May in the face of growing North Korean threats.
In a newspaper interview published on Monday, Yoon said that the allies are discussing joint nuclear planning and exercises, which will help dispel doubts about extended deterrence, since his existing concept is “not convincing” to the South Koreans.
“In order to respond to North Korean nuclear weapons, the two countries are discussing ways to share information on the operation of U.S.-owned nuclear assets and jointly plan and use them accordingly,” Yoon’s spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said. says in the statement.
A senior US administration official said the two sides are considering increased information sharing, joint contingency planning and possible tabletop exercises at the request of their presidents after meeting in Cambodia in November to explore ways to counter threats from North Korea.
But the official noted that regular nuclear exercises would be “extremely difficult” because South Korea is not a nuclear power, echoing US President Joe Biden’s comment that allies do not discuss such activities.
“This will be done in a variety of ways, including, as President Yong said, through increased information sharing, joint planning and expanding the range of contingencies that we plan, as well as training, and with an idea that will eventually lead to tabletop exercises.” , the official told Reuters.
The scheduled tabletop exercise has yet to be scheduled, the official said, but it will take place “in the not-so-distant future” and cover scenarios including nuclear situations.
“The idea is also to try to make sure that we can fully think through the full range of capabilities based on the capabilities of the DPRK that they have demonstrated as well as their statements,” the official added, using the official name of North Korea. , Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
A National Security Council spokesman said in a statement that the United States is committed to providing extended deterrence and that allies are working on “an effective coordinated response to a range of scenarios, including the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea.”
Asked about the tabletop exercise, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said talks were underway but declined to elaborate.
This year, the two countries have resumed consultations on extended deterrence after a years-long hiatus amid North Korea’s increased nuclear and missile capabilities.
Pyongyang has identified South Korea as a “clear enemy” and has vowed to build up its nuclear arsenal this year after launching a record number of missiles in 2022 and escalating tensions by sending drones south in December.
“U.S. countermeasures have not kept up with the development of the North’s nuclear programs, and the strategy of extended deterrence is almost no different from when their nuclear capabilities were smaller and weaker,” said Go Myung-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute of Policy. Studying in Seoul.
But Kim Dong Yup, a professor at Gyeongnam University, said Biden’s comment, which has sole authority to authorize the use of US nuclear weapons, suggested America’s reluctance to share nuclear operations given their sensitivity and security concerns.
“Given the growing voices in favor of tactical nuclear weapons, Washington could try to give reassurance and send more nuclear weapons when we want to, but they are unlikely to fully implement President Yong’s desire to expand extended deterrence,” Kim said.