Biden, Yoon Caution North Korea, Reaffirm ‘Nuclear Umbrella’ Stance

In the event of a North Korean nuclear attack on South Korea, the United States would immediately counterattack with overwhelming force, possibly including nuclear weapons, to destroy the Pyongyang regime. North Korea must take seriously the strong warning issued by the leaders of the United States and South Korea.

U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met in Washington and announced the “Washington Declaration,” which includes specific measures to strengthen nuclear deterrence against North Korea.

The pillar of the declaration is the creation of a new body called the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG).

So far, South Korea has not been able to be directly involved in U.S. nuclear strategy. From now on, however, through the consultative body, South Korea will be able to have its views reflected in plans for the U.S. military to conduct a nuclear attack on North Korea and the training for such an attack.

The declaration also indicates a policy of regular and visible deployment of U.S. nuclear forces, including port calls in South Korea by U.S. strategic nuclear submarines equipped with submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

These steps are all aimed at enhancing the credibility of measures taken by Washington to defend South Korea under the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” Biden emphasized a “swift, overwhelming and decisive response” to any North Korean nuclear attack on South Korea, and declared that the regime of Kim Jong Un would end.

In the background are North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats. As North Korea has mentioned the preemptive use of tactical nuclear weapons against South Korea, fears have grown in South Korea that the United States would not intervene in a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, leading to arguments over whether Seoul should establish a nuclear arsenal of its own.

With these developments in mind, the declaration clearly states that South Korea “recognizes the importance, necessity and benefit of its enduring reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrent.” It also reaffirmed South Korea’s commitment to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

It can be said that the declaration clarifies South Korea’s stance of relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence without seeking to acquire its own nuclear weapons.

The possession of nuclear weapons by South Korea could lead to the weakening of the NPT framework and a nuclear arms race in Asia. It is important for South Korea to strike a balance, in line with the declaration, between the strengthening of its deterrence capability and the maintenance of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

At a press conference, making particular reference to Yoon’s efforts to improve relations with Japan, Biden expressed high praise by saying, “I want to thank you for your political courage.” Biden also reiterated the significance of the cooperation being promoted by the three countries.

Although Japan-South Korea relations have begun to normalize with Yoon’s visit to Japan in March, there is still strong dissatisfaction within South Korea among those who think the government made too many concessions to Japan. To prevent the trend of improving relations from going backward, the Japanese side also needs to continue engaging in dialogue with South Korea and deepen cooperation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28, 2023)