With Pyongyang increasing threats of expanding its nuclear arsenal, South Korea confirmed on Tuesday that it’s in talks with the U.S. about becoming involved in U.S. nuclear weapons management as a nuclear deterrent to the DPRK. Despite Seoul’s confirmation of the talks, President Biden has denied that there is any discussion of sharing nuclear weapons.
According to South Korea’s top press advisor, Kim Eun-hye, Seoul and Washington “are discussing an intel-sharing, a joint planning and subsequent joint execution plans over the management of U.S. nuclear assets in response to North Korea’s nuclear (threats).” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol also affirmed the talks of joint exercises in an interview Monday with local media.
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While South Korea does not have any nuclear weapons, the talks include some type of arrangement in which nuclear weapons are shared between the U.S. and Seoul, similar to the inter-alliance sharing agreement that NATO has. The U.S. currently provides South Korea with a “nuclear umbrella,” but with North Korea threatening to expand its nuclear weapons cache, Seoul is looking for more security than the current “nuclear umbrella” provides.
Given how talks of sharing nuclear weapons with the U.S. could escalate already rising tensions with North Korea, it is likely that many of the discussions are being conducted via unofficial channels.
South Korea’s desire for increased nuclear protection arose after a New Year directive from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in which he ordered the DPRK’s forces to conduct an “exponential” expansion of the country’s nuclear weapons. According to the official North Korean Central News Agency, Kim recently said, “They are now keen on isolating and stifling (North Korea), unprecedented in human history.” Kim continued saying, “The prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle.”
Kim concluded his remarks, which came during a meeting with the country’s top ministers, by stating a need for “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal.” Specifically mentioned was the mass production of tactical nuclear weapons for the battlefield.
The U.S. and Seoul have already agreed to increase anti-submarine drills in response to escalating tensions with North Korea. It is unclear if, or when, the talks with South Korea will result in the sharing of nuclear weapons with the U.S.