No time to go wobblyStrategic cooperation between South Korea and the United States to put the brakes on North Korea’s unceasing nuclear and missile provocations is rapidly gaining momentum. In today’s trip to Seoul, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis meets with Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting president of South Korea, and Kim Kwan-jin, former defense minister and current head of the National Security Office at the Blue House.
Following the meeting, Secretary Mattis, a former Marine general, is scheduled to have another meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo on Friday to discuss concrete ways to cope with the North’s increasing nuclear and missile threats particularly since last year.
In an earlier telephone conversation Wednesday with Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, reconfirmed the U.S. commitment that America will deploy its strategic assets — B-2 Stealth Bomber, B-52 Strategic Bomber and nuclear submarines, for instance — in South Korea on a regular basis to defend its ally. Both Seoul and Washington are swiftly readying themselves to prepare for a possible provocation by the North down the road.
The allies’ swift action reflects a growing sense of crisis after Pyongyang has been heightening tension on the Korean Peninsula. After conducting two nuclear tests last year alone, North Korea is allegedly in the final stage of developing nuclear weapons. Military analysts predict that North Korea will be able to load a nuclear warhead onto its medium-range Rodong missiles. If that happens, the ballistic missile can take hostage South Korea and Japan. It can hit targets 1,300 kilometers away. If deployed in battle, the missiles will certainly escalate the danger to an even higher level.
Nevertheless, Seoul and Washington raised serious concern after failing to reach an agreement on permanent deployment of U.S. strategic assets on a rotational basis in a meeting between defense ministers of both countries in Washington last October. In the first round of their high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultative Group meeting two months later, both sides agreed to beef up efforts to deploy the strategic assets regularly. But Washington left opaque the frequency of the deployments.
Both countries’ defense ministers must come up with tangible measures to give a clear warning to North Korea. We urge them to reach a consensus on the permanent deployment of strategic assets as a show of force at times of crisis.