South Korea and US Talking Nukes and North Korea

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South Korea has had enough of North Korea. Amid the persistent and growing rhetoric, they have become increasingly concerned with their safety. While the US already bolsters their security, on January 3rd, Seoul reconfirmed that the two will be working together on nukes for their security. Yet recently, President Biden claimed they would not be doing joint nuclear exercises.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rolled into 2023 with the promises of further advancements in battlefield nuclear weapons, and for them to roll out in massive quantities. He also has reinforced his aspirations to have a more powerful ballistic intercontinental missile that can hit the mainland US. Many are predicting that the end goal here could be to force his way out of concessions being made by other countries like sanctions relief.

SK President Yoon Suk Yeol told a newspaper on January 2nd that the US would be pushing for joint drills, including the use of US nuclear assets. This is what prompted Biden’s clarification about nuclear exercises when questioned by a reporter, but the contrast in plans is incredibly interesting. Especially when Yoon’s press secretary issues a statement claiming Seoul and Washington “are discussing an intel-sharing, a joint planning and subsequent joint execution plans over the management of U.S. nuclear assets in response to North Korea’s nuclear (threats).” He also explained Biden’s response was likely due to a lack of context.

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During the Chosun Ilbo interview, Yoon explained that US nuclear assets belong to the US, but planning, intel-sharing, and exercises involving their use must be conducted jointly with South Korea. With the US not showing the same commitment as in years past, he is finding it more difficult to convince his people that the US security levels will be helping to keep the country safe.

As it stands, South Korea has no nuclear weapons of its own. Instead, they are under the nuclear umbrella of the US. While this guarantees a country that the US is protecting will have a stiff response sent on their behalf if attacked by nuclear force, and in many instances, the US provides deterrence efforts for these countries as well. With that decision resting with the president of the US alone, many wonder if that’s enough.

It’s not hard to see why the people of South Korea are concerned by Kim and his actions, as well as Biden and his inactions. There isn’t much left that the US or any other nation can do to North Korea. China and Russia are virtually the only ones who will trade with them, and the US won’t do much to change that. Given Russia’s disconnection from much of the globe at this point, Kim has a buyer for anything he can and wants to sell to finance his programs.

November’s annual meeting between defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea led to them issuing a joint statement reaffirming the US commitment to keeping the peace in the Korean peninsula, as well as extra deterrence for South Korea and finding new steps to increase their deterrence against North Korea. They also confirmed their commitments to planning and intel-sharing going forward.

The commitment to keep US assets in the region is an intelligent one, and it has been a great step for keeping the globe stabilized. However, it costs the American taxpayer greatly, spreads out more of our military, plus makes things a bit more difficult for their families. The way Biden refuses to acknowledge any of the difficulties with the situation in the Korean peninsula is disturbing. He needs to step up and lay out the plan properly because Kim is ready to go at any time.

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