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Seoul, Washington should start discussing tactical nuke redeployment

Seoul, Washington should start discussing tactical nuke redeployment

Posted September. 01, 2017 07:20,   

Updated September. 01, 2017 07:26


South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo discussed the proposed redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korean at a series of talks with U.S. National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis during a visit to Washington on Wednesday (local time). Explaining the need to revise the bilateral missile guideline and strengthen the extended deterrence, Song reportedly said that some South Korean lawmakers and media outlets demand redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

It was the first time that Seoul brought up the issue of the tactical nuclear redeployment at an official dialogue with Washington. The proposed redeployment is an extremely sensitive issue, as it not only runs counter to the Moon Jae-in administration’s position of abiding by the 1991 Declaration for Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula and Peace Construction but also will certainly spark protests from neighboring countries. Therefore, Song’s mention of the issue can be seen as Seoul’s message to Washington that only nuclear weapons can defend against North Korea’s nuclear and missiles. However, such a discussion must be kept highly confidential. If the Ministry of National Defense is right in its explanation to reporters that Song simply mentioned that some people in South Korea demand the redeployment, the ministry would face criticism for having made the Seoul-Washington security consultation a session for chatting.

North Korea’s ever-advancing nuclear weapons and missiles make it impossible for South Korea to simply depend on the U.S. extended deterrence through the use of U.S. nuclear umbrella and strategic assets. Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile provocations are blocking the access to U.S. military reinforcement and strategic assets, isolating the South from U.S. extended deterrence. There will be no guarantee that the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B strategic bombers and the F-35B stealth fighters will be deployed to South Korea in the event of war, just as they were for a joint bombing with the South’s F-15K fighter jets on Thursday.

At a time when the North continues to cross the red line, the South has to focus on quickly building its defense system. However, the system has limited capabilities. South Korea is being driven to a situation in which it has no choice but to depend on the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons. It is time that Seoul and Washington begin quiet but in-depth discussions on the redeployment issue.