The visit of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to Washington is keenly being observed by US allies and adversaries both. The agenda for the visit also included the North Korean issue and the nuclear guarantee for Seoul. The last year has seen a flurry of ballistic missile launches by North Korea suspected to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This has not only deteriorated the security of entire Korean Peninsula but has given hawkish elements in the South Korea the pretext to demand for own nuclear capability in response. US in it’s attempt to manage the developments has now promised South Korea of some kind of nuclear assurance. The highlight of the ‘Washington Declaration’ signed between two leaders is the integration of nuclear security for Seoul. Two takeaways for President Yoon from the visit has been; US offer to include the nuclear response mechanism in future military exercises and assurances of port visit by nuclear submarine to South Korea. This can be safely assumed as a precursor of deployment of US nuclear weapons on the South Korean soil.
The visit is a test for diplomacy between the two allies. The recent leaks from Pentagon have covered US request to South Korea for supply of munition to Ukraine. This has already coloured domestic politics in South Korea and Yoon’s party has been accused of underhand deal with US. This leak had put a serious question mark over South Korea’s approach of not supplying munitions to warring parties. As the conversation hinged on finding a ‘mid-way’ approach by selling to Poland, the accusations only grew shriller in Seoul. President Yoon has to ensure he achieves something substantial from the visit. This was also US concern to see it’s ally get his hands strengthened as the challenges stiffens further.
President Yoon has euphorically announced the developments as ‘unprecedented’. But the whole approach of US has further complicated the existing security environment in the region. Their utter failure to maintain some kind of leverage with North Korean regime has not helped the matters either. This development will have far reaching implications. China which is closely following the visit has termed it as sell-off by South Korea. It will not likely take the deployment of US nuclear asset to it’s next door lying down. The port call by a nuclear submarine is more of strategic signalling. However, it will qualitatively change the matrix of confrontation in India’s extended neighbourhood. This will only give an excuse to China for carrying out it’s own nuclear deployment as a counter response. The US moves has ensured that region’s security dynamics has shifted from De-Nuclearization to Re-Nuclearization of Korean Peninsula.