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EDITORIAL | Biden-Yoon Summit Draws the Line on North Korea's Nuclear Buildup

Japan must share the sense of crisis demonstrated by the South Korean president and the plans for stronger deterrence he agreed to at the Biden-Yoon summit. 



Biden-Yoon summit
US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol head for a joint press conference after meeting on April 26 at the White House. (© Reuters via Kyodo)

North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and launch missiles. Meanwhile in the Biden-Yoon summit, the United States and South Korea appear to have drawn a line in the sand. They have warned that they will not tolerate the actual use of nuclear weapons by the Pyongyang regime.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol recently met with US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC. There the two men jointly issued the "Washington Declaration," an agreement that enhances bilateral extended deterrence centered on the nuclear umbrella provided by the United States. 

The administration of his predecessor, Moon Jae In, prioritized pandering to North Korea and distanced itself from the United States. In contrast, President Yoon has moved to strengthen cooperation between South Korea and the US. In that way the North Korean threat can be realistically addressed.

The United States' response to the threat reiterates its determination to defend South Korea. The enhanced cooperation between the US and South Korea will serve to deter not only North Korea but also China, which has repeatedly threatened Taiwan.

We are happy to see the Seoul-Washington relationship returning to a normal track on the 70th anniversary of the alliance. 

Biden-Yoon summit
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and President Joe Biden attend a ceremony at the White House on April 26. (©Reuters via Kyodo)

Returning to Sound Relations 

The bilateral declaration calls for the establishment of a new Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG). This will share information with South Korea on US nuclear strategic plans in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. 

Moreover, it explicitly mentions port calls to South Korea by US strategic nuclear submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons. These would be the first port calls by strategic nuclear submarines to South Korea since the early 1980s. Those were during the Cold War era.

The NCG also provides a framework for South Korean involvement in planning and training related to US nuclear policy. It aims to allay South Korean fears that extended deterrence would not work in a contingency. And, in addition, it is intended to counter views within South Korea that the country should acquire its own nuclear weapons.

It should be noted, however, that it is unlike the Nuclear Planning Group of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO's NPG also involves "nuclear sharing" in terms of the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in member countries. In this case, the US will not actually deploy such weapons in South Korea. 

The Virginia-class USS North Dakota (SSN 784) submarine is seen during bravo sea trials in this US Navy handout picture taken in the Atlantic Ocean August 18, 2013. (© Reuters/U.S. Navy/Handout)

Is Promised Strong Deterrence Enough?

President Biden clearly stated his position at a joint White House press conference with President Yoon. If North Korea launches a nuclear attack on the United States or one of its allies, he said, that would "result in the end of whatever regime were to take such an action." 

Nonetheless, the question remains whether port calls by nuclear submarines alone will provide adequate deterrence. (Watch Biden and Yoon reveal the deterrence plan.)

The joint statement marking the 70th anniversary of the US-South Korea alliance also goes further. It explicitly mentions the importance of "ROK-US-Japan trilateral cooperation." 

It also emphasizes "the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as an essential element in security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region." With China obviously in mind, the two leaders declared that they opposed any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo.

Biden-Yoon Summit
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno holds a press conference on North Korea's missile launch at the prime minister's office on the morning of October 4 (© Sankei by Kazuya Kamogawa)

Is Japan Fully Aware?

At a press conference on Thursday, April 27, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno commented on the Biden-Yoon summit. He said that such trilateral cooperation is increasingly important for regional and international peace and stability. 

That is all well and good. But to what extent does the Kishida administration share the sense of crisis demonstrated by Yoon's actions? Is Japan fully aware of the nuclear threat from North Korea? 

Shouldn't Prime Minister Fumio Kishida learn from Yoon's example?


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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