Words and actionsThe United States has said it will do everything to defend South Korea should North Korea dare to use nuclear or missile weapons. It has the capacity to do so, it said. Every time Pyongyang tests a weapon of mass destruction, Washington sends nuclear-capable bombers in a show of force and deterrence capabilities.
But both experts and the Korean public have become dubious about Washington’s claimed extended deterrence capacity amid fast advances and the increasing sophistication of North Korea’s nuclear and missile technology.
Should North Korea really succeed in developing inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads capable of reaching U.S. territory, it remains questionable if U.S. military capabilities would still be reserved to defend South Korea.
That is why some have called for Seoul to go nuclear in one way or another: to develop its own nuclear-powered submarines, or bring back American tactical nuclear weapons.
In an annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington, defense ministers of the two nations agreed to discuss rotational permanent deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the seas and air around South Korea.
The idea is to have nuclear-capable aircraft and submarines as well as nuclear-powered carriers under the U.S. strategic commander take turns to patrol the nation. It could ensure the effectiveness of extended deterrence by allowing a constant watch and immediate responses to North Korean provocations.
The agreement, however, was dropped from the official statement released after the meeting. Instead the two countries said the idea would be further explored in a new channel called “Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group.”
The defense officials reportedly believed exposing strategic options in advance could mitigate any deterrence effect. Washington also would have had to consider Beijing’s response. Most local media outlets had to run updated articles after publishing the plan as a done deal upon a briefing by local defense ministry.
The fiasco not only underscored the indiscretion of local authorities but also could expose different views between Seoul and Washington over nuclear deterrence. It remains to be seen whether Washington’s actions would be as good as its words on the guarantee of a nuclear umbrella and deterrence.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 22, Page 30