The White House said Tuesday that the US and South Korea are stepping up cooperation and preparing a coordinated response to any potential “nuclear use” by North Korea.
According to AFP, a National Security Council spokesperson said President Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol have “tasked their teams to plan for an effective coordinated response to a range of scenarios, including nuclear use by North Korea.”
The comments came after Yoon said that the US and South Korea were in talks on expanding cooperation to include US nuclear forces in joint military exercises. Yoon said he received positive feedback from the US about the proposal, but President Biden sparked some confusion when he replied “no” after being asked if the US and South Korea were discussing joint nuclear drills.
The NSC spokesperson insisted Biden said “no” because the US and South Korea can’t technically hold “joint nuclear exercises” since Seoul is not a nuclear-armed state. But either way, joint US-South Korean drills that would include US nuclear forces would be highly provocative toward Pyongyang and ratchet up tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Yoon’s office also responded to Biden’s answer and said talks on the issue were underway. “South Korea and the United States are in talks over information-sharing, joint planning and the joint implementation plans that follow, in relation to the operation of US nuclear assets, to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons,” a spokeswoman for Yoon said.
A senior Biden administration official confirmed to AFP that the US and South Korea are working on expanding military cooperation. The official said the two countries “are working together to strengthen extended deterrence, including eventually through table-top exercises that will explore our joint response to a range of scenarios, including nuclear use.”
The official added that the increased cooperation is “consistent with President Yoon’s comment that the United States and the ROK (South Korea) will expand planning, information sharing, exercises, and training.”
Yoon’s revelation of the US-South Korean talks came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the “exponential” increase of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal. Throughout 2022, North Korea launched a record number of missile tests as the US and South Korea resumed major war games. The Biden administration has shown no interest in de-escalating tensions and began sending bombers to the Korean Peninsula again for the first time since 2017.
US officials have also made nuclear threats against North Korea, with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warning in October the US would use all its capabilities to defend allies against Pyongyang, including “nuclear, conventional and missile defense.”