S. Koreans Are Nervous. Enter the 'Washington Declaration'

It reaffirms the US commitment to protect the country and deter the North
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 26, 2023 11:05 AM CDT
S. Koreans Are Nervous. Enter the 'Washington Declaration'
A screen shows a file image of US President Joe Biden, left, and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, marking the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-US alliance in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The US hasn't docked a nuclear ballistic missile submarine in South Korean waters since the 1980s. That's about to change under the "Washington Declaration," which President Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol are set to announce Wednesday. The agreement outlines stepped-up deterrence commitments the US is making to Seoul as North Korea barrels forward with its missile and nuclear testing; in return, South Korea will reaffirm its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

  • Driving the declaration: As Axios explains, North Korea's recent moves have "inflamed debate in South Korea about whether the country can still entrust its security to its nuclear-armed ally in Washington." The declaration is intended to quiet those concerns and give South Korea something it has been asking for, per NPR: more of a voice in how to deter North Korea via joint planning, consultation, and intelligence sharing.

  • About that debate: NBC News reports that polls show an increasing number of South Koreans want the country to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a sentiment fueled by concerns that the US is increasingly preoccupied with China. South Korea abandoned its own nuclear program under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty almost half a century ago, reports the AP.
  • The submarines: Axios suggests the US' pledge to regularly deploy strategic assets to the area—planned visits from a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, bomber aircraft, aircraft carriers, and more—is likely to vex the North. The US doesn't plan to station any nuclear weapons there.
  • One take: Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, tells NBC News the new pledges "don't have any military value" but are rather "symbolic" measures designed to "reassure the South Korean public." Indeed, NPR characterizes the declaration as "repackaging previous commitments or adding new material to existing policies."
(More South Korea stories.)

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