US and South Korea agree major nuclear weapons deal

  • Gene Mackenzie in Seoul and Barbara Prett Usher in Washington
  • BBC news

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to visit Washington this week to discuss various issues with President Joe Biden

The United States and South Korea have secured a landmark deal to counter the North Korean nuclear threat.

Washington has agreed to regularly deploy US nuclear-armed submarines to South Korea and to involve Seoul in its nuclear program operations.

In return, South Korea agreed not to develop its own nuclear weapons.

The Washington Declaration will strengthen allied cooperation to deter North Korean aggression, US President Joe Biden said.

Both countries are concerned about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. North Korea is developing tactical nuclear weapons that can target South Korea and improving long-range weapons that can reach the U.S. mainland.

The United States already has treaty obligations to defend South Korea and has previously committed to using nuclear weapons if necessary. But some in South Korea are beginning to question that promise, calling for the country to pursue its own nuclear program.

South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol, who visited the White House as a state guest, said the Washington Declaration was an “unprecedented” commitment by the United States to strengthen its defenses, deter aggression and use nuclear weapons to protect its allies. said to show.

China is clearly unsatisfied with the US stance and has warned against “deliberately creating tensions, provoking confrontation and making threats”.

The new deal is the result of months of negotiations, according to government officials.

Under the new agreement, the United States will make its defense commitments more visible by sending its first nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea in 40 years, along with other strategic assets, including nuclear-capable bombers. I will.

The two countries also plan to set up a nuclear advisory group to discuss nuclear program issues.

Politicians in Seoul have long pressed Washington to get them more involved in planning when and how to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.

As North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has grown in size and sophistication, South Koreans have become wary of secrecy about what would cause Mr. Biden to push the nuclear button instead.

Concerns that Washington will abandon South Korea are fueling calls for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons.

But in January, Yoon became the first South Korean president in decades to put the idea back on the agenda, warning policymakers in Washington.

It suddenly became clear that reassuring words and gestures were no longer acceptable to the United States, and if South Korea were to deter its unwillingness to build its own bombs, it would have to provide something concrete. It won’t.

In addition, Yoon revealed that he plans to return home after making “tangible” progress.

Duyeon Kim of the Center for a New American Security said South Korea’s involvement in the nuclear program was a “big win.”

“In the past, tabletop exercises were over before Washington decided to use nuclear weapons,” Kim said.

“The United States considered such information too sensitive to be shared, but given the type of nuclear weapons North Korea is producing, it is important to practice and train for this scenario. is important.”

This new Nuclear Advisory Group ticks a box to provide the more engagement the South Korean government has been asking for. But the bigger question is whether it will quell public unrest.

It does not represent the full commitment of the United States to use nuclear weapons to defend South Korea if North Korea attacks.

But Mr Biden said on Wednesday that “North Korea’s nuclear attack on the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and would mark the end of any regime that took such action.”

In return, the United States demanded that South Korea remain a nuclear-free state and a staunch supporter of nuclear non-proliferation. The United States believes it is essential to dissuade South Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, and fears other countries could follow in its footsteps if that fails.

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Video: Yoon served Biden an American pie during the visit

But these US commitments are unlikely to fully satisfy the influential and increasingly vocal group of academics, scientists and members of South Korea’s ruling party.

Dr. Chung Sung-chan, a major proponent of South Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, said that despite the many positive aspects of the declaration, “South Korea’s open waiver of its right to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not an issue. I am very sorry,” he said. [NPT]’, adding that this ‘further strengthened our nuclear shackles’.

President Biden said the United States is continuing its efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. Washington says North Korea has ignored many requests to speak without preconditions.

The United States hopes to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal, but last year North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the country’s nuclear arsenal to be “irreversible.”

Some experts say it makes more sense to discuss arms control than denuclearization.

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