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First nuclear-armed submarine visit to South Korea since Cold War

The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada (SSBN 733) transits the Hood Canal as the boat returns to its homeport at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington.

A United States nuclear-armed submarine will dock in South Korea for the first time since the Cold War, as part of a new military visibility campaign in the Korean Peninsula.

A United States nuclear-armed submarine will dock in South Korea for the first time since the Cold War, as part of a new military visibility campaign in the Korean Peninsula.

The visit will be the first nuclear submarine to break with tradition in 40 years since the late 1970s, as part of a joint declaration announced by US President Joe Biden and Republic of Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The leaders of both counties met earlier this month to discuss the 70th anniversary of the US–South Korean alliance and concerns about nuclear threats from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).


They announced a “Washington Declaration” on 26 April to establish a nuclear consultative group for strengthening nuclear deterrence efforts, deeper dialogue, information sharing between the two countries, and allow Korean military personnel to undertake US Department of Defense training.

Under the agreement, no nuclear weapons will be deployed onto South Korean soil and the country will not have operational control of such weapons but both countries will coordinate on nuclear response strategy.

US President Biden said there is overwhelming support for South Korea to prosper as one of America’s most valued allies.

“Our mutual defense treaty is ironclad and that includes our commitment to extended (nuclear) deterrence. They are particularly important in the face of the DPRK’s increased threats and the blatant violation of (UN) sanctions,” he said.

“The Republic of Korea and the United States are working together, including through our trilateral cooperation with Japan, to ensure the future of the Indo-Pacific is free, open, prosperous, and secure.

“The Washington Declaration is a prudent step to reinforce extended deterrence and respond to advancing DPRK nuclear threat.

“A nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies or partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of whatever regime were it to take such an action.

“The combination of growing democracies and the democratic institutions, as well as their economies, is overwhelmingly in the benefit of the United States, whether it is in South Korea or it’s in Australia, in the deep South Pacific.”

The US had previously stationed nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines for port visits to South Korea during the Cold War, however, all US nuclear weapons were withdrawn in 1991 as part the Joint Declaration on The Denuclearization of The Korean Peninsula.

That document signed by both South and North Korea states, “South and North Korea shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.”

More than 28,000 US service members are stationed on the South Korean side of the peninsula.

South Korean President Yoon said deployment of the United States’ strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula will be made constantly and routinely.

“Sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula does not happen automatically,” he said through an interpreter at the media conference on 26 April.

“Our two leaders have decided to significantly strengthen extended deterrence of our two countries against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats so that we can achieve peace through the superiority of overwhelming forces and not a false peace based on the goodwill of the other side.

“Such a will and commitment is captured in the Washington Declaration. President Biden has reaffirmed his ironclad commitment to extended deterrence towards the Republic of Korea.

“Our two countries have agreed to immediate bilateral presidential consultations in the event of North Korea’s nuclear attack and promised to respond swiftly, overwhelmingly, and decisively using the full force of the alliance including the United States’ nuclear weapons.

“President Biden and I will continue to cooperate to strengthen extended deterrence between our two countries based on our historical and concrete agreement reached during our summit.”

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