South Korean President's US visit: A tough message to the North

'Our mutual defence treaty is iron clad,' Biden said

USA-SOUTHKOREA/ U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol react at an official State Dinner during Yoon Suk Yeol's visit at the White House in Washington | Reuters

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol is in the US for a six-day state visit. Yeol arrived on April 25, and did he arrive with a bang?! At the star-studded state dinner hosted for him and his wife Kim Keon Hee, the President belted out the Don McLean classic 'American Pie'. Famous names who attended the dinner included TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who bought her son Maddox Jolie-Pitt.

Earlier in the day, President Biden and Suk Yeol unveiled a new plan to counter North Korea's nuclear threat. “Our mutual defence treaty is iron clad and that includes our commitment to extend a deterrence – and that includes the nuclear threat, the nuclear deterrent,” Biden said at a joint press conference at the White House. 

 North Korea, since the beginning of this year, has conducted close to 10 missile tests, with about a dozen being fired in March itself. The agreement between Seoul and Washington would mean the regular deployment of strategic assets like a US nuclear ballistic submarine visit to South Korea, which has not happened since the early 1980s. 

It should be noted that the last time a South Korean president visited the US was Lee Myung-bak in 2011. This is also Biden's third bilateral meeting with Suk Yeol and it comes at the heels of yet another ballistic missile test by North Korea. 

Suk Yeol indicated the new commitment by the righteous alliance includes plans for bilateral presidential consultations in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack. It also includes establishing a nuclear consultative group and improved sharing of information on nuclear and strategic weapons operation plans.

Bilateral ties between the US and South Korea date back to the 1950s when the Korean War ended.  The US-Republic of Korea Mutual Defence Treaty commits the US to help South Korea defend itself, particularly from its neighbour. South Korea is one of the US' most important geopolitical and military-strategic partners and there are about 28,500 US troops in South Korea. The American troops work with the Korean forces on a daily basis. Though the relationship between South Korea and the US was strained under Trump, the Biden administration has worked towards improving the alliance between the two nations.  

The Washington Declaration furthers the relationship between the two allies. Besides sharing more information in the event of an attack by North Korea, the declaration would mean the regular deployment of a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) to South Korea. There's, however, no plan to station US nuclear weapons in South Korea.  

With Suk Yeol trying to calm the public in the South about US' commitment to “extended deterrence”, the visit certainly represents a new high in US-South Korea relations with security, economic, and cultural cooperation in full display. South Korea is rightly concerned as North Korea's arsenal has grown. And it has been sceptical on whether the US would risk its forces to defend its ally. Suk Yeol's visit has definitely put these doubts to rest. The ramping up of a security shield around the South certainly presents a tough-sounding statement to the North. 


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