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U.S. Defense Chief Shuts Down South Korea’s Nuclear Submarine Plans

Daniel Kim Views  

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the opening session of the 21st Asia Security Summit (Shangri-La Dialogue) held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on June 1, local time. Yonhap News

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin firmly opposes South Korea’s discussion of introducing nuclear submarines.

According to Reuters and Bloomberg, on the 1st, Austin responded to a panel question at the Asia Security Conference (Shangri-La Dialogue) in Singapore. When asked whether he would support South Korea’s push for the possession of nuclear submarines, Austin said it would be “very, very difficult.” “(AUKUS) is no small endeavor,” he said. “We just started down this path with Australia. (It’s) highly doubtful that we could take on another initiative of this type anytime in the near future.”

AUKUS is a security alliance between the U.S., UK, and Australia formed in 2021 to counter China’s security threats in the Indo-Pacific. Australia is pushing for the possession of nuclear submarines through the alliance. AUKUS has agreed to a plan (Pillar 1) to provide Australia with conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines and a plan (Pillar 2) for the three countries to develop advanced military technology jointly. To secure the nuclear fuel needed to operate nuclear submarines, South Korea must first amend the Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement.

In 2021, after Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, mentioned at the 8th Party Congress that “the study for the design of a new nuclear submarine is completed and is in the final review stage,” there were continuous arguments on whether or not South Korea should also possess nuclear submarines. After North Korea announced the construction of its first tactical nuclear attack submarine in September last year, the argument for introducing nuclear submarines gained momentum again. Kim Myung Soo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized the need to possess nuclear-powered submarines at a personnel hearing in November last year but said, “There is enough military utility, but it needs to be carefully reviewed.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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