WASHINGTON – The United States will give South Korea a central role for the first time in a strategic plan for the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict with North Korea, in return for an agreement that Seoul will not pursue its own nuclear weapons arsenal. Will do, said the US official.

The agreement, which both sides are calling the Washington Declaration, is a centerpiece of a state visit this week by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who will appear with President Biden at the White House on Wednesday.

The new cooperation is based closely on how NATO nations plan for a possible nuclear conflict, but the US president will have the sole authority to decide whether to use a nuclear weapon. While the United States has never formally adopted a “no first use” policy, officials said such a decision would almost certainly come only after North Korea used a nuclear weapon against South Korea.

On Wednesday morning, John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said, “Despite the wording of the new announcement, I caution anyone from thinking that the new focus was on the centrality of nuclear weapons.” “We have treaty commitments to the republic on the peninsula,” he said, using shorthand for the Republic of Korea, and “we want to make sure we have as many options as possible.”

The agreement is notable for several reasons. First, it aims to reassure the South Korean public, where pollsters have found a consistent majority in favor of building an independent South Korean nuclear force. President Yoon himself openly touted that option earlier this year, though his government quickly retracted the statement. He also raised the possibility of re-introducing US tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, a move his government has said in recent weeks it is no longer pursuing.

The United States withdrew the last of its nuclear weapons from Korea in 1991 under the George HW Bush administration.

But the second reason is just as important, one about which the Biden administration is saying little: it’s moving toward reversing a commitment, back to the Obama administration’s, to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in American defense strategy. For years, the United States has been improving its non-nuclear attack options, improving the accuracy and power of conventional weapons that can reach any target in the world in about an hour.

But the South is looking for more assurances of “extended deterrence,” the concept that the United States will try to deter a North Korean nuclear strike in the South with a nuclear response — even if it risks a North Korean attack on an American city. Do you pick up

South Korea is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prevents it from acquiring nuclear weapons. So the commitment not to make our own weapons is nothing new. But nations can withdraw from the treaty only by giving notice to the United Nations. Only one nation has done so: North Korea, in the early 1990s. Three countries have not signed the treaty and have developed nuclear weapons: Israel, India, and Pakistan.

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