The South Korean and US defense chiefs committed to stepping up combined military exercises and restarting strategic dialogue on extended deterrence in September to address North Korea’s escalating threats.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Friday in Washington and “discussed the major pending issues of the alliance and shared their assessment of North Korea’s evolving threats,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a Korean-language statement.
Austin and Lee committed to “responding sternly and jointly to North Korea’s provocative actions” and figuring out ways to reinforce the South Korea-US combined defense posture.Expanding upcoming military exercises
The defense leaders agreed to expand the combined military exercises tentatively scheduled to be held between Aug. 22 and Sept. 1. The two also shared views on incorporating combined military exercises and the South Korean government’s independent Ulchi Exercise and conducting them simultaneously.
Against that backdrop, South Korea earlier this month announced that the title of the combined military exercise has been changed to Ulchi Freedom Shield, adding the name of the government’s independent drill.
“The title of combined military exercise has been decided as Freedom Shield. The shield means that the exercise is defensive in nature and aims to defend the freedom of the Republic of Korea,” Lee told a press briefing following the defense-ministerial meeting.
Austin and Lee committed to “strengthening the alliance’s deterrence posture” through various means including reinforcing the ballistic missile defense system and deploying US strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula. Strategic dialogue on extended deterrence
Austin and Lee also discussed follow-up steps to agreements at the May 21 South Korea-US summit, where the South Korean and US leaders agreed to reinforce the alliance’s deterrence and readiness against North Korea.
The defense ministerial meeting came around a month and a half after an initial discussion on how to implement the leaders’ commitments in June in Singapore on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian security summit. But this time, Lee and Austin advanced their discussion and fleshed out plans to take follow-up steps.
“The two defense chiefs committed to holding a meeting of high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) at an early date so as to enhance the alliance’s deterrence and reinforce strategic communication between South Korea and the US,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.
The leaders confirmed that the decision to resume their strategic dialogue on the US extended deterrence will contribute to regional security.
Austin and Lee both supported holding an EDSCG meeting in September, a South Korean senior military official -- who wished to remain anonymous -- confirmed Friday following the defense ministerial meeting.
The last meeting of the EDSCG between South Korean and US vice ministers of foreign affairs and defense -- which was launched in 2016 -- was held in January 2018. But the South Korean and US presidents agreed to reactivate the EDSCG “at the earliest date” during the May 21 summit.
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 plan to conduct tabletop exercises (TTXs) on the use of deterrence assets and deployment of US strategic military assets this year after holding an EDSCG meeting.
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.
“The EDSCG has a strong message to North Korea at the policy level, whereas the TTXs aim to enhance military readiness,” Lee told reporters following the meeting, adding the two-pronged approach would enhance the viability of the US extended deterrence.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the two defense chiefs “shared the view that the security situation on the Korean Peninsula was very grave due to North Korea’s continued provocations.”
“But they emphasized that the more North Korea makes provocations, the stronger the South Korea-US alliance becomes,” the ministry said.
“The two defense chiefs also clarified that South Korea and the US will respond sternly and jointly based on the ironclad combined defense posture should North Korea press ahead with a seventh nuclear test despite the international community’s opposition.”
Austin also said “our alliance remains resolute and ready in the face of these dangerous and destabilizing actions” in his opening remark.
“Secretary Austin emphasized that the United States stands firm, with the full range of U.S. capabilities, in its extended deterrence commitment to the ROK,” acting Pentagon Press Secretary Todd Breasseale said. Indo-Pacific regional issues
The US Defense Department additionally said the two leaders also exchanged views on the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region.
In his opening remark, Austin said he looked forward to a “productive discussion today on how the alliance can further enhance our deterrent posture against aggression from North Korea and other systemic competitors, including the People’s Republic of China and Russia.”
The Pentagon said Austin and Lee agreed on the importance of trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan and “enhancing regional cooperation that protects shared security and prosperity, upholds common values, and bolsters the rules-based international order.”
The two defense chiefs “reaffirmed the joint commitment to develop the South Korea-US alliance into a global strategic alliance that contributes to peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region based on universal values including freedom and human rights,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry added.