S. Korea, U.S. complete review of joint guidelines over allies’ response to N. Korea nuclear attack

June 10, 2024

South Korea and the United States on Monday completed a review of a joint guideline document on ways to respond in the event of a nuclear attack by North Korea as they held key deterrence talks on countering growing threats posed by Pyongyang.

Cho Chang-rae, deputy defense minister for policy, and Vipin Narang, acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense for space policy, completed the review of the guidelines providing the principles to strengthen the allies’ nuclear deterrence policy, during the third session of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) in Seoul.

“Today, the NCG completed its review of the guidelines document, perhaps our most significant progress in the first year of the NCG,” Narang said in a press conference. “Specifically, the guidelines cover the principles and procedures for consultations particularity in a DPRK nuclear crisis.”

DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The review marks the latest development in the allies’ efforts to bolster deterrence against the North’s evolving nuclear threats through the bilateral consultative body launched last year.

The NCG was established under the Washington Declaration that President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden adopted during their summit in Washington in April last year as part of efforts to enhance the credibility of extended deterrence in the face of the North’s continued push to advance its weapons programs.

Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. commitment to using the full-range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend an ally.

Narang declined to offer details of the document but said it sets up the architecture for what eventually the NCG will provide oversight on, such as the development of options integrating conventional and nuclear capabilities, which can be provided to the allies’ leadership in a crisis.

The two sides reached a shared understanding that integrating the South’s advanced conventional forces with U.S. nuclear operations strengthens the alliance’s deterrence and response against the North’s nuclear and missile threats, according to Cho.

“To this end, South Korea and the United States agreed to develop various conventional-nuclear integration options and consultation procedures in the event of a North Korean nuclear crisis through the annual whole-of-government simulations and table-top exercises (TTXs),” he said.

Cho said the allies will hold a high-level TTX — a discussion-based exercise — in connection with their regular summertime Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise this August. The defense ministry later clarified the TTX will take place before the August exercise.

The two sides said they plan to continue improving and advancing the joint guidelines in order to lay a “solid” foundation to strengthen cooperation for a unified South Korea-U.S. extended deterrence system, a joint statement read.

With the review, the document will undergo further administrative procedures before it is finalized, a South Korean defense official said, adding the two sides have yet to decide on who will sign off on the document.

The latest meeting took place amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to the North’s continued provocative acts, such as launches of trash-carrying balloons across the border and attempts to disrupt GPS signals around the South’s northwestern border islands in recent weeks.

In response, Seoul fully suspended the 2018 inter-Korean tension reduction pact last week, and broadcast anti-Pyongyang propaganda through front-line loudspeakers Sunday for the first time in six years.

The first two NCG meetings were led by the National Security Councils of the two countries, before the allies agreed for the body to be led by the defense ministry and the Pentagon.

The next session of the NCG will take place in Washington at the end of this year.