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(News Focus) Obama's extended deterrence intended to squelch doubts over U.S. security commitment: analysts

All Headlines 12:24 September 07, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

VIENTIANE, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's mention this week of "extended deterrence" against North Korea appears intended to squelch growing doubts in South Korea over the country's security commitment to its core Asian ally, analysts said Wednesday.

Amid Pyongyang's persistent provocations, concerns have persisted over whether a financially strained Washington, which has been scaling back defense spending, would swiftly come to the defense of its ally in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.

Following his summit with President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday, Obama said, "I want to reaffirm that our commitment to the defense and security of South Korea, including extended deterrence, is unwavering."

This photo, taken on Sept. 7, 2016, shows President Park Geun-hye (R) and her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama speaking during a press conference after their summit in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. (Yonhap)

Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. stated commitment to defend its ally by mobilizing all military capabilities, nuclear and conventional, against North Korea's aggression and provocations. Analysts underscored that Obama's "reassurances" of the U.S. security commitment to South Korea is meaningful in that the American leader moved to help allay South Koreans' mounting security fears.

"At a time when South Koreans are very apprehensive about Pyongyang's escalating nuclear and missile threats, the U.S. president directly raised the issue of extended deterrence to address people's concerns," said Kim Youl-soo, a professor of international political science at Sungshin Women's University.

Security jitters among South Koreans have reached a new high since Pyongyang claimed last month to have successfully carried out a test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a formidable weapons system that would bolster Pyongyang's nuclear retaliation capabilities.

Such concerns have increased public calls for South Korea to procure its own nuclear armament, although many have dismissed the calls as being unrealistic due to Seoul's long-standing commitment to nuclear non-proliferation principles.

The demand for South Korea's nuclearization has also been fueled by a growing recognition of the United States' unwillingness to promptly and directly engage in foreign conflicts, as seen in the Crimean Peninsula, Libya and Syria, observers said.

Washington's perceived moves to transform its troops in South Korea into an expeditionary, mobile force from a hitherto static force -- wholly responsibly for deterring the North -- has added to calls for nuclear armament.

This photo, taken on Aug. 22, 2016, shows U.S. troops engaging in the South Korea-U.S. Ulchi Freedom Guardian exericse in the border city of Paju, Gyeonggi Provice. (Yonhap)

Nam Chang-hee, security expert at Inha University, pointed out that Obama's remarks over extended deterrence sent a clear message to the South Korean audience that it does not need to have nuclear arms as the U.S. would extend its nuclear umbrella.

"As there are misgivings over the credibility of Washington's provision of the nuclear umbrella, calls have been growing for Seoul's nuclear armament," the scholar said.

"The U.S. president offered some sort of reassurance to South Koreans, insinuating even if the U.S. should have to take the risks of coming under attack due to its allies, it would offer extended deterrence to its allies," he added.

Nam also said that Obama's move to stop its allies from considering nuclear armament by reiterating the United States’ commitment to security would help further burnish his legacy as a champion of a "nuclear-free" world.

Extended deterrence is not a novel concept for Seoul and Washington.

In recent years, top South Korean and U.S. defense officials have repeatedly highlighted the world power’s provision of extended deterrence in their joint declarations or statements

Since 2010, the two sides have also been discussing how to turn Washington's extended deterrence into concrete action plans through an official bilateral consultation body such as the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee (EDPC).

The EDPC was set up in 2010 following Pyongyang's two deadly attacks that year which killed a total of 50 South Koreans, including two civilians. The allies' EDPC was later merged with the Counter Missile Capability Committee to create the Deterrence Strategy Committee.

Military experts said that what is crucial for now are detailed plans for the execution of Washington's extended deterrence, rather than a repeated verbal pledge to provide emergency security support.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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