|The USS Ronald Reagan leaves the South Korean port of Busan. (Yonhap)|
“In regards to the expansion of the rotational deployment of US strategic assets, which is currently in talks to effectively counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the government has expressed the intention to the US to provide maintenance service in times of need,” an unnamed source was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo raised such ideas to his US counterpart James Mattis during the annual Security Consultative Meeting, which was held in Seoul last week. The allies’ defense chiefs, after wrapping up the two-day talks on Saturday, issued a joint agreement on the transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea and the expansion of the rotational deployment of US weapons near the Korean Peninsula.
The US aircraft carrier strike group, nuclear-powered submarines, long-range bombers and stealth fighter jets are classified as strategic assets. Most recently, the USS Ronald Reagan and B-1B supersonic bombers joined in combined military drills near the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against the North
A separate government source told Yonhap News Agency that the move conveyed Seoul’s will to assure the US can mind its missions on the peninsula and in the region without worrying over details of maintenance and fuel supplies.
However, the maintenance support may simply refer to Washington using South Korea’s depot repair facilities in an emergency, rather than providing direct solutions for the assets, according to military sources here. The US has strict rules on foreign nations handling or fixing its key military assets to prevent technology leaks.
President Moon Jae-in said Friday the “aggressive deployment” of US strategic assets on the peninsula has been effective in deterring North Korea’s provocations.
“I appreciate the measure because it brings hope to many Korean people who are worrying about the security crisis,” he said in a meeting with Mattis.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry added Sunday that the US had nearly doubled its dispatches of strategic assets to the peninsula compared to a year before, which both sides saw as a sign of greater rotational deployment.
A ministry official also said the timing of the strategic assets must be carefully measured as it aims to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.
“It is crucial to show (the deployment) to our citizens, but dispatching (the assets) on a frequent basis may deprive its deterrence effect over the North,” he said.
North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test in September sparked global concerns over the rogue nation’s fast developing weapons program and fueled allies’ talks to strengthen the rotational deployment of US strategic assets here.
Song and Mattis on Saturday pledged they would never tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)