South Korean and United States militaries will hold a tabletop exercise at the Pentagon next week to hone their joint response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea, Seoul officials said Friday.
The one-day computer simulation set for Wednesday comes as the two countries push to strengthen their 70-year alliance in the face of North Korea’s increasingly aggressive nuclear doctrine.
The exercise is meant to focus on measures against North Korean nuclear threats and discuss how to boost a U.S. extended deterrence — America's ability to use its full capabilities, including nuclear, to deter attacks on its allies, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
It said the exercise would set up possible scenarios where North Korea uses nuclear weapons, explore how to cope with them militarily and formulate crisis management plans.
Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program deepened in South Korea after the North conducted a record number of missile tests in 2022 and adopted a law that authorizes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Many of the missiles tested were nuclear-capable weapons that place South Korea within striking distance.
In response to the intensifying North Korean threats, South Korea and U.S. militaries have expanded their joint drills and stepped up pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear program. In January, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. would also increase its deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula.
During their annual meeting in November, Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup also agreed to conduct tabletop exercises annually and further strengthen the alliance’s information sharing, joint planning and execution. Austin reiterated a warning that any nuclear attack against the U.S. or its allies would result in the end of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime.
North Korea has previously slammed military drills between its rivals as an invasion rehearsal and responded with its own weapons tests, and could make an angry response to next week’s South Korea-U.S. tabletop exercise.
Some experts say North Korea has used some of the South Korea-U.S. drills as a chance to test and perfect its weapons systems. They say North Korea would eventually aim to use its enlarged nuclear arsenal to win international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state and win sanctions relief and other concessions.