The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived at the South Korean port of Busan on Friday ahead of the two countries’ joint military exercise that aims to demonstrate their strength against growing North Korean threats.
The joint exercises will be the first involving a US aircraft carrier in the region since 2017, when the US sent three aircraft carriers, including the Reagan, for naval exercises with South Korea in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
The allies have this year revived their large-scale military exercises, which had been scaled down or suspended in previous years to support diplomacy with Pyongyang or because of COVID-19, in response to North Korea’s resumption of major weapons tests and increasing threat of nuclear conflicts with Seoul and Washington.
The South Korean Navy said the combined training with the Reagan battlegroup is intended to increase the military readiness of the Allies and to demonstrate “the determination of the Korean-American alliance for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.” .
The North Korean threat is also expected to be a major agenda when US Vice President Kamala Harris visits South Korea next week after attending the Tokyo state funeral of assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Reagan’s arrival in South Korea comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told the Pyongyang parliament this month that he needs his nuclear weapons and missiles to withstand what he sees as US hostility. , will never let you down.
North Korea has also passed a new law that enshrines its status as a nuclear power and allows the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide variety of scenarios where the country or its leadership is threatened.
Sung Kim, the Biden government’s special representative for North Korea, met in Seoul on Thursday with South Korean counterpart Kim Gunn, where they expressed “serious concern” about the north’s escalating nuclear doctrine that has been inflicted in the new law is being set out, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The diplomats reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea in the event of nuclear war with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear. The allies also maintained their months-old assessment that North Korea is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 and discussed “severe” countermeasures against such action, the ministry said.
North Korea has ramped up weapons testing at a record pace in 2022 and has launched more than 30 ballistic weapons since 2017, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles, as it exploits a rift in the UN Security Council that has deepened over the Russian war. against Ukraine.
While North Korea’s ICBMs are attracting a lot of US attention because they pose a potential threat to its homeland, the North has also expanded its arsenal of nuclear-capable, shorter-range missiles designed to evade South Korea’s missile defenses.
North Korea’s growing arsenal and the threat of preemptive nuclear strikes have raised concerns in South Korea about the credibility of the US “nuclear umbrella” that protects its allies in the event of war.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has vowed to bolster South Korea’s conventional missile capabilities and work with the Biden administration to develop more effective strategies to counter North Korean attacks. to startle.
Senior US and South Korean officials met in Washington this month to discuss the allies’ deterrence strategies and issued a statement reaffirming that “any (North Korean) nuclear attack would receive an overwhelming and decisive response.” The statement said the United States “repeated its rock-solid and unwavering commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear (one)” to provide South Korea with comprehensive deterrence.
Kim Tong-hyung reported from Seoul.