A US aircraft carrier has arrived in South Korea for the first time in about four years, ready to join other military ships in a show of force meant to send a message to North Korea.
The USS Ronald Reagan and the ships of its accompanying strike group have docked at a naval base in the southern port city of Busan ahead of joint exercises with South Korean forces.
His arrival marks the largest deployment yet in a new push to get more US “strategic assets” operating in the region to deter North Korea.
Strike group commander Rear Admiral Michael Donnelly told reporters aboard the ship that the visit was designed to build allied relationships and build interoperability between navies.
A U.S. soldier checks the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in Busan, South Korea, Friday, September 23, 2022. Source: AAP / PA
“We leave messages for diplomats”
“We are leaving messages for diplomats,” he said, asked about any signals to North Korea, but added that joint exercises would ensure allies were able to respond to any threats.
“This is an opportunity for us to practice tactics and operations,” Mr Donnelly said.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has pushed for more joint drills and other displays of military might as a warning to North Korea, which has conducted a record number of missile tests this year and appears to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017
North Korea has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as war rehearsals and evidence of hostile Washington and Seoul policies.
The drills have also sparked protests from peace activists who say they are increasing regional tensions.
Last week, the United States said the carrier’s visit was a “clear demonstration” of its commitment to deploying and exercising strategic assets to deter Pyongyang and bolster regional security.
In announcing the visit, however, the US Navy made no mention of North Korea, referring only to a “regular port visit” and emphasizing crew members visiting Busan to volunteer in orphanages and exploring the K-pop music scene.
Protesters hold a rally to oppose the planned joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea in front of the United States Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, September 22, 2022. Source: AAP / PA
This is the first visit to South Korea by a US aircraft carrier since 2018. Many exercises have since been reduced or canceled due to diplomatic efforts with North Korea or because of the COVID pandemic -19.
Strengthened military coordination
Visiting the aircraft carrier is useful for politically signaling, reassuring Seoul and training with South Korean forces, but likely does little to further deter North Korea, said Mason Richey, a professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
“A visit by a carrier group certainly does little – in fact, it probably does the opposite – to discourage Pyongyang from developing more nuclear weapons and delivery systems, as well as conventional capabilities,” he said. -he declares.
It nevertheless underscores that under Mr. Yoon, the allies see closer military coordination and interoperability as the best way to deal with North Korea, Mr. Richey added.
Questions have arisen about the role the roughly 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea could play if conflict erupts in Taiwan.
Mr Donnelly said these questions were for policymakers above him, but said operating with like-minded allies, such as South Korea, is a key part of the Navy’s efforts to maintain the regional security and stability that has existed for more than seven decades.