American, ROK warplanes in the joint military exercise on February 1
ROK media reported that the US and ROK dispatched a number of stealth fighters and B-1B strategic bombers for intensive joint military exercises over the western waters of the Korean Peninsula in early February to keep strengthening the strategic deterrence against DPRK and other countries.
Their defense ministers held talks in Seoul on January 31, in which they agreed to jointly evaluate the implementation of a series of measures aimed at enhancing America’s extended deterrence capability to ensure that Washington will earnestly fulfill its defense commitment to Seoul. The two ministers also reaffirmed their plan to revise the “tailored deterrence strategy (TDS)” before the bilateral security meeting this year and to maintain close communication on the US dispatching strategic weapons to ROK in due time.
The intensive military exercises between the two countries and their continued intensification of extended deterrence capability have courted doubts and criticism.
The US’ attempted denial only exposes itself more. ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol said lately that they are in talks with the US about using America’s nuclear forces during joint exercises and other arrangements in response to the nuclear weapon and missile threats from DPRK, but US President Biden, when asked about the discussion with ROK over joint nuclear exercises, gave a negative answer. Then the Office of the President of ROK scrambled to save face by claiming that Biden denied the talks because the reporter asked an inappropriate question since joint nuclear exercises are exclusive to nuclear states, and stressed again talks are indeed underway about sharing America’s nuclear forces.
There is strong opposition in ROK. The spokesperson of ROK’s largest opposition party, the Minjoo Party of Korea Kim Eui-kyeom said on February 3 that employing American nuclear forces through joint military exercises is something that even the NATO allies couldn’t do and that the reckless remarks by the ROK government have cast a shadow over the Korean Peninsula from the beginning of 2023. Moreover, several ROK social groups organized their members to rally in front of the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, demanding the scrapping of America’s “nuclear protection” and the “extended deterrence” policy in order to realize non-nuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. They said the US will further cement the military alliance with ROK and Japan after the recent US-ROK defense ministers’ meeting, which will only plunge the peninsula into greater tension.
The DPRK has reacted vehemently. The spokesperson of the DPRK Foreign Ministry recently slammed the US and ROK for planning to hold successive exercises for “extended deterrence”, accusing them of conducting military confrontation and hostilities that push the Korean Peninsula to an extremely dangerous position. According to the spokesperson, the DPRK side will respond to all military attempts by the US on the principle of “nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation”, and the DPRK will use its strong containing power to responsibly maintain peace and security on the peninsula till the US and its followers eliminate their hostile policies and military threats against DPRK for good.
In sum, the intensive US-ROK military exercises over the Korean Peninsula reflect the two sides’ high-frequency, substantial advancement of military cooperation. In fact, the two countries’ military security cooperation has considerably intensified after Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May 2022. As Seoul has defined Pyongyang as a key enemy and wanted to secure peace by taking the hard line, it is by no means easy to truly ease the ROK-DPRK relations and promote the peninsula’s denuclearization process. Washington and Seoul’s bigoted expansion of the scope and scale of joint military exercises, especially the so-called nuclear exercises, will draw vehement reactions from Pyongyang and exacerbate regional tension.