The Biden administration agreed to send nuclear submarines to South Korea and expand U.S. weapons coordination with the country on Wednesday, an effort to talk Seoul out of developing its own nuclear program amid growing aggression from North Korea.
"We’re not going to be stationing nuclear weapons on the Peninsula, but we will have port visits of nuclear submarines and things like that," said President Joe Biden during a joint press conference with South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol at the White House on Wednesday.
Yoon said the United States agreed to respond to a North Korean nuclear attack on South Korea "quickly, overwhelmingly, and decisively, using the full force of the alliance, including the United States’s nuclear weapons." In exchange, Biden said Yoon confirmed his "commitment to the nonproliferation treaty" with the United Nations.
While Biden vowed to make nuclear-arms reduction a "central pillar of U.S. global leadership" during his 2020 campaign, the move on Wednesday is the latest sign of cracks in the administration’s nonproliferation strategy. Yoon has come under increasing domestic pressure to develop a nuclear program, due to concerns that the Biden administration could refuse to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in response to a major attack on Seoul by North Korea.
In recent months, Pyongyang has launched cruise missiles toward its neighbor and ramped up its weapons testing.
Saudi Arabia is also reportedly taking steps toward a nuclear program—potentially with help from China or Russia—after the Obama administration’s deal with Iran failed to stop the regime’s continued march toward the bomb.
The fact that the United States had to issue the new assurances to South Korea on Wednesday is a "reflection of allies' loss of confidence in the United States, in no small part thanks to Biden," one former National Security Council official told the Washington Free Beacon.
The former official added that Wednesday’s deal might not be enough to instill confidence in the United States among the South Korean public and leadership.
"There’s a non-trivial risk South Korea begins moving to develop their own nukes," he said.