US aircraft carrier heading to South Korea for joint drills

US-South Korean military exercises come after North Korea declared its nuclear programme ‘irreversible’.

The USS Ronald Reagan Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in the Philippine sea.
USS Ronald Reagan will be the first US aircraft carrier to arrive in South Korea in years [File: James Hong/ US Navy handout via Reuters]

A United States aircraft carrier will visit South Korea for the first time since 2018 for joint military drills later this week, amid growing concerns over North Korea’s nuclear posture.

South Korea’s navy said on Monday that the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that leads a strike group of smaller ships, will arrive in the port city of Busan on Friday.

“By conducting combined drills, the Navies of the two countries plan to strengthen their military readiness and demonstrate the firm resolve of the South Korea-US alliance for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” South Korea’s Navy said in a statement.

Earlier this month, North Korea passed a law allowing it to carry out a preventive nuclear attack and declaring its status as a nuclear-armed state “irreversible”.

The country has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, launching dozens of ballistic rockets, including the first intercontinental ballistic missile in five years.

Last week, the US and South Korean governments released a joint statement expressing concern about what they called “escalatory and destabilizing messaging related to nuclear weapons use” by North Korea.

“The two sides committed to continue efforts to employ all elements of both countries’ national power to strengthen the Alliance deterrence posture,” the statement said.

“The United States reiterated its ironclad and unwavering commitment to draw on the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, missile defense, and other advanced non-nuclear capabilities, to provide extended deterrence for the ROK [the Republic of Korea/South Korea].”

South Korea is not nuclear-armed, but it falls under Washington’s so-called “nuclear umbrella” — a US pledge to defend allies by all means possible in the case of a nuclear attack.

Last month, the US and South Korea launched their largest conventional joint military exercise in years.

“Maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula is built on our airtight security posture,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said at that time.

Former US President Donald Trump engaged in direct talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un during his tenure, but diplomacy between the two countries has stalled.

After the first meeting between Trump and Kim in 2018, the nations said in a joint statement that North Korea was committed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.

But the pledge was never followed with efforts to end the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea carried out its first nuclear weapon test in 2006, in violation of an international ban on nuclear testing. Since then, the UN Security Council has unanimously passed numerous resolutions that imposed sanctions on the country over its nuclear programme.

Pyongyang has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as rehearsals for war and proof of hostile policies by Washington and Seoul.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies