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Saturday, April 20, 2024

North Korea’s Nuclear Threat Prompts US to Send Submarine to South Korea

For the first time since the 1980s, a U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) visited South Korea on Tuesday, as the allies launched talks to coordinate their responses in the event of a nuclear war with North Korea. White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell confirmed the rare visit, which had been expected after it was announced in a joint declaration during a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington in April. The arrival of the Ohio-class USS Kentucky at Busan marks a deterrent boost as Pyongyang ramps its threats and promises unrelenting military advances.

The visit is also part of a new effort to strengthen the alliance in the face of North Korean aggression, which includes an agreement to dock nuclear-capable submarines in South Korea periodically and to expand military exercises. Campbell, who co-chaired the first meeting of the allies’ Nuclear Consultative Group with South Korean officials, said Kentucky’s visit reflects “our ironclad commitment to the Republic of Korea for our extended deterrence guarantee.”

But even as the allies agreed on the NCG and expanded military drills, it is unclear how realistically they could carry out some of their plans, such as deploying strategic assets like aircraft carriers to the peninsula more regularly. SSBNs can carry up to 20 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, with a range of up to 7,500 miles. But the U.S. military has no plan to return lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula, a senior administration official told N.K. News.

The NCG, whose members include top South Korean and U.S. officials, will meet quarterly, with the next session set for later this year in the United States, Kim Tae-Hyo, the South’s national security adviser who co-chaired the first meeting with Campbell, told reporters. She added that the allies will also develop a system to share intelligence and communicate in real-time more closely.

A senior administration official warned that the NCG discussions shouldn’t be interpreted as a shift away from deterrence. The official said the administration still opposes any steps by Seoul to obtain its nuclear weapons. However, recent polls have shown that most South Koreans support obtaining their nukes and doubt that the United States would use its nuclear weapons against them.

As the U.S. and South Korea discussed ways to strengthen their deterrence, a debate has also emerged in Seoul over how to count age, with some residents arguing for a switch to a different system that makes them appear a year or two younger. The government is expected to decide on the matter within a few weeks. The move is meant to simplify the process of registering births and deaths, often recorded using different systems that confuse relatives and medical professionals. The switch to the new system is expected to be effective early next year.

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