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Monday, April 15, 2024

Extended deterrence group expected to meet next month

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Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shakes hands with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden of the White House during their joint press conference on April 26. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shakes hands with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden of the White House during their joint press conference on April 26. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
The first meeting of a joint South Korean-U.S. nuclear deterrence and strategic planning group is expected to take place next month, an informed source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday.

The Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG), which was first announced during President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit to Washington in April, is a planned working group of officials from both countries designed to strengthen extended deterrence against threats from North Korea through enhanced dialogue and information sharing on nuclear strategy.

According to a South Korean presidential official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity, Seoul and Washington are expected to “soon” designate their chief representatives for the NCG’s first meeting, which the official said “could be presided over by the National Security Office” of the South Korean presidential office.

While it remains unknown who will serve as South Korea’s chief representative to the talks, it is possible that an official with prior experience in defense strategy talks with the United States, such as the Deterrence Strategy Committee Table-Top Exercise that took place in February, may be chosen.

A government source who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo said the allies “have only agreed that the rank of their chief delegates should be a vice minister and have not yet decided on their department.”

The source also said that “while it may be more appropriate for an official working in defense affairs to be assigned to the NCG in the long run, the National Security Office may be more suited to lay out broader expectations [for the group] at the first meeting.”

U.S.-based Radio Free Asia reported last month that the U.S. representative for the NCG is expected to be John Plum, the assistant secretary of defense for space policy, though this remains unconfirmed.

According to the official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo, the presidential office expects that the affiliation and rank of Korea’s chief representative in the NCG will change according to circumstances and the agenda at the meetings, which are expected to take place approximately four times per year.

Since its announcement, the NCG has faced criticism that it would bolster Seoul’s security less than if tactical nuclear weapons were re-deployed to the peninsula or a nuclear sharing framework with South Korea were established.

Nuclear sharing refers to an arrangement whereby some NATO states, such as Germany and Turkey, participate in storing and planning the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in the absence of their own deterrent.

Although the U.S. government previously stationed tactical nuclear weapons with its military forces in South Korea in its standoff with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it withdrew them in September 1991 after signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in July of the same year.

In comments made at a forum hosted by the Korea Press Foundation last month, Foreign Minister Park Jin defended the NCG between Seoul and Washington as the most “desirable and realistic solution” when considering the need to maintain secrecy concerning the whereabouts of U.S. nuclear weapons while maintaining South Korea’s past commitments to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

BY PARK HYUN-JU, MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]