Greater reliance on deterrence, drills not answer for peninsula, experts say
Talk of "strengthened deterrence" by the United States and its allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea, against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea may increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula, experts say.
With the apparent belief that denuclearization of the DPRK is not possible, the US, the ROK and Japan are doubling down on greater deterrence and military exercises to promote war-fighting readiness, if deterrence were to fail, said Mason Richey, associate professor of international politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol agreed to work together to strengthen deterrence against the DPRK, according to a joint statement issued after a trilateral meeting on Sunday in Phnom Penh on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit.
Biden "reiterated that the US commitment to defend Japan and the ROK is ironclad and backed by the full range of capabilities, including nuclear", the statement said.
"Japan, the ROK, and the United States will coordinate sanctions and work together to close gaps in the international sanctions regime to ensure all relevant sanctions are fully enforced", the statement said.
The joint statement showed stronger coordination and cohesion between the three allies, said Hoo Chiew Ping, senior lecturer in strategic studies and international relations at the National University of Malaysia. However, "The fact that the US, Japan and the ROK are going to strengthen nuclear deterrence …will not help convince the DPRK to denuclearize first," said Hoo.
In terms of coordinated deterrence, Hoo said she expects enhanced missile defense systems among the three countries, among others.
Accusing the DPRK of carrying out ballistic missile launches this year, the three leaders also said they intended to share DPRK missile warning data in real-time.
Bong Young-shik, a research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, said the joint statement will "definitely" irritate the DPRK, which was already seriously troubled by the resumed military exercises between the US and the ROK.
Bong said it might mean more pressure on the DPRK if the US intends to pay more attention to the security environment on the Korean Peninsula.
But Bong said both the ROK and Japan are interested only in maintaining nuclear deterrence, not a nuclear attack. "It's a clear difference," he said.
"The joint statement, of course, is a message of deterrence to Pyongyang, but also a message for Beijing," said Richey, as the allies want Beijing to help in "reining in Pyongyang".
The US, Japan and the ROK already warned on Oct 26 that if the DPRK resumes nuclear bomb tests, then that would warrant an "unparalleled" response.
In response to questions related to the warning, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news conference late last month that China hopes the parties concerned will face squarely the root cause and timeline of events of the protracted impasse on the Korean Peninsula and do more to enhance mutual trust and address parties' concerns in a balanced way.