In the Washington Declaration issued by South Korea and the US, the two countries have agreed to increase their cooperation on the planning for the use of nuclear weapons in the region. In announcing the agreement, President Biden threatened to end the North Korean regime should it use nuclear weapons.
The declaration deepens cooperation between the countries by establishing two new bodies. The Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) will discuss nuclear and strategic planning including in regards to North Korea (DPRK), and the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group will operationalise those discussions through simulations, including planning nuclear weapons use.
In the agreement, South Korean President Yoon reaffirms that his country will not develop its own nuclear weapons, in line with the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. And the US agrees to meet any nuclear attack from North Korea on the South with a “a swift, overwhelming and decisive response” and goes on to imply a nuclear threat “the U.S. commitment to extend deterrence to the ROK is backed by the full range of U.S. capabilities, including nuclear.”
President Biden has also agreed to increased visibility of American nuclear weapons in the region, including by the upcoming visit of a U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine to South Korea. The agreement moves away from previous language calling for diplomatic solutions to achieve nuclear disarmament by North Korea, instead, as described by the NY Times, it reverts to similar language used by former US President Trump who threatened ‘fire and fury’ on the peninsula.
The agreement also neglects to recognise the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons In ICAN’s report “No place to hide: nuclear weapons and the collapse of health care systems”, if one average-sized nuclear weapon (100 kiloton) were to be detonated over Pyongyang today, the immediate health impact would be catastrophic. An estimated 502,040 people could die immediately and another 966,390 could be injured. Based on Pyongyang’s population of around 3 million in 2020, about 50% would be injured or killed. President Biden threatened to end whatever North Korean regime were to use nuclear weapons, but he did not elaborate that such an action would also end the lives of half of the capital’s citizens.
President Biden will arrive in Hiroshima for the G7 Summit in a few weeks, where Japanese Prime Minister Kishida intends to present a vision for a world free of nuclear weapons. Instead of making nuclear threats and increasing reliance on nuclear weapons, the G7 leaders must condemn all nuclear threats and take action for disarmament.