U.S. and South Korean officials today convened the third meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group, where among other things, participants planned greater cooperation between the two nations and enhanced nuclear deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. 

“Across the board, we’re making progress in the Nuclear Consultative Group,” said Richard C. Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and countering weapons of mass destruction policy. “Just the establishment of that group, I think, was very important to demonstrate how we are elevating the discussion that we’re having on nuclear deterrence issues, but the work that we’re doing is really key. Whether that’s from information sharing to joint planning and execution.”

Johnson spoke today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 

At this meeting of the NCG, Johnson said, a “big outcome” was the signing out of a set of shared guidelines for the U.S. and South Korean alliance. 

“These guidelines really serve as kind of the principles and procedures upon which the alliance will serve to really look at nuclear deterrence issues in terms of policy and posture,” Johnson said. “This will really be the foundation upon which we move forward in the NCG on U.S./[South Korea] cooperation.”

According to a statement released today by the NCG, the guidelines provide principles and procedures for the U.S./South Korea alliance to maintain and strengthen a credible and effective nuclear deterrence policy and posture. 

A key focus of this most recent meeting of the NCG, Johnson said, was planning and execution related to conventional nuclear integration, or CNI. 

The NCG is interested in ensuring that, in the event of a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, U.S nuclear capabilities are effectively integrated with Korea’s own conventional capabilities. “[South Korea] … is really advancing its conventional capabilities,” he said. “And I think we’re making real progress there.” 

The NCG statement today said participants in the meeting discussed the planning and execution of U.S/South Korea CNI options on the Korean Peninsula. The group reaffirmed that integration of South Korea’s conventional capabilities with U.S. nuclear operations “substantively strengthens the allied deterrence and response capabilities against the [North Korea] nuclear and missile threat.” 

Also on the agenda, Johnson said, was a focus on increased tabletop exercises so that the U.S. and South Korea can practice the integration and deterrence the NCG seeks. 

“The best way to understand how to operate in this … world is to practice,” he said. “We are doing more and more of what we call tabletop exercises, or TTXs. And we have at least, I believe, three coming up over the course of the next year, including a military-to-military exercise.” 

During today’s meeting, NCG participants agreed to an interagency simulation, an NCG-led TTX and a military-to-military TTX. 

A big part of deterrence efforts, Johnson said, also includes enhanced visibility of U.S. commitment to the alliance through the visibility of American strategic deterrent assets. In July 2023, for instance, the USS Kentucky, a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, visited the South Korean port of Busan. It was the first time in over 40 years such a visit occurred. 

“I think we’re in a very good place,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this high of a level of collaboration, commitment and trust on extended deterrence than we’ve ever had with the United States and the Republic of Korea.” 

The NCG was created to implement what was agreed to in the April 2023 Washington Agreement. In that agreement, the U.S. reaffirmed its commitment to South Korea and the Korean people and also agreed that any nuclear attack by North Korea against South Korea “will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response.”

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