August 18, 2022
SEOUL – South Korea and the United States committed to enhancing military and security cooperation to deal with challenges in the Indo-Pacific region at the high-level defense talks, reaffirming the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Taiwan Strait.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the US Defense Department held the 21st Korea-US Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) on Tuesday and Wednesday in Seoul with the participation of key defense and foreign affairs officials.
Both sides discussed a wide range of issues, including the alliance’s deterrence and readiness against North Korean threats and alliance coordination in the Indo-Pacific region.
Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy Heo Tae-keun led the South Korean delegation while Siddharth Mohandas, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, represented the US side. South Korea and the US issued a joint press statement Wednesday as the outcome of the two-day meeting.
Alliance’s role in meeting Indo-Pacific challenges
At the meeting, Seoul and Washington agreed to advance cooperation and put their heads together to figure out ways to jointly address security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation, a senior official at the Defense Ministry, who requested to remain anonymous, said Wednesday.
“The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of adherence to a rules-based international order based on international laws and norms, including those of freedom of navigation and overflight, and pledged close cooperation to meet regional challenges,” the English-language joint statement read, without further details.
The unnamed official declined to specify regional challenges. But for instance, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said China is a “pacing challenge” for the US military.
The Korea Herald learned that South Korea and the US sought to reduce the gap in the alliance’s role in dealing with regional challenges during the two-day talks.
“The two leaders also reinforced the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. They pledged to continue promoting defense and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region,” according to the joint statement.
To that end, both sides agreed to closely collaborate so that the Yoon government’s Indo-Pacific strategy framework that is being drafted and the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy can contribute to peace and stability in the region.
South Korea and the US also pledged to further strengthen trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan through various channels including the annual Defense Trilateral Talks. Both sides also noted that “trilateral cooperation among the three countries is critical for advancing shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The two leaders affirmed the critical role that the General Security Military Information Agreement between South Korea and Japan continued to play in enabling bilateral cooperation.
The two-day KIDD covered the alliance’s military readiness and deterrence against North Korea’s escalating missile and nuclear threats.
Both sides notably discussed the progress made by the Yoon government to improve access to the military base that hosts the US-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system.
The two “acknowledged the importance of the Alliance’s missile defense architecture in defending the ROK people—as well as US and ROK deployed forces—particularly considering recent DPRK missile tests,” the joint statement read. It referred to South Korea and North Korea by the acronyms of their official names, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, respectively.
Despite strong backlash from China, the South Korean presidential office last week suggested that the government aims to guarantee routine, unfettered access to the THAAD site by the end of this month.
The US THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense battery has been temporarily deployed on the now-shuttered Lotte Skyhill golf course in Soseong-ri, Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province, since 2017. South Korean and US military personnel have been living in shipping containers and an old golf clubhouse.
New deterrence strategy, counter-missile working group
Also noteworthy, South Korea and the US agreed to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula to bolster combined readiness in light of North Korea’s “evolving threat.”
Seoul and Washington will gradually step up military exercises and training starting with the forthcoming large-scale combined military exercises, called the “Ulchi Freedom Shield.” The exercises are slated to take place from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.
South Korea and the US also shared the view that both sides have made progress toward revising the Tailored Deterrence Strategy (TDS) in line with the US National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review.
“The TDS will enable effective deterrence of the DPRK’s nuclear, other WMD and non-nuclear capabilities with strategic effects amidst a dynamic security environment of the region,” the statement said.
Both sides see the necessity of upgrading the existing TDS in view of North Korea’s advanced missile and nuclear weapons and reinforced South Korean and US military capabilities. The TDS was signed in 2013 at the defense-ministerial Security Consultative Meeting.
To enhance the viability of the US’ extended deterrence, Seoul and Washington plan to conduct tabletop exercises (TTXs) on the use of deterrence assets and deployment of US strategic military assets at an early date.
The TTXs allow South Korea and the US to practice joint military responses in simulated contingency scenarios, including North Korean nuclear threats and use of nuclear weapons.
Extended deterrence is the US’ commitment to deter or respond to coercion and attacks on US allies and partners. The US nuclear umbrella is one means the US offers to achieve extended deterrence.
Seoul and Washington also agreed to hold a meeting of the high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) in mid-September.
Launched in 2016, the last meeting of the EDSCG between South Korean and US vice ministers of foreign affairs and defense was held in January 2018.
In addition, both sides agreed to newly established a Counter-Missile Working Group within the Deterrence Strategy Committee as part of their efforts to “engage in closer policy coordination and communication to strengthen Alliance counter-missile capability and posture.”