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KEI Spotlight

How, Exactly, Can the US Strengthen Extended Deterrence?

December 21, 2022

This article was published on The Diplomat on November 8, 2022.

During the 54th ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) on November 3, strengthening the United States’ extended deterrence commitment to South Korea was a critical topic of discussion. As is usually the case, the joint communique issued at the conclusion of the SCM noted Washington’s firm commitment to providing extended deterrence to Seoul utilizing the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities and advanced non-nuclear capabilities. The communique also mentioned various ways the alliance would enhance consultation in the face of an evolving North Korean threat.

Nonetheless, given its frequent invocation by U.S. and South Korean leaders and officials, “strengthening extended deterrence” has become a truism. Despite its constant mention, it’s unclear exactly how it can be effectively implemented. Furthermore, its meaning differs depending on the audience. Its effectiveness and what it means is perceived differently in Washington than in Seoul or Pyongyang.

What is clear is there’s significant concern in Seoul about both the nature and extent of the U.S. extended deterrence commitment. While South Korean concerns about the U.S. commitment are as old as the alliance – in fact, they precede it – they have taken on a newfound vigor amid North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile capabilities and testing campaign as well as its more aggressive nuclear policy law and threat to deploy tactical nuclear weapons; China-U.S. competition; and perceptions of waning U.S. influence.

To read the full article on The Diplomat, please click here.