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Washington Declaration

Published: 11th May, 2023

Context

Recently the South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visited the U.S. to commemorate the 70th anniversary of U.S.-South Korea bilateral relations. Both the leaders adopted a new joint statement called the “Washington Declaration.”

Background

  • The successful launch of North Korea’s Hwasong-8 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a vital component for nuclear weapons delivery, seems to have triggered the U.S. visit of the South Korean President.
  • Both countries wanted to advance the strategic partnership, drawing an alliance over an extended nuclear deterrence plan against the regional aggression of North Korea. 

What does the Washington Declaration say?

  • The agreement outlines cooperation towards deterrence.
  • According to the declaration,
    • An American nuclear ballistic submarine would be deployed in the Korean peninsula
    • A nuclear consultative group would be formed to formulate principles of joint response tactics
    • South Korea would receive Intel from the U.S. regarding nuclear advancements
    • The U.S. will strengthen South Korea’s nuclear deterrence capabilities through joint military training programs and an annual intergovernmental simulation
  • The declaration reaffirmed the non-proliferation Treaty implying that South Korea would not venture into the creation of its own independent nuclear capabilities and would instead focus on deterrence measures through an alliance-based approach.
  • It also mandates the U.S. President as the only ‘sole authority’ to use the nuclear arsenal of the U.S. in the event of a nuclear confrontation.
  • While the existence of the agreement is based on the security needs of South Korea, the policy reflects big power politics where the interests of the larger power (U.S.) takes precedence.

Non-proliferation Treaty

  • The NPT is an international treaty to:
    • prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology
    • promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
    • to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament
  • Entered into force in 1970, The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States.
  • A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States.

An upgradation to Manila Pact?

  • President Yoon Suk Yeol said that South Korea’s new nuclear deterrence agreement with the United States should be understood as an “upgraded” version of the allies’ 1953 Mutual Defence Treaty.
  • Historically, The Allies’ 1953 Mutual Defence Treaty, also known as the Manila Pact, was a collective defence agreement signed in 1951, between the United States, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.
  • The treaty was designed to promote regional stability and prevent the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

Why is the U.S. not keen on South Korea having a nuclear arsenal?

  • Under significant pressure from the United States, South Korea’s nuclear development programme was hindered and it signed the NPT in 1975. In the 1990s, the U.S. withdrew one hundred nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of their “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty”. The U.S. was hoping to make North Korea unarm itself.
  • Concerning progress of North Korea: Secondly, the Nuclear Posture Review 2022 reflects a shift in the U.S. narrative where it is now concerned about the progressing nuclear capacities of North Korea.
  • Global control: The U.S. wants to control global nuclear arms production. It has been reluctant to allow South Korea to develop their own nuclear arsenal as it would hinder the prolonged efforts of controlling nuclear production in the world.

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