Biden, Yoon have been given communications devices for use in nuclear crisis, says senior adviser

Posted on : 2023-12-18 18:10 KST Modified on : 2023-12-18 18:10 KST
The two countries plan to finalize guidelines for extended deterrence by mid-2024
Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of the National Security Office, speaks to foreign correspondents in Washington following the second meeting of the South Korea-US Nuclear Consultative Group on Dec. 15. (pool photo)
Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of the National Security Office, speaks to foreign correspondents in Washington following the second meeting of the South Korea-US Nuclear Consultative Group on Dec. 15. (pool photo)

South Korea and the US have agreed to finalize concrete guidelines for deterring North Korea’s nuclear threats by summer of next year, and to include a “nuclear operations scenario” in joint military exercises, the first deputy director of Seoul’s National Security Office revealed.

The nuclear-powered US submarine USS Missouri (SSN-780) arrived at a naval base in Busan on Sunday, a move seen as a measure directed at containing military actions by North Korea.

After the second session of the South Korea-US Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) at the US Department of Defense on Friday, Kim Tae-hyo, a deputy national security adviser to the presidential office, addressed reporters at a press conference. There, he announced that Seoul and Washington have “agreed to complete guidelines regarding the planning and operation of a nuclear strategy by the middle of next year.”

“In other words, we agreed to complete the overall guidelines on how to deter and respond to North Korean threats next year,” Kim added.

Kim said the guidelines will encompass a whole range of issues concerning the sharing of sensitive nuclear information, the establishment of a security system, the formulation of consultation protocols for a nuclear crisis, the establishment of security infrastructure between heads of state, and the operation of a real-time leader-level communication channel.

“We will include a nuclear operations scenario in joint military exercises such as Ulchi Freedom Shield,” Kim added.

“Until now, the US nuclear umbrella basically told Seoul to relax because Washington would retaliate if North Korea initiated a nuclear attack. But now, South Korea and the US will prepare, train and implement the response together,” he said.

“US nuclear assets should not operate independently on the Korean Peninsula, but rather in conjunction with our military through joint exercises,” Kim continued.

“In the case of an actual nuclear conflict, US nuclear weapons need to work together with South Korea’s non-nuclear weapons and strategic assets for land, air and sea operations that serve our mutual protection. Live joint training is required to integrate these two systems,” he went on.

Through the NCG, the two sides plan on finalizing plans for utilizing Korean fighter jets as escorts when deploying US strategic bombers or other strategic assets by June 2024. Beginning in August, they plan on implementing those plans in joint exercises such as UFS.

“The presidents of both nations have already been provided with mobile devices for communicating during crisis times,” Kim said.

“We’re working to ensure these devices are immune to electromagnetic pulse attacks and that they can be used in any crisis situation,” he added, emphasizing that the mobile devices are specifically designed to be used in a nuclear crisis.

“Apart from enhancing extended South Korea-US deterrence systems, it’s possible that we may hold talks with Japan and other regional partners to establish a separate extended deterrence system involving multiple nations,” Kim said.

Up until now, the presidential office has remained aloof about including Japan in its joint deterrence system with the US, but Kim’s comments reveal a willingness to include Japan in a separate consultative group.

The nuclear-powered USS Michigan submarine docks at a port in Busan, South Korea, on June 16, 2023. (Yonhap)
The nuclear-powered USS Michigan submarine docks at a port in Busan, South Korea, on June 16, 2023. (Yonhap)

In a joint statement released after the second NCG session, the US declared, “Any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime, and the US side reiterated that any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the ROK will be met with a swift, overwhelming, and decisive response.”

The first NCG session was convened in Seoul this past July. Representing the US at the second session was Maher Bitar, the US National Security Council’s coordinator for intelligence and defense policy. The third session is scheduled to be held in Seoul in the summer of 2024.

On Sunday, the South Korean Navy issued a statement regarding the arrival of the USS Missouri at the naval base in Busan, declaring, “The docking of the USS Missouri marks the beginning of efforts to enhance cooperation and exchange between the Republic of Korea and US navies and solidify our allied defense posture.”

Submarines powered by nuclear reactors are divided into nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), guided missile submarines (SSGN), and nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). Capable of deploying ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads, SSBNs are classified as strategic nuclear submarines. The USS Missouri is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Mark 48 torpedoes.

If, as Kim said, nuclear operations are going to be included in joint South Korea-US military exercises like the Ulchi Freedom Shield starting in August, then operational plans of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command and the US Strategic Command will need to be revised. The CFC’s operational plans dictate protocols for preventing and retaliating against North Korean attacks that use conventional weapons. The US’ extended deterrence requires the deployment of strategic assets such as strategic nuclear bombers, strategic nuclear submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. These weapons are included in the operational plans of the US Strategic Command, which has jurisdiction over the deployment of nuclear weapons.

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent; Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

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