South Korea and U.S. to Finalize Nuclear Strategy Guidelines by Mid-2024

WASHINGTON - South Korea and the United States have agreed to finalize guidelines for their joint nuclear strategy planning and operation by the middle of next year. This agreement was reached during the key deterrence talks in Washington, focusing on addressing the escalating threats from North Korea.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the decision was made following the second session of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) at the Pentagon, co-led by Kim and Maher Bitar, the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) coordinator for intelligence and defense policy. Kim emphasized that the guidelines would cover a comprehensive range of issues including the sharing of sensitive nuclear information, establishment of a security system, formulation of nuclear crisis consultation procedures, and operation of a real-time communication channel between leaders.

The guidelines aim to encompass detailed plans for crisis management and risk reduction. Kim stated, "At the second NCG session today, (the two sides) approved a work plan for the next six months, and through the NCG, South Korea and the U.S. will move toward a unitary South Korea-U.S. extended deterrence system." This system is intended to deter North Korea's nuclear and missile threats effectively and ensure a prompt and decisive response in case of a North Korean nuclear attack.

The work plan outlines the development of a detailed nuclear extended deterrence system by June next year. Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. commitment to use its full military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally. The NCG sessions aim to integrate South Korea's conventional military assets with America's nuclear operations for a unified deterrence strategy.

The second NCG session was held amidst tensions due to North Korea's recent military satellite launch and the potential launch of another intercontinental ballistic missile. During this session, the participants also agreed to incorporate nuclear operation scenarios in next year's allied military exercises, such as the Ulchi Freedom Shield.

Efforts are underway to establish a mobile system for immediate communication between the leaders of the two countries in a crisis. A Seoul official, who requested anonymity, revealed, "We have been building a system to enable the leaders of the two countries to phone each other immediately and make their decision, and to both presidents, a mobile device for frequent communication has already been delivered in case a problem flares up." However, further work is needed to safeguard this communication against electromagnetic attacks and other security threats.

At the NCG meeting, the U.S. also agreed to provide "in-depth" nuclear education to South Korean officials next year, building on the education received by 15 South Korean officials in October on the U.S.'s nuclear policy, strategy, and planning.

Following the meeting, a joint press statement was issued, declaring any North Korean nuclear attack against the U.S. and its allies as "unacceptable" and warning that it would result in the "end of the Kim regime." The third NCG meeting is scheduled to be held in South Korea in the summer of next year.

The latest NCG session, which lasted over seven hours, was attended by approximately 60 security, military, and diplomatic officials from both countries. The NCG was established under the Washington Declaration adopted during the summit between President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden in April, aiming to enhance the credibility of extended deterrence.

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