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Friday, May 24, 2024

Austin reaffirms U.S. commitment, suggests more F-35 visits

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Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, right, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after their joint press briefing at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul on Tuesday. [AP/YONHAP]
Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, right, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after their joint press briefing at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul on Tuesday. [AP/YONHAP]

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that deterrence assets such as F-22 and F-35 fighter jets will continue to be deployed to South Korea to address security threats from the North.

“The United States stands firm in its extended deterrence commitment, and that includes the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including our conventional, nuclear and missile defense capabilities,” Austin told the press after his meeting with Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup in Seoul on Tuesday.

“Make no mistake, the United States stands united with the ROK, and together we condemn these dangerous actions which violate international law and threaten to destabilize the region,” he added, referring to the recent military provocations from North Korea.

Austin’s visit to Seoul, which was his first since December 2021, comes on the heels of weapons tests by North Korea, which fired over 90 missiles last year.

It also came amid heightened public debate on whether South Korea can trust the U.S. to provide extended deterrence against the North, and whether Seoul should seek its own nuclear capabilities. South Korea is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, meaning it has agreed not to develop its own nuclear weapons.

Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. commitment to use all assets available, conventional and nuclear, to defend South Korea.

In a meeting with Austin later on Tuesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol called for “a strong and effective” extended deterrence from the United States.
“As the North Korean nuclear threat continues to escalate day by day, we are in need of an effective and strong U.S.-ROK extended deterrence system to dispel the concerns of the Korean public,” Yoon said in the meeting, according to Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs.

He also called for continued implementation of Korea-U.S. joint military training, adding that he “highly appreciated” the bilateral plan to conduct the Freedom Shield joint exercise before the end of June this year without interruption for 11 days.

In response to a question from the press on what kind of U.S. deterrents should be expected in South Korea this year, Austin referred to previously deployed F-22 and F-35 fighter jets and the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan in stating that similar assets would continue to be deployed.

Austin and Lee were meeting for the fourth time as defense chiefs on Tuesday. They last met during the regular defense ministerial dialogue the Security Consultative Meeting in the Pentagon.

“The two ministers strongly condemned North Korea’s series of provocations, including missile launches and recent drone infiltration, as well as violations of UN Security Council resolutions, and reaffirmed that they would respond sternly together with the international community to any provocations by North Korea in the future,” said the Ministry of National Defense in its statement Tuesday.

They also agreed to complete their revision of the Tailored Deterrence Strategy before their next Security Consultative Meeting and to hold a tabletop exercise led by Deterrence Strategy Committee in February.

“Both leaders agreed to expand the scope and scale of combined field training exercises and to conduct a large-scale combined joint fires demonstration this year,” the Department of Defense said in its statement released following the meeting.

A trilateral meeting with Japan on regional security, the Defense Trilateral Talks, will be hosted “at the earliest opportunity,” the department said.

“The two leaders committed to following up on developing specific courses of action to facilitate trilateral sharing of missile warning data, as agreed by the three countries’ leaders at the November 2022 Phnom Penh Summit.”


BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]