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Thursday, June 13, 2024

U.S. warns North that use of nuclear weapons will ‘end’ regime

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, speaks with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup against the backdrop of a B-1B strategic bomber at the Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland, on Thursday. [YONHAP]
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, speaks with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup against the backdrop of a B-1B strategic bomber at the Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on Thursday. [YONHAP]

Defense chiefs from South Korea and the United States announced Thursday that U.S. strategic assets will be continuously deployed to the Korean Peninsula as they warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un his regime would “end” if he used nuclear weapons against Seoul or Tokyo.

Speaking at a joint press conference at the Pentagon after the 54th security consultative meeting (SCM) between the allies, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin promised to employ U.S. strategic assets to a level “equivalent to constant deployment” by “increasing the frequency and intensity of strategic asset deployment in and around the Korean Peninsula.”

Austin said that while the shift would not result in the permanent relocation of more U.S. troops or assets, such as an aircraft carrier, to the region, it would entail a greater and more formidable U.S. military presence on rotation to the peninsula and the surrounding waters.

The U.S. defense secretary also warned in a joint communique issued after the SCM that “any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners, including the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, is unacceptable and will result at the end of the Kim regime.”

The U.S. defense secretary’s pledge came a day after the North tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as well as five more short-range ballistic missiles, and two days after the North unleashed a record barrage of 23 missiles over the course of nine hours, one of which landed on the South Korean side of the inter-Korean maritime boundary.

In response to the North’s most recent missile launches, South Korea and the United States decided to extend their ongoing joint air force exercise Vigilant Storm by one day, to Saturday.

In the joint communique, the allies said they would heighten information sharing, consultations, joint planning, and execution to deter North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons.

While the communique did not go into detail on what “joint planning and execution” in deterrence cooperation would entail, the phrase did suggest a more active role for Seoul in how U.S. deterrence capabilities might be put to use.

Calls have been growing in South Korea for Seoul to seek a nuclear sharing arrangement, like that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), or other measures to make up for the absence of its own independent nuclear deterrent.

But Lee clarified at the press conference that Seoul is not seeking the redeployment of U.S. tactical weapons in the South, where they were once stationed until late 1991.

To prepare for a potential situation in which the North does choose to use its nuclear weapons, Lee said that Seoul would undertake a comprehensive revision to its strategy to contain the threat emanating from North Korea by next year and that the allies would conduct an annual Deterrence Strategy Committee tabletop exercise (DTC-TTE) exercise to prepare for a nuclear war scenario.

Following the SCM, Lee and Austin visited Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Maryland, home to B-1B and B-52 strategic bombers, to highlight the might of the U.S. military.

During the defense chiefs’ visit, Maj. Mark Olme of the U.S. Air Force’s 9th Bomb Squadron pointed out that the four-engine B-1B bomber is a “very capable” asset that can “be anywhere in the world within about 18-24 hours.”

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]