The U.S. and South Korea vowed on Tuesday to ramp up their nuclear deterrence efforts and military drills in the face of increased hostilities from North Korea.
In a three-day trip to South Korea, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the U.S. has an “ironclad” commitment to Seoul, which includes “the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including our conventional, nuclear and missile defense capabilities.”
Austin, alongside South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup, discussed not only bilateral efforts to increase security in the region, but trilateral drills with Japan, which previously angered North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and prompted additional threats and missiles tests.
SOUTH KOREA PLANS TO PROVIDE HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE TO NORTH KOREA IN HOPES OF STRENGTHENING RELATIONSHIP
North Korea launched a record number of missiles tests in 2022, including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S.
Officials have also voiced concern that North Korea could be planning to launch its first nuclear missile test since 2017.
The defense leaders said Washington and Seoul would continue to increase deterrence in the wake of North Korea’s expanded missile program by strengthening the “implementation of extended deterrence in areas of information sharing, joint planning and execution and consultation mechanisms.”
Lee pointed to drills last year that combined flight trainings and the deployment of strategic bombers as “the embodiment of extended deterrence” by displaying multiple defense capabilities.
Pyongyang has denounced the increased joint drills as proof that the West and its allies are planning hostilities against North Korea.
SOUTH KOREA CONSIDERS NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT FOR FIRST TIME IN FACE OF GROWING NORTH KOREA SECURITY THREAT
Lee said the U.S. and South Korea will hold tabletop drills next month to map out a scenario and response plan to North Korea launching a nuclear attack.
Austin said South Korea could expect to see more U.S. defense capabilities deployed to the region and pointed to the previous shipment of F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, as well as the deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.
Some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea and have served as a military deterrent to North Korea since the Korean War, which ended in 1953.
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However, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the nation needs to reconsider its defensive posture in the wake of North Korea’s continued aggression and earlier this month said that Seoul may need to consider developing its own nuclear program.
Yoon said he was in talks with Washington regarding the redeployment of nuclear arms in the southern peninsula, which would reverse steps taken over 30 years ago when the U.S. removed all nuclear capabilities from South Korea in 1991.