The United States and South Korea have reached an important nuclear weapons agreement.
The United States and South Korea have reached a breakthrough agreement to confront North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Washington has promised to send nuclear-armed submarines to South Korea on a regular basis and to include Seoul in its nuclear planning procedures.
In exchange, South Korea committed not to build its own nuclear weapons.
According to US President Joe Biden, the Washington Declaration will increase allies’ cooperation in deterring a North Korean attack.
Concerns over North Korea’s nuclear danger have grown on both sides. Pyongyang is building tactical nuclear weapons aimed against South Korea, as well as long-range weapons capable of reaching the US mainland.
The United States already has a treaty duty to defend South Korea and has repeatedly stated that nuclear weapons would be used if required. However, some South Koreans have begun to question that commitment and have called for the country to establish its own nuclear program.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who was in Washington on a state visit, said the Washington Declaration represented a “unprecedented” commitment by the US to strengthen defense, deter assaults, and safeguard US allies through the use of nuclear weapons.
According to a senior administration official, the new deal is the outcome of negotiations that lasted several months.
Why do South Koreans desire nuclear weapons?
The US will make its defense obligations more visible under the new agreement by sending a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in four years, along with other strategic assets such as nuclear-capable bombers.
In addition, the two parties will form a Nuclear Consultative Group to discuss nuclear planning concerns.
Politicians in Seoul have long urged Washington to include them in discussions about how and when to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.
South Koreans have become suspicious of being kept in the dark about what would lead Mr Biden to press the nuclear button on their behalf as North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has expanded in size and complexity.
apprehension that Washington will forsake Seoul’s actions have prompted calls for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons.
However, in January, Mr Yoon shocked politicians in Washington by becoming the first South Korean president in decades to reintroduce this proposal.
It became evident to the US that soothing words and gestures would no longer suffice, and that if it was to deter South Korea from developing its own nuclear weapons, it would have to give something substantial.
Mr Yoon had also stated that he anticipated to return home having made “tangible” progress.
According to Duyeon Kim of the Center for a New American Security, South Korea’s participation in nuclear preparation is a “big win.”
“Until now, tabletop exercises would have ended before Washington’s decision to use nuclear weapons,” Ms Kim explained.
“The US had considered such information to be too classified to share, but it is important to practice and train for this scenario given the types of nuclear weapons North Korea is producing.”
This new Nuclear Consultative Group checks the box, offering the additional involvement sought by the South Korean government. The main question is whether it will allay the public’s fears.
It does not commit the United States to using nuclear weapons to defend South Korea if North Korea attacks.
Mr. Biden, on the other hand, stated on Wednesday that “a nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of whatever regime were to take such an action.”
In exchange, the US has requested that South Korea remain a non-nuclear state and a staunch supporter of nuclear non-proliferation. The US deems preventing South Korea from going nuclear as critical, fearing that if it fails, other countries may follow suit.
However, this pledge is unlikely to fully please the important and increasingly vocal group of academics, scientists, and members of South Korea’s ruling party who have been advocating for Seoul to arm itself.
Dr. Cheong Seong-chang, a leading proponent of South Korean nuclear power, stated that while the declaration had many positive aspects, it was “extremely regrettable that South Korea had openly given up its right to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT],” adding that this had “further strengthened our nuclear shackles.”
President Biden stated that the US would keep working to bring North Korea back to the discussion table. According to Washington, Pyongyang has repeatedly refused to meet without preconditions.
The United States hopes to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proclaimed the country’s nuclear status “irreversible” last year.
According to some experts, it is now more appropriate to talk arms control rather than denuclearization.