Allies' defense working group may be revived in Yoon administration

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Allies' defense working group may be revived in Yoon administration

Expectations are rising that a dormant ministerial working group of U.S. and Korean officials that coordinates defensive measures between the allies could be revived under the incoming Yoon administration, following remarks by a U.S. official on Tuesday.
Speaking at an online event by the Hudson Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank based in Washington, U.S. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said the United States was in discussions with Korea and Japan about the deployment of strategic assets, and emphasized that the allies had a “forum” that could be used to coordinate defensive and anti-proliferation measures.
The comments have been interpreted by Korean observers to refer to the U.S.-Korea Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG), which has not met since early January 2018.
The EDSCG, established by the U.S.-Korea Foreign and Defense Ministers’ meeting on Oct. 19, 2016, is also called the 2+2 working group and serves as a channel for the two allies to hold in-depth discussions on strategic and policy issues regarding extended deterrence against North Korea, including how to better leverage the full breadth of the two countries’ national power, including diplomacy, information, military and economic capabilities.
However, the EDSCG has not met since its second meeting in 2018, and political analysts have attributed the group’s dormancy to renewed attempts by Seoul to achieve rapprochement with Pyongyang.
The North has bristled at news of the EDSCG’s meetings, calling the first conference in 2016 “a provocative action that worsens tensions over the Korean Peninsula and escalates the danger of nuclear war.”
Following the collapse of talks between Washington and Pyongyang after the failure of the two sides to reach an accord at the 2019 summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, neither the United States nor South Korea has expressed much interest in reviving the EDSCG.
The comments by Wormuth have been interpreted by observers of U.S.-South Korea bilateral relations to mean Washington is interested in joint deterrence through the group after President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol called for its revival on the campaign trail.
When the EDSCG was launched in 2016, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry explicitly said it was modeled after NATO, which coordinates military defense among the United States, Canada and European member states.
“Through the joint participation of diplomatic and defense authorities in the EDSCG, a comprehensive and multi-layered consultation mechanism similar to NATO was established,” the Foreign Ministry said at the time.
The statement was interpreted to refer to NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), a framework in which member states that do not possess nuclear weapons participate in discussions on how to implement deterrence measures.
On the campaign trail, Yoon has called for a concrete implementation of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea by various means, including the deployment of U.S. nuclear strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula.
However, Wormuth appeared to push back on the likelihood of such a measure, noting that while neighboring Tokyo has also asked for the deployment of U.S. nuclear assets on the Japanese home islands, such requests were only under discussion.

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