US draws closer to South Korea with new deployment


The United States and South Korea bolstered their alliance this week as Seoul announced that Washington has agreed to deploy so-called “strategic assets” to the peninsula.

Lawmakers who have pressed for action to rein in North Korea’s thriving nuclear and missile programs applauded the move. They called it a prudent step that will help defend the United States and its allies.

Experts, though, said the deployment is mostly intended to reassure South Korea. 

“From an optics standpoint, it sounds really good that we’re going to enhance that alliance,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest. “Really, what this is, is to reinforce the alliance so Seoul feels comfortable that if there was any contingency, we’d be there.”

This week, the South Korean president’s national security advisor told lawmakers in Seoul that the United States will begin deploying “strategic assets” on a rotational basis as early as late this year. 

The announcement came after North Korea threatened to shoot down U.S. bombers. It said it has the right to do so because President Trump’s recent comments on the country amount to a “declaration of war.”

Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in made the agreement on the sidelines of this month’s United Nations General Assembly. Chung Eui-young, the South Korean advisor, told lawmakers about it after he was asked if there’s “any crack” in the U.S.-South Korean alliance, according to Yonhap news agency. 

The assets that are being deployed have been not specified, but South Korea typically uses the term to refer to B-52 bombers, stealth warplanes, nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

The United States already has similar capabilities in the region, including F-22 and F-35 stealth aircraft stationed in Japan, and has sent them to South Korea from time to time for military exercises or shows of force. But the latest announcement goes beyond that.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said moving strategic assets onto South Korea could help improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities there. 

“Part of that is ISR capabilities so we can monitor what they’re doing,” he said. “Most of our ISR, as you know, is in the Middle East.” 

Asked if he’s worried North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will see that as a provocation, McCain said he’s not. 

“And if he does, it doesn’t concern me,” he added. “An ISR has never attacked anybody. … With all the stuff that he’s doing, we have to make sure that we are doing everything we can to defend our closest ally. All of this is not meant for offense. It’s meant to show them that if we’re engaged, that the price of their attack would be extremely high.” 

The Senate Armed Services Committee received a classified briefing Thursday on North Korea from representatives of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

McCain declined to detail what he learned, but described the briefing as alarming.

“That’s some pretty alarming information,” he said. “Most of it, of course, has been out in the media, but they are — it’s a very serious situation.” 

Sen. Dan Sullivan (D-Alaska), an Armed Services member who has been vocal about missile defense to counter North Korea, said positioning strategic assets in South Korea could help the diplomatic effort to curb North Korea.

“The one thing I’ve been saying all along is that as part of the strategy that the administration has been putting forward is putting forward credible military options helps with making your diplomacy more effective,” he said Thursday. “I think that the combination of credible military options … and effective diplomacy are kind of a continuum, and they’re related.”

Retired Col. Richard Klass, a board member at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, said the United States would have to send significantly more equipment to South Korea is the North attacked.

As such, Klass predicted Kim would feign outrage about the move, but otherwise accept it. 

“I think anything we do, he will pretend to be really be pissed off,” Klass said. “I don’t think he thinks it’s going to make a whole lot of difference.”

Klass said he sees the announcement as signal of commitment to South Korea more than a change in defense capabilities.

“It’s our way of showing we’re doing something rather than just sitting here and throwing verbal jabs,” he said, in a knock at Trump’s rhetoric.

Kazianis, of the Center for the National Interest, likewise said the United States would have to bring in “a lot more firepower” for an all-out war with North Korea.

What would really upset Pyongyang, he added, is permanently basing that much firepower in South Korea.

“That would really spook North Korea,” he said. “They might see that as a precursor to regime change.” 

Tags Dan Sullivan John McCain

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video