The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea and providing extended nuclear deterrence at an annual top-level military meeting.
South Korea’s JCS Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and his US counterpart Gen. Mark Milley held the 46th Military Committee Meeting the same morning in Seoul, according to the JCS of each country.
At the meeting, both sides reaffirmed the “enduring alliance” and shared the view that Seoul and Washington have made “significant advancements” to strengthen bilateral cooperation.
Gen. Milley notably emphasized the US commitment to defending South Korea, including the provision of extended deterrence, the US and South Korea’s JCS said in a joint statement, echoing the Biden administration’s stance on the alliance.
Extended deterrence is the US commitment to deter or respond to nuclear and non-nuclear military attacks on its allies and partners, and the commitment is generally described as providing a nuclear umbrella.
Both sides also notably agreed that progress has been made in the conditions-based wartime operational transition plan, taking note of the successful completion of the 21-2 Combined Command Post Training in August
But the JCS did not share further details on Seoul’s readiness on regaining wartime operational control, which was to be further discussed at Thursday’s defense ministerial meeting.
During the talks, Gens. Won and Milley also underscored the “vital role of multinational partnerships and the need to bolster efforts in the pursuit of regional peace and security.”
While Wednesday’s meeting notably marks the first in-person Military Committee Meeting since 2019, both sides agreed on the significance of holding a meeting in person to “demonstrate the strength, credibility, and flexibility of the military alliance.”
At the meeting, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command Adm. John Aquilino and Commander of United States Forces Korea Gen. Paul LaCamera were present. South Korean Chief Director of JCS of Staff Directorate for Strategic Planning Lt. Gen. Jung Sang-hwa also joined the defense talks.
The MCM is a top military-level consultation platform where Seoul and Washington have substantial discussions on alliance military issues, including their combined readiness posture, on a regular basis.
The committee also provides strategic directives and operational guidance to the Combined Forces Command in defense of South Korea. The meeting has been held annually or during times of heightened tension since its first meeting in 1978.
Defense ministerial meeting to kick off
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday afternoon for his three-day visit to South Korea mainly to attend the annual defense ministerial meeting. Austin will also visit US troops in South Korea.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Suh Wook and Austin are set to host the 53rd ROK-US Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Thursday.
Both sides will discuss a wide range of security and alliance issues, including the conditions-based transfer of wartime OPCON and threats posed by North Korea.
In particular, Seoul will seek to specify the timing of the long-postponed test of Seoul’s full operational capability, which is the second stage of assessing the South Korean military’s capabilities to command the future combined defense system in three phases.
The South Korean and US defense chiefs will also discuss a new operational war plan or OPLAN against North Korea at the meeting, a US defense official, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to the Korea Herald on Thursday.
The US media outlets, including Defense One and Voice of America, earlier in the day reported that the new OPLAN is on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, citing anonymous US senior defense officials.
The US officials said Washington views that the development of the new OPLAN is necessary and appropriate, considering North Korea’s enhanced missile and nuclear capabilities.
The defense chiefs will additionally touch upon issues related to the stationing of United States Forces Korea, including the relocation of the Combined Forces Command headquarters to Camp Humphreys, the planned return of part of the US Army Garrison Yongsan in central Seoul and ways to ensure a stable stationing environment for US forces in Korea.
The role of the South Korea-US alliance in responding to the China challenge will be another key agenda. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby earlier this week said the “pacing challenge” that China continues to pose in the Indo-Pacific region would be a topic for the upcoming SCM.
The annual defense ministerial meeting will be held for the first time since the Biden administration took office in January this year, with around five months left before the Moon Jae-in government’s single term ends in May.
By Ji Da-gyum (email@example.com)