US to dock nuclear submarines in S. Korea for 1st time in over 40 years

Planned dock visits are a key element of what's being dubbed the 'Washington Declaration,' aims at deterring N. Korea from carrying out attack on its neighbour


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The United States Navy's nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Vermont is christened at Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. — AP file
The United States Navy's nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Vermont is christened at Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. — AP file

Published: Wed 26 Apr 2023, 8:16 PM

Last updated: Wed 26 Apr 2023, 8:17 PM

Presidents Joe Biden and Yoon Suk Yeol will sign an agreement that includes plans to have US nuclear-armed submarines dock in South Korea for the first time in more than 40 years, a conspicuous show of support to Seoul amid growing concern about nuclear threats by North Korea, according to senior Biden administration officials.

The planned dock visits are a key element of what's being dubbed the “Washington Declaration,” aimed at deterring North Korea from carrying out an attack on its neighbour. It is being unveiled as Biden is hosting Yoon for a state visit during a moment of heightened anxiety for both leaders over an increased pace of ballistic missile tests by North Korea over the last several months.

The three senior Biden administration officials, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement, said that Biden and Yoon aides have been working on details of the plan for months and agreed that “occasional” and “very clear demonstrations of the strength” of US extended deterrence capabilities needed to be an essential aspect of the agreement.

The agreement seeks to allay South Korean fears over the North's aggressive nuclear weapons program and to keep the country from restarting its own nuclear program, which it gave up nearly 50 years ago when it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yoon earlier this year said his country was weighing developing its own nuclear weapons or asking the US to redeploy them on the Korean Peninsula.

The US and South Korea also would coordinate more deeply on nuclear response strategy in the event of the North attacking the South — but operational control of such weapons would remain in US control, and no nuclear weapons are being deployed onto South Korean shores.

Biden and Yoon did not directly address the agreement during their remarks at a pomp-filled arrival ceremony before nearly 7,000 guests on the White House lawn nor during a brief appearance before reporters at the start of their Oval Office talks. Biden stressed that both nations are committed to “doubling down on our cooperation as allies" as North Korea “ramps up its challenges.”

“We’re taking on the challenges of the world, and we’re taking them on together," Biden said.

The state visit comes as the US and South Korea mark the 70th year of the countries' alliance that began at the end of the Korean War and committed the United States to help South Korea defend itself, particularly from North Korea. Approximately 28,500 U.S. troops are currently based in South Korea.

“Why did they sacrifice their lives for this faraway country and for the people that you’ve never met?” Yoon said of the U.S. troops who served during the war. “That was for one noble cause: to defend freedom.”

The agreement also calls for the S. and South Korean militaries to strengthen joint training and better integrate South Korean military assets into the joint strategic deterrence effort. As part of the declaration, South Korea will reaffirm its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an agreement signed by several major nuclear and non-nuclear powers that pledged their cooperation to stem the spread of nuclear technology, the officials said.

As a candidate for the presidency last year, Yoon said he would call for the increased deployment of U.S. bombers, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to South Korea as he looked to offer a firmer response to the North's threats than his predecessor Moon Jae-in.

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