A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group will visit South Korea this week, according to the U.S. military, a significant show of strength amid concerns North Korea will soon conduct a nuclear test.
The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group will visit the southern South Korean port city of Busan, U.S. Naval Forces Korea said in a statement. The strike group personnel will “visit and engage” with their South Korean navy partners and conduct a “cultural exchange” with the South Korean people, the statement said.
After that, the navies of both countries will conduct joint exercises off the coast “to strengthen their military preparedness as well as demonstrate the strong will of the [South Korea-U.S.] alliance for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the South Korean navy said in a statement.
The strike group will arrive in Busan Friday, a day later than anticipated, due to poor weather conditions, the South Korean navy statement added.
It is the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier group has conducted such drills near South Korea since 2017, during the height of tensions between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Five years later, following a brief period of U.S.-North Korea diplomacy, tensions seem likely to ramp up again, as each side becomes more comfortable displaying their military might.
North Korea has launched a record high number of missiles this year and, according to U.S. and South Korean officials, has made preparations to conduct its seventh nuclear test.
Last week, Kim vowed to never give up his nuclear weapons or use them as a bargaining chip in negotiations. The country also passed a new law promising to retaliate with an immediate nuclear strike if it is attacked by “hostile forces.”
The U.S. and South Korea on Friday condemned those moves and vowed an “overwhelming and decisive response” to any North Korean nuclear attack.
Following a high-level dialogue between South Korean and U.S. officials in Washington, 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 [South Korea].”
The U.S. and South Korea earlier this month wrapped up major military exercises, including live fire drills, for the first time since 2017.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office in May, has moved to strengthen his country’s alliance with the United States, and has called for greater shows of military strength to deter the nuclear-armed North.
South Korea does not have its own nuclear weapons, but relies on the so-called U.S. nuclear umbrella for protection. The United States also has about 28,500 troops in South Korea.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly called for North Korea to resume negotiations, stalled since 2019, on the country's nuclear program.
North Korea has ignored those calls, instead accusing the United States of conducting a hostile policy.