SEOUL: For the first time since the 1980s, a US Navy nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) will visit South Korea to help demonstrate Washington’s resolve to protect the country from a North Korean attack.
The visit was announced in a joint declaration during a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and US President Joe Biden in Washington on Wednesday (Apr 26).
Because US SSBNs rely on secrecy and stealth to ensure their survival and preserve their ability to launch nuclear missiles during a war, they rarely make public stops in foreign ports.
“That could be a huge pressure on North Korea, because usually they don’t share where those submarines are,” said Moon Keun-sik, a retired South Korean submarine captain and squadron leader.
The United States has pledged to deploy more so-called “strategic assets” such as aircraft carriers, submarines, and long-range bombers to South Korea to deter North Korea, which has developed increasingly powerful missiles that can hit targets from South Korea to the mainland United States.
The submarine visit is also seen as a way to reassure South Korea and quell talk in Seoul of developing homegrown nuclear weapons.
“If a US SSBN visits and docks in South Korea, that is very unusual and symbolic … the US wants to show it is going for stronger deterrence in a visible way and to calm South Koreans’ concerns,” Choi Il, another retired South Korean submarine captain, told Reuters.
Pyongyang has condemned the recent deployment of US aircraft carriers and joint South Korea-US military drills as proof of the allies’ hostile intent.